Ed Glassman
Ed Glassman

What Is Creativity & Innovation

A TRUE STORY: I get at least one good, unexpected idea while taking a shower, and I stay much more creative and productive if I read and write in bed when I wake up without interacting with other people. In fact, I wrote this column while I stayed in bed and started writing when I woke up.

In one sense, creativity is a lifestyle, a behavior, a constant seeker of alternatives, and better ways to do things.

The experts say that creativity is the production of new and useful ideas. You accomplish this by combining old bits & pieces in your mind (and in your surroundings) into one thought to produce unexpected outcomes.

To do this, you change old ideas into new ideas. You do NOT create new ideas out of nothing. That doesn’t happen.

For example: To invent a clock radio, you must know something about clocks and radios, and think about them in an environment that acts as a catalyst to combine the information into one thought.

Thus, to be creative, you need to have bits & pieces in your mind, and you have to establish an environment containing creativity triggers so a combination of ideas takes place.

What Are Creativity Triggers? Casual triggers vary widely. A chance remark. Deep focus on a problem. Deliberate thought and incubation. Meditation. Serious discussion with other people. Another person’s idea. Dreaming. A shower. A walk in Nature. Riding quietly in a vehicle. Resting. Laughing. Having fun. A relaxed and quiet state. Excited.

These casual triggers succeed now and then to spark exciting new ideas.

In addition, many dozens of not-so-casual, more focused creativity triggers exist, like brainstorming and brainwriting.

{For dozens of advanced creativity triggers, see my book: “CREATIVITY TRIGGERS ARE FOR EVERYONE: How To Use Your Inventiveness To Brighten Your Life

These advanced creativity triggers target, focus, and speed up the creative process, so you do not have to wait around and hope for new ideas to appear.

How do creativity triggers work? The neurological and physiological basis of creativity triggers are unknown, as is how they operate. Still, they work.

Advanced creativity triggers contain basic elements and underlying principles. Once you appreciate their fine points, you can use them more effectively. You can even design your own creativity triggers by creatively combining elements from different triggers to fit special needs.

(1) Seek Many Alternative Solutions, Avoid The Quick Fix

During the creative process, whether you seek to analyze a problem, create an idea, or find a blockbuster solution, you can avoid the ‘quick fix’ by generating many alternatives.

Consider this situation. You perceive a problem you want to solve. An idea flashes through your mind. You like it. It appears to work. You shout eureka, and the creative process ends. Actually, it hardly started, because this is the quick fix.

The quick fix only scratches the surface of the solutions available had you continued the creative process. The quick fix keeps you from a better alternative.

To avoid the quick fix, generate at least five new alternatives. One hundred is better, but who’s counting.

(2) Ignore Premature Criteria

Knowing the criteria for a quality solution too soon suppresses creative thinking. Criteria box you in, and you waste time worrying whether each idea and new perspective meets the criteria.

(3) Avoid Instant Evaluation

Evaluation depends on old ideas and old information. Creativity seeks new ideas and new information. Old and new conflict with each other. Evaluation versus the new idea.

So, to escape old thinking patterns, do NOT evaluate new ideas too soon. New ideas are often fragile petals that cannot survive the gauntlet, the barrage of critical thinking. So please stop instant evaluation, the basis of your internal gauntlet.

(4) Listen To Other People’s Ideas

Other people’s ideas will often trigger new ideas in you.

(5) Forced Withdrawal

Change the setting of your perspective. Create and combine alternatives within a different viewpoint than the real problem you want to solve.

For example, pretend that you work at a different place, attend a different school in a different country, or that you are a different person. Or solve a similar or related problem. In this way, you avoid getting bogged down in stifling old thoughts and habits.

Forced withdrawal helps you escape some of the constraints of your problem and provides you a clearing within which to stay creative.

(6) Trigger-Ideas

Ideas that do not contribute to a quality solution, when properly used, can trigger other ideas that do work. Trigger-ideas can play a key role in creative thinking.

Stay open to this possibility when pursuing a quality solution. Indeed, even indifferent, exotic words can spark new ideas.

(7) Forced Combinations

Combine ideas, objects, thoughts, and impressions to create unexpected and useful ideas.

Combinations with related items yield less novel outcomes which are often easier to apply to the problem.

Combinations with distant items produce very creative results, though hard to apply to the problem.

Take your choice, but why use advanced creativity triggers to produce prosaic results.

(8) Idea Improvement

Improve your idea relentlessly. This process itself will spark many more new ideas.

List what you like about your idea and what you want to improve. This process acts like a creativity trigger, and will spark additional new alternatives.

(9) Use Bizarre Ideas To Startle & Upset Your Viewpoint

Generate a bizarre idea often to shake things up.

(10) Allow Enough Time.

Creativity takes time for really novel, high quality ideas to emerge.


