How To Use 'Blue-Skying' To Unleash Untapped Creativity
Letting your mind wander free can help you come up with the most practical solutions.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | November 3, 2023
"Blue-sky thinking," inspired by the idea of looking up at the vast open sky, symbolizing limitless possibilities, encourages individuals to think creatively and without constraints. Blue-skying involves exploring ideas and solutions uninhibited by existing rules or conventions, no matter how impractical or far-fetched they might initially seem.
The beauty of this modality of ideating is that it helps you destroy the proverbial box of normative problem-solving in order to think outside of it. Here's what blue-sky thinking prompts can look like:
- "How would you solve this problem if you knew that you are not going to fail?"
- "What would you call this product if you were the final approving authority?"
- "If you had the power to create a product with a technology that does not exist yet, what would it be and which problem would it solve?"
The idea is not to come up with the best or most efficient idea, it is to keep coming up with as many ideas as possible, no matter how asymmetric, eccentric or out-there.
Having said that, anyone that has faced a creative block knows that it's not possible to be in a blue-skying state of mind all the time and you might sometimes need a nudge to get the juices flowing.
Here are three ways to spark your creativity, according to recent studies.
1. Get Curious, About Everything
A 2023 study found that cultivating curiosity can enhance one's creativity, as both traits are linked to being open to new experiences. Curiosity enables us to seek out new ideas and information, which can foster creativity by inspiring novel light bulb moments of our own.
The researchers suggest that curiosity arises when individuals become aware of a "knowledge gap" between what they know and what they could potentially learn, highlighting the value of always asking "why" and pushing oneself to explore uncharted territory.
Openness, curiosity and, consequently, creativity can be enhanced in the following ways:
- Embracing new experiences. Engaging in new activities outside of one's comfort zone, such as learning a musical instrument, a new sport, traveling and learning about new cultures or exploring literature, articles or genres that you might not typically choose are some ways to experience diversity, challenge preconceptions and stimulate creativity.
- Ask questions. Develop a habit of asking questions and remaining open to a variety of perspectives. For instance, you can attend events or lectures covering a wide range of topics or join discussion groups with those who hold alternative viewpoints. Question your own assumptions about the world. Exposure to different ideas and fields of knowledge can challenge your thinking, encouraging flexibility and openness. An attitude of openness to lifelong learning keeps your mind agile and receptive to new ideas.
- Engage in artistic expression. Participate in creative activities such as painting, writing or music. The act of creation in itself encourages a mindset of exploration and innovation.
2. Try Mindful Mind-Wandering
During episodes of mind-wandering, people often find themselves lost in a runaway stream of consciousness, daydreaming or engaging in thoughts unrelated to the present moment. These thoughts can include memories, future plans, imaginative scenarios and so on.
While sometimes distracting, allowing the mind to wander can also lead to insightful ideas and off-beat solutions. A 2018 study emphasized the distinction between deliberate or intentional mind wandering as opposed to spontaneous mind-wandering, which is unintentional and often uncontrollable.
The researchers found that deliberate mind-wandering led to creative behavior, especially when combined with practicing mindfulness, which can enhance awareness of the present moment and receptivity to new experiences. Specifically, the ability to look within, articulate one's inner experiences, become fully immersed in the moment rather than being on autopilot and allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go without reacting impulsively can aid focus and mental flexibility, creating an optimal mental state to ideate.
To engage in deliberate mind-wandering, try the following:
- Schedule a time. Allocate specific times to deliberately mind-wander, perhaps during breaks, walks or designated creative periods.
- Minimize distractions. Find a quiet and comfortable space with minimal external distractions to help you focus inward.
- Practice relaxation. Incorporate relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation to create a calm mental environment conducive for deliberate mind-wandering.
- Choose a theme. Choose a specific theme or question to contemplate. This intentional focus can guide your thoughts in a purposeful direction. You can use a journal to jot down any significant thoughts.
3. Remember That There Are No Bad Ideas
A 2023 study found that in the early stages of brainstorming an idea, using your existing perspective on what counts as a good idea may not be helpful, as it causes you to dismiss ideas that do not match your expectations, even if they could be useful.
The authors write, "People tended to evaluate ideas as more creative if they spontaneously experienced a change in perspective when evaluating them. Evaluators may engage in a process of perspective change by searching for a fruitful new perspective with which to appreciate ideas, thereby finding creativity."
Recognizing that your interpretation of the idea is separate from the actual value of the idea can be a game-changer. When the goal is to generate as many ideas as possible without immediate judgment, you lay the groundwork for discovering novel and innovative solutions.
Engage in brainstorming sessions where no idea is too outlandish or unconventional. This uninhibited exploration could lead you to unexpected connections and exciting breakthroughs.
At the end of the day, creativity thrives when you give yourself unconditional permission to think, emote and savor the experience of your inner and outer reality. Unlocking blue-sky thinking requires a deliberate shift in mindset and an environment that nurtures your creativity. As you encourage free-spirited brainstorming where all ideas are valued and venture into the boundless expanse of the metaphorical blue sky, you'll discover that the realm of innovative thinking knows no limits.