Dr Christyl Johnson: 3 Ways to Jumpstart Your Creativity

If your creativity needs a jump start follow Dr Christyl Johnson's tips to get back on track fast
4 minute read
Edward Kost @EdwardKost
Technical Co-pilot
Cover photo for Dr Christyl Johnson: 3 Ways to Jumpstart Your Creativity

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Dr Christyl Johnson shares her creativity tips

Is there anything more frustrating than hitting a creative roadblock?

You know the results you need but you cannot seem to cross the mental chasm to get there.

We had the privilege of speaking to Dr. Christyl Johnson, NASA's deputy director for technology and research investments, to discuss her framework for cultivating creativity.

1. Peel open your mind: Brainstorm

The first step is assembling the people directly involved in solving the problem (the think tank) to flesh out everyone's ideas into a draft document. Writing these ideas out by hand is more beneficial than typing, because it stimulates large portions of the brain involved in language, memory and critical thinking. 

This collaborative brainstorming session will encourage the continuous flow of information out of your mind and may also inspire fellow think tank members with new creative ideas.

"I tell everybody to get their think tank together and get all your ideas fleshed out into a draft document," Dr. Johnson says.

2. Gather suggestions from outside experts

This next step may be a little challenging to those who are reluctant to share their early stage ideas, but it's extremely effective. Dr. Johnson suggests taking your draft document of ideas and showing it to an expert outside your field to gather their unique insights.  

"Have somebody take a look at it who is not accustomed to doing what you guys are doing. Somebody in a totally different field," she says.

The benefit of appealing to  outsiders is that they're not bound to the standard solutions in your industry. They're free to approach the problem from a unique perspective and provide some fantastic insights.

According to a Harvard Business Review study, the further the advice is from the context of your problem, the more novel their ideas are: 

creative advice graph

Ideally, you should seek the insight of reputable minds. "Somebody who has expertise,but is maybe using that expertise for a totally different application," Dr. Johnson says.

This is because they're trained to think critically and will approach your problem statement from a unique perspective of intelligence.

According to Dr. Johnson, some of your most creative ideas could be generated by doing this. 

"And that's when you really start to get those creative juices flowing. Even if it isn't someone who has a similar expertise, just outside thinkers will ask you questions that make you think, and you need that."

Not everybody's advice will be beneficial. Even experts get things wrong at times.

But how do you identify and disregard bad advice? Filtering out bad advice that could be detrimental to your project is difficult. According to Dr. Johnson, this is where your years of experience should be factored into the equation.

"That is really going to take some seasoning" she says. "For me, that involves laying out all of the information and going through the pros and the cons of whatever the person is recommending. At the end, it's my gut feel, because I've got years of experience to help me make such judgement calls."

But, if you lack years of experience, what do you do? 

In these situations, Dr. Johnson suggests appealing to those you know you can trust. 

"If you don't have years of experience, it's going to take real thinking and getting with someone that you can trust, in terms of their judgment, to help you navigate through those waters."

Trustworthy experts could be buried in a separate team in your workplace, a family member or college friend. But if you're strapped for options, LinkedIn is a great platform to use, because you can see a summary of everyone's level of expertise on their profile.

3. Take a walk 

Dr. Johnson's final piece of advice is an ancient technique which was a particular favorite for Steve Jobs: the simple art of walking.

If you're feeling stuck, separating yourself from your work will calm your mind and put it in the optimal state for creativity. 

"A totally different environment tricks your brain into thinking that you're in a relaxed state which kind of really helps with creativity," Dr. Johnson says.

According to Dr. Johnson, this activity isn't necessarily performed solo. She and her team often go on mini "creativity excursions" with their workbooks in hand to note down creative solutions as they unexpectedly spring to life.

"We would go to the mall," she says. "Or, we would go out on a boat and be on the water, and still bring our stuff with us."

So, if you and your team are struggling to solve a complex problem, simply take your notepads and go for a walk together. 

Dr Johnson's creativity framework can be implemented by anyone. If you integrate this practice of actively pursuing creativity into your workplace culture, imagine the creative solutions your business will come up with.

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