Fostering Creativity by Looking in Unlikely Places Part 1

Creativity Techniques

By Think Jar Collective founder Ben Weinlick

A number of years ago I saw the value and need for creativity in human services and proceeded to explore what creative processes could be relevantly applied to service design.  That led to graduate studies and research on what it takes to develop creative organizational cultures that yield better quality work.  One of the key things I’ve learned is that you have to look outside what you’re used to in order to shake loose a new perspective and spark action.

Below are some of the main points I often give in interactive presentations around Fostering creativity by looking in unlikely places

Step out of your usual routines

  • Looking in unlikely places provides opportunities for Serendipity: chance events that become beneficial and useful

“Creativity is the ability to connect the seemingly unconnected” William Plommer

Habit Shake Down

  • If we want to “think different” then we need to shake up stiff mental habits that keep us locked in status quo assumptions.

The danger of habits is that a person can become a prisoner of familiarity.” Roger Von Oech

It’s hard to see new situations we encounter in a fresh way because of our habits. We filter everything through what we know from past experience.  We don’t see new situations as they are, we are clouded by assumptions and this hinders a creative perspective.


Balance Experience and Breaking old Rules

We need to balance having experience and breaking the old rules in order to see in new ways. When it comes to breaking stiff mental habits there are some things we can do to hack our rigid mental models.  If we do this we will enhance our creativity. The key is looking in unlikely places…



Philo Farnsworth invented television by getting an idea from looking at the rows of neatly spaced crops on his farm. He applied the spacing concept to creating rows of light and dark spots on a cathode ray tube to create images.  So, you could say looking at farming led to the invention of television. 


“The creative act: The defeat of habit by originality overcomes everything”

George Lois- American Designer

8 ways to defeat Stiff mental habits


1. Defeat habits by being curious about interesting ideas and interesting people – seek out and learn from others

Keep on the lookout for novel and interesting ideas others have used successfully.  Your idea needs to be original only in its adaptation to the problem you are working on” Thomas Edison

2. Defeat habits by engaging lots of interests and hobbies

Legendary innovators like Franklin and Darwin share a defining attribute, they had a lot of hobbies” -Steven Johnson, Where good ideas come from

3. Defeat habits by consciously shaking up routines
4. Defeat habits by asking the “dumb questions” – There’s value in having a  beginners mind because there are fewer inflexible assumptions.
5. Defeat habits by hanging out with weird

6. Defeat habits by focusing on a problem and then letting go– do something totally different
7. Defeat habits by including people in your projects who are from outside your domain

Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine always brought together men and women from different domains in his think tanks

8. Defeat habits by developing a culture of serious play.  Play fosters trust and when there’s trust you are more likely to share and be open to fresh ideas


Stay tuned for part 2 where Shaun Brandt will share what he and his team do to foster creativity and the unlikely places they mine for creative gold.

Further reading

Aha moment Steroids: Focus-Let Go-Repeat

The Art of the Dumb Question by Jim Force Ph.D.

Spinning Plates and the Serious Play of Richard Feynman by Ben Weinlick

George Lois on Creativity (short video)

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