5 Steps To Empower Others To Think More Creatively


To help people think differently about situations, problems or products, you have to disturb the way their brains automatically process information.  In order to define who we are and make sense of the world around us, our brains like to work quickly within the confines of what we know.  The brain doesn’t like to have to stop and “think outside the box.”

In fact, you have to get someone to actually see their box before you can get them to see outside of it.

That is why it is hard to change people’s minds or to ask them to think more creatively.  Our meaning-making, quick-to-interpret brains actually constrain creativity.

Because of this, you need to disturb the automatic mental processing so people actually stop and think about their thinking, which opens the door to seeing new ways of being and acting.  This can be done with a ‘Discomfort Zone’ conversation – challenging the beliefs that created the frames in the brain and surfacing the underlying fears, needs, and desires that are keeping the constructs in place.  Through reflective statements and questions, you can help people actively explore, examine and change their beliefs and behavior.

The ‘Discomfort Zone’ is the moment of uncertainty where people are most open to learning. This is the best opportunity for helping people develop new perspectives, see different solutions to their problems, and potentially grow as human beings.

According to the latest research in neuroscience, the brain needs to be aroused by strong emotions such as surprise, defensiveness, and confusion before an insight or new pattern of thinking can emerge.  To help others make shifts in their thinking and behaving, you must be willing to challenge beliefs and create tension to short-circuit the brain’s routine.  There needs to be a hole in the “force field” that protects the sense of reality before people will actively explore, deliberate, and change their mind.

Consider your own experiences.  The sudden, new and amazing solution to a problem probably didn’t come to you as you hovered over your desk rearranging the details.  The new idea that could reshape your future didn’t appear to you as you sat in the dark ruminating over past conversations.  Flashes of insight are not self-generated.  The sudden solution, amazing truth and profound understanding that gave you no choice but to change your mind most likely came as a result of someone asking you a question or reflecting back to you what they heard you say in a way that made you stop and question yourself.

Your best creative thinking has probably been triggered by someone else. For the same reason you can’t tickle yourself, you can’t fully explore your own thoughts.  Your brain will block and desensitize you to self-imposed exploration.  But when someone you trust adeptly challenges your reasoning and asks you a powerful question that breaks down your defenses, your brain is forced to re-order data in your long-term memory.  For a moment, the break down feels awkward.  Your mind goes blank.  You might feel a pinch of anger or sadness because you didn’t see the situation differently before.  Then you are likely to laugh at what you see… you laugh at yourself for being short-sighted when the answers were just in front of your nose.

You can create this reaction in others through patience, listening, and using your curiosity to ask the right questions.

Here Are 5 Steps You Can Use To Open People’s Minds:

1.  Let Go Of Knowing

You have to enter these conversations trusting that the person will see new possibilities if you ask the right questions.  If you know what you want them to say, they will feel you are pushing them instead of being interested in their point of view.  You must go into a conversation curious about what they think and how the conversation will unfold.  And you must genuinely care about the person’s success.  If they sense you are there only because you have a goal to be reached, they will experience your questions as interrogation instead of creative exploration.

2.  Listen To Their Story For Clues

The purpose for listening goes beyond ensuring that people feel heard. You need to pull out the assumptions and beliefs that are creating the box they can’t see beyond.  When you rephrase their assumptions and ask if they are absolutely true, you allow people to question their thinking.  They can then sort out truth from speculation on their own, instantly giving them a view of what else might be true.

3.  Rephrase And Ask Questions Instead Of Offering Suggestions

As they tell their stories, ask about the desires, disappointments, and fears you sense they are feeling.  You can be wrong about what you sense.  If you are wrong but framed your observation as a question, they will answer your question by explaining their view of what is causing their emotions, which then takes the conversation to a deeper level.  What do you think they are holding onto that is keeping them from moving forward?  What do you sense they want but are angry or fearful about not getting, such as respect, recognition, or safety?  When you help them see how their emotions have limited their thinking, their blind spots come to light.

4.  Have Them Articulate Their “Aha” Insight Before They Commit To What Is Next

Many people will stop, say “Wow, I had not thought about it that way before” and then plunge forward with a solution or new idea.  Ask them to articulate what they now see, so the insight becomes clear and permanent.  Otherwise, they could forget what they have learned.

5.  Be Patient And Comfortable With Discomfort

When the conversation begins to feel risky, messy or emotional, breathe and recall the purpose for it – to help them think for themselves.  If you slip and declare what is wrong with their thinking, their brains will shut down.  No one likes feeling wrong or stupid.  Remember you are watching the brain of the person in front sort through and work things out.  Be patient with the process so you don’t get entangled in their reactions.

If you are a leader looking to empower others to think more creatively, spend more time asking questions than giving advice.  When you ask good questions that make people stop and think about their thinking, you are building on what they know instead of limiting them with what you know.  You help people become open to learning and able to see the world around them in new ways.