Creative Ideas Begin Outside The Lines, Not in the Box

Ideas for thinking outside the boxWant an idea to kick creativity into high gear?  Think “in the round”. Try this exercise to stimulate those juices.



One of the main problems that keeps creative ideas from flowing from a students mind onto paper may be the paper itself.

Yes, that’s right.  Look at the paper on which you’re taking notes.  Is it lined?  Ok, this also applies to high tech people who transcribe directly on to a computer of some sort.  Here is a huge tip to jump start your mind to start thinking more creatively.

Get rid of the lined paper.  Do not use it when you’re trying to be creative, generate ideas, brainstorm, or break out of writer’s block.

Here’s why.  Students, or anyone’s, minds do not think linearly.   We don’t logically follow one idea with another, leading to another, etc.  Thoughts jump around; one idea seemingly unconnected with the next.

Think of lined paper as a mental straight jacket, imposing order when that step isn’t necessary until your creative ideas are collected and start to take shape.  The early stages of creative brainstorming are significantly restricted with traditional, lined notebook paper.  The thoughts aren’t coming to your conscious that way, so don’t be concerned with “listing” them in that manner.

Students, do you really want to work on developing creative ideas ?  Then try the following:

Use unlined paper, put your main question for the moment in the center and be careful of how you word it.

Next, circle the question or main concept that is in the center of your page. As ideas start to percolate, jot them down quickly.  Capture keywords only, no need to write in complete sentences.  Circle each creative idea as you finish, and draw a line between that circled idea and the circled main focus in the center of your paper.

When the next idea comes up, write, circle, and connect it to the center circle.  If the creative idea arises from one of your thoughts that’s already connected to the main idea, just “branch” the idea outward from the previous thought, and draw a line between these two.  What you’re doing is just letting your brain “radiate” ideas outward, connected related concepts as you brainstorm.

This process is roughly related to Mind Mapping, and has been called “clustering” since like ideas emerge clustered together.

Suggest this to your friends when you are in a brainstorming session for students . Not only will the group find themselves opening up to great, new, creative  ideas students normally would miss, when the do the same activity using lined paper, you’ll also find that all the students  ideas end up more organized than if you’d written them down in the usual way!

Have fun with this process.  Practice it often, and you’ll be great at brainstorming creative ideas in no time!


College Success Speaker, Crystal Jonas- Bio LinkHi, I’m Crystal Jonas,

As a former academic advisor and assistant professor at the United States Air Force Academy, I know what it takes to make college students more successful and enjoy school whole lot more.

Ask about speaking or coaching for your students or faculty. Call me at 719- 291-0366.

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