Develop your imagination by using it

Notes from Michael LeBoeuf's book, Creative Thinking

Any primary ability or talent can be developed by training. You can improve your creative ability by exercising it.


The best creative exercises provide you with mental activity and material out of which you can form ideas. Experience can be firsthand or secondhand, such as reading, listening or watching. But firsthand experience is far superior. A Chinese proverb states:

I hear: I forget
I see: I remember