4 Mind Hacks to Spark Your Best Ideas. They Worked for Steve Jobs
New Studies in neuroscience explain why these mind tricks work.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
In today's knowledge economy, you are only as valuable as your ideas.
My job is to teach leaders how to communicate their ideas persuasively. But I can't help unless they have an original idea. Fortunately, there are some simple tips that you can use to kick-start the creative process. Steve Jobs, one of the most creative entrepreneurs of all time, practiced each of these habits.
1. Connect ideas from other fields.
For a book on the Apple Store that I wrote in 2012, I learned that Steve Jobs urged his team to visit the companies that reflected the gold standard in customer service--The Ritz-Carlton and The Four Seasons. You can see the results in the Genius Bar, which is based on the bar at the back of a hotel. Instead of dispensing alcohol; it dispenses advice. Apple Store employees also follow a service model based on one used at The Ritz-Carlton.
The Apple Store wasn't the first time Jobs adopted ideas from other fields. In his now famous Stanford Commencement Speech, Jobs told the story of studying calligraphy in college, which eventually found its ways in the development of the first Macintosh. According to Jobs, "Creativity comes down to exposing yourself to the best things that humans have done and then try to bring those things into what you're doing."
2. Find a theme song
Speaking about his relationship with Bill Gates, Jobs once said, "I think of most things in life as either a Bob Dylan or a Beatles song. There's one line in that Beatles song: you and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead."
It's no secret that music makes people happy, puts them in a creative mood, and elevates their spirits. Why you might find surprising is what kind of music works really well. Former speechwriter and now columnist for The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan, says when she's staring at a blank page, a movie score sparks her creativity. Movie music is meant to help a story along and not be the story.
Today, science proves that Noonan is on to something. In Score, a documentary about movie music, psychology professor Dr. Siu-Lan Tan says movie soundtracks trigger many structures of the brain simultaneously. Melody and pitch are processed by one system in the brain, tempo and rhythm are processed in other parts of the brain.
Film scores drive narrative. Movies wouldn't be the same without them. Listen to a little movie music in the background and some of the magic rub off on your next presentation. My favorite to work by include: Remember the Titans, Gladiator,Rudy, and Rocky. Try it. The worst that can happen is you'll feel like taking on the world.
3. Read far more books than average
Steve Jobs was a voracious reader of books, magazines and scientific papers. One of Steve Jobs' most famous insights--and one that changed our world-- was sparked by a magazine article he had read in Scientific American. It was an 11-page article in the 1973 issue that concluded a human on a bicycle was the most energy-efficient species. It triggered an analogy that Jobs later used the build computers. "A computer is the most remarkable tool that we've ever come up with. It's the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds," Jobs said.
Creative entrepreneurs read--a lot. While the average American spends 19 minutes a day reading, Warren Buffett spends about six hours reading newspapers, magazines, and books. Elon Musk is a prodigious reader, as is Bill Gates, Mark Cuban and Mark Zuckerberg. If success leaves clues, these entrepreneurs are giving you the roadmap.
4. Bombard the brain with new experiences
Steve Jobs visited an ashram in India. He came up with the name Apple after visiting a commune in Oregon conveniently located in an apple orchard. When entrepreneurs came to his house to pick his brain, he'd take a walk with them.
None of this would surprise Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns. "To see things differently than other people, the most effective solution is to bombard the brain with things it has never encountered before," Berns writes in his book, Iconoclast. According to Berns, epiphanies rarely occur in familiar places--like sitting in front of your computer at your desk. According to Berns, traveling to another country or a place radically different than your own really helps move along the creative process. In other words, if you're looking for a breakthrough, take that vacation.
Here's one way to hit all four creative mind hacks at once: Travel to a place you've never visited before. Bring a friend who works in a different field than you. Listen to film scores from your favorite movies, and bring a book. You'll come home with new and novel ideas.