Working solo

Prepare your mind

By Derek Jones

Feed your mind to increase your creativity


This simple recipe is an often-overlooked classic, central to all creative cognitive processes. It follows from research that considers creativity to be a simple outcome of a functioning conscious mind (Craft, 2001; Heilman, Nadeau & Beversdorf, 2003; Sawyer, 2011) – something that designers have been aware of (consciously or otherwise) for some time.

In his little book ‘A Technique for Producing Ideas’, Young (2003) considers the mind of a designer to be interested in all things; inquisitive, questioning, explorative. Take every opportunity that comes your way to do this and you will naturally engage in connecting and divergent thinking, which are two central cognitive functions for creative thinking (Heilman, Nadeau & Beversdorf, 2003; Abraham & Windmann, 2007).



  • Anything and everything which could be of interest to you. Start with books, magazines, posters, pavements, doorways, dog behaviour, cloud shapes, etc
  • Expand to things you would not normally look at…


  1. Expose yourself to new ideas. Don’t stick to your own specialist area of knowledge – it gets boring after a while and you run the risk of reinforcing pathways of thought. Give your brain a break by thinking differently.

o   Pick up Concrete Quarterly, the publication for people interested in concrete. Then read it. All of it.

o   Have a look at anything at all on

o   Go to a library and BROWSE! (It’s like using Google but with a bit more paper.)

o   Go up to a stranger in your institution and ask them what they do. For once, don’t try to get what you do into the conversation…

o   Go into a newsagent’s and pick a magazine at random. Don’t judge the magazine – just read it and see what happens.

  1. Communicate your own ideas in different ways. You know a lot about your subject but when was the last time you saw it from someone else’s perspective? Write about your knowledge in a completely different way to see it afresh. For example, how would you explain your knowledge to :

o   A 10-year-old child

o   Someone who doesn’t have much time

o   Someone who likes pictures

o   Someone who despises creativity

o   Someone who really doesn’t understand why researchers need to do so much thinking…

  1. Generate your own new ideas. For 10-15 minutes each day, look around you and question the physical things you see. This has nothing to do with your subject but everything to do with thinking and research methods. So, pick an object or observe a behaviour and ask:

o   Why is it like that?

o   Who uses it and why?

o   What would I change about it?

o   How could I make it better?

Now, see if you can change it…

  1. Take it to the next level. Don’t just speculate and think – act on your thinking. Try to:

o   Take up a brand new pastime – something you would not normally try (different thinking leads to new ideas…).

o   Have a pet project that only you know about (such as making the world a better place by adding stick-on eyes to things to give them a face).

o   Record your observations of things – take pictures, notes or videos. Doing this extends your thinking into recording.

o   Have a “Say ‘Yes!’ to Everything” day.

o   Have a go at the digital storytelling MOOC, DS106 (Groom, 2011).

o   Take an adult education class in something completely new.

o   Attend a lecture at your institution that you wouldn’t normally attend.

Cook’s tips

This recipe can be challenging if you are not used to trying new things – some people feel intimidated or nervous about this. That’s absolutely fine. You can still do this by taking on something that you feel OK with. Start by having a look at the examples above and see where you think would be a good place to start.


This is preparation, not research. Do not confuse familiarity with a subject with knowledge of that subject.

Related recipes

This recipe is a great appetiser for any of the recipes that follow.

BITE: Recipes for Remarkable Research is available in paperback, hardback and as Open Access from:

Sense Publishers: Paperback | Hardcover | Free Open Access
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Barnes & Noble: Paperback | Hardcover

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