I remember the first time I walked into a bookstore and noticed the books facing forward with handwritten reviews dangling underneath. It made deciding which book to buy much easier compared to scanning rows of book spines. That’s creativity to me: looking beyond what’s conventional and finding a different and better way. For me, life’s much more enjoyable and rewarding when I keep wondering how things could be different from the way they are now. Here are some ways that I keep my mind open to creative breakthroughs.

1. Challenge assumptions

Ask why things happen the way they do and why the world works the way it does. Unless we’re curious, it’s very hard to come up with new ideas.

2. Think of the creative process as starting with a question rather than an answer

Rather than the standard creative assertion, "I've got an idea," the key is to start with a really interesting question. Go home, go back to the office and allow yourself to wonder. When you have interesting questions, you’ll get to interesting solutions.

Quote card image of Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO

3. Reframe problems by asking different questions

If the obvious question is "How do I solve this thing that’s bugging me?" reframe it to ask "Why do I do that thing at all?" or "Is there a better way to approach that thing in the first place?" The key is to ask the right questions with enough room to inspire new ideas. If you ask too narrow a question, you get an obvious answer.

For example, instead of asking "How do we make this chair more comfortable?" we can ask more broadly, "How do we sit in different ways in order to have a better conversation?" We might not even need the chair at all. The idea is to frame the question so that it gives you enough space to go to interesting places.

4. Show creative confidence

We all have a natural ability to spur creative ideas. The important next step is to find the courage to act on those ideas. People get hung up on the idea of failure, but failure is an essential mode for learning what works and what doesn't.

5. Use a creative mindset, whatever your role

We live in a world where change is happening everywhere and nothing stays the same for long, so we need to bring creativity to everything we do. On a personal level, it's rewarding to figure out how things could be different, and professionally, it keeps us competitive. It doesn’t matter what role you play in an organization—there’s always room for improvement in the way we do things.

IDEO Office

6. Be observant

Most of us have powerful devices at our fingertips that allow us to easily and extensively observe the way people work and live. Take photos all the time, and share those pictures at work, because observing how people do things now is the start of figuring out how to do things differently.

From Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO | Source: Google Apps for Work