Research has shown that many types of creativity require abstract thought. And thinking of events in the future causes people to think more abstractly.
So researchers set up several experiments to answer the question “Does thinking about the future improve creativity?”
Here’s what they did in one experiment.
They divided participants into two groups. One group was asked to think about their lives one year from now to get them to think about the future. The other group was asked to think about their lives tomorrow, to get them thinking close to the present.
Both groups were given three insight problems to solve commonly used to measure creativity. Here’s an example of one of the insight problems.
A prisoner was attempting to escape from a tower. He found a rope in his cell that was half as long enough to permit him to reach the ground safely. He divided the rope in half, tied the two parts together, and escaped. How could he have done this? [Solution given at the end of this post.]
Those participants that imagined their lives a year from now solved a lot more problems than those that thought about the next day.
So thinking about the future did improve abstract thinking and creativity.
It’s also important to note that in follow up experiments they gave participants creative tasks and analytical tasks. And people who thought about their lives a year ahead did worse than those who thought ahead only 24 hours.
So when facing a creative problem that involves abstract thinking, spend some time thinking about the future. But when you’re deep in analysis think about the present.
So how will you use these ideas today? Let me know in the comments below.
[Solution: He unraveled the rope lengthwise and tied the remaining strands together.]
Reference to study above:
Förster, Jens; Friedman, Ronald S.; Liberman, Nira Temporal Construal Effects on Abstract and Concrete Thinking: Consequences for Insight and Creative Cognition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 87(2), Aug 2004, 177-189.