Senior managers can apply practical insights from neuroscience to make themselves—and their teams—more creative. Although creativity is often considered a trait of the privileged few, any individual or team can become more creative—better able to generate the breakthroughs that stimulate growth and performance. The key is to focus on perception, which leading neuroscientists, such as Emory University’s Gregory Berns, find is intrinsically linked to creativity in the human brain. To perceive things differently, Berns maintains, we must bombard our brains with things it has never encountered. This kind of novelty is vital because the brain has evolved for efficiency and routinely takes perceptual shortcuts to save energy; perceiving information in the usual way requires little of it. Only by forcing our brains to recategorize information and move beyond our habitual thinking patterns can we begin to imagine truly novel alternatives.
In this article, we’ll explore four practical ways for executives to apply this thinking to shake up ingrained perceptions and enhance creativity—both personally and with their direct reports and broader work teams. While we don’t claim to have invented the individual techniques, we have seen their collective power to help companies generate new ways of tackling perennial problems—a useful capability for any business on the prowl for potential game-changing growth opportunities. Creativity is not a trait reserved for the lucky few. By immersing your people in unexpected environments, confronting ingrained orthodoxies, using analogies, and challenging your organization to overcome difficult constraints, you can dramatically boost their creative output—and your own.