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Creativity Out of Unexpected Experiences

Unexpected or unusual experiences will not only introduce you to new opportunities, they can also boost your creativity.

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that such experiences impact cognitive flexibility, the ability to adjust your thinking. Active involvement in an unusual event increases cognitive flexibility more than participating in normal experiences does.

Some of history’s most creative and successful people – many of whom are considered geniuses – faced remarkable upheaval in their lives. Nikola Tesla, Marie Curie, Victor Hugo and Albert Einstein were all immigrants or refugees who left their home countries, and almost one-quarter of American Nobel Prize winners were born abroad, according to a Wall Street Journal article.

While the drive to create a better life could explain the level of accomplishment in these particularly gifted immigrants, it doesn’t explain their level of genius as much as seeing the world from a different perspective once they were taken out of familiar surroundings and experienced a “schema violation” – a shift in a person’s thought or behavior patterns.

Ordinary people who consider themselves to be lucky also tend to find themselves in unexpected situations – sometimes by choice. For example, “lucky” people may be more observant, so they see and pick up a $20 bill on the ground, rather than walk by without noticing it, an experiment psychologist Richard Wiseman conducted as part of his research on luck, according to a Psychology Today article.

Unexpected Experiences Fuel Creativity

A 2014 study published in the Creativity Research Journal found that observing an act that involves a “schema violation” – such as an actor making a sandwich in a different way as part of the experiment – can also increase creativity. Therefore, people who are open to participating in or observing new experiences are increasing their ability to be more creative.

You don’t have to be a genius to improve your creativity. All it takes is a little practice. Try walking down an unfamiliar street, or driving to work via a new route. Say “yes” to new experiences that you wouldn’t normally try. And be open to the unusual and unexpected things in life whenever you can.

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