A TRUE STORY: In one of my creativity workshops, a participant told me that he gets his best ideas in the middle of the night. To make sure he captures these ideas, he has a small light, pen and paper next to his bed so he can write them down. Many people tell me similar stories. Some tell me they get their best ideas when driving a car, some while taking a shower or a bath, some shortly after waking in the morning, and some when walking to work.

Do you know when you get your best ideas? Do you arrange for these occasions to occur more frequently to help your creative outcomes?

Some stages of the innovative process include the following:

Preparation Stage: Fact finding; laying the groundwork and learning the background; learning the creative process.

Concentration Stage: Total absorption in the problem; trancing out.

Incubation Stage: Taking time out; resting; seeking distractions; working on other things; vacationing; jogging; taking walks; having fun.

Illumination Stage: The ‘Ah-Ha’ moment when the insight forms and ideas pop out.

Implementation Stage: Solving practical problems of implementation; getting other people involved. In other words, the hard work.

The preparation stage, is the time during which you fill your mind with new bits and pieces to make remote connections later. It can last many years; for example, the time spent in school, on-the-job training, reading, taking courses and workshops, using clever phones, traveling, life experiences, the internet, etc.

After all, you cannot be a creative person, chemist, engineer, or computer whiz unless you know chemistry, engineering, or computers. You learn your craft and profession first.

During the concentration stage, you focus on a particular problem or task, and absorb yourself in it, making a place in your mind for a new idea to enter.

Frustration at not finding a solution leads to the incubation stage, during which you concentrate on other things while your mind takes a break and quietly makes remote connections.

Then, if you are fortunate, the illumination stage occurs. The paradigm shifts, the ‘Ah-Ha’ insight forms, and a new idea emerges.

Then the implementation stage occurs, a stage that can last a short time or a lifetime, as the entire process cycles repeatedly to modify, implement, and develop the idea.

Thus, new ideas do not appear spontaneously out of the blue. They require preparation, concentration, incubation, and the appropriate creativity triggers to spark remote connections. When new ideas appear, they need special and deliberate nurturing, or they disappear.

These notions trigger a number of issues:

How much incubation time do you build into your schedule? While working on a problem, would you spend a day or two walking in the woods or sitting on a beach?

If someone sits with his or her feet on the desk looking out the window for several hours, or even days, would you find this behavior acceptable?

A HABIT THAT SPOILS CREATIVE THINKING: You do not allot enough time to the incubation stage of the creative process.

Do you value “doing things” more highly than “thinking”? Is it okay for you to spend time thinking, or, seeming to do nothing?

How much time do you allot to the preparation stage to get diverse bits & pieces into your mind?

– How do you obtain diverse bits and pieces for your mind? By taking classes, traveling, attending meetings or conventions, reading, using the computer? By talking to peers, to people in other communities, in foreign lands? Does your inner self encourage this? Does your lifestyle allow this?

A HABIT THAT SPOILS CREATIVE THINKING: You do not increase the diverse pieces and bits in your mind.


Another way to help creative effort involves recognizing and deliberately using your personal creative environmental triggers that helps stimulate your creative juices. For example, some people respond to music, while others need absolute quiet when thinking creatively.

These conditions range from mild to seemingly outrageous behaviors. When these conditions exceed the level of tolerable low-conformity, other people exert pressure. Often, the person stops the behavior. In any case, creative thinking slows.

Some people prefer sharpened pencils, a cleared desk, a disorderly room, quiet, music, or noise. Although personal creativity environments provide needed security, you may not carry out borderline behaviors fearing what others think.

Have you discovered your own personal creativity environments? If you arrange these conditions, you might be able to make small changes that lead to great increases in your creative output.

A TRUE STORY: In one of my creative thinking workshops, a participant told of going to his office on a Sunday morning, a rare event for him, and finding the person who shared his office working intensely with obvious relish at his desk in his underwear.

The coworker explained that he had discovered earlier in life that he worked best and stayed most creative while working in his underwear. So, he came to work on Sunday when he could work unbothered by others.


And checkout my book: “CREATIVITY TRIGGERS ARE FOR EVERYONE: How To Use Your Inventiveness To Brighten Your Life” available here- https://www.createspace.com/3575869

©2016 by Edward Glassman


Ed Glassman, Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, founded the Program For Team Excellence And Creativity at the university. He led scores of problem-solving creativity meetings and creative thinking workshops-seminars for many large and small companies. He was a ‘Guggenheim Foundation Fellow’ at Stanford University, a ‘Visiting Fellow’ at the ‘Center For Creative Leadership’ in Greensboro, NC, and a Visiting Professor at the University Of California at Irvine.

About the Author
Ed Glassman, Ph.D., is professor emeritus and former head of the "Program for Team Effectiveness and Creativity," in the medical school of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was also a visiting fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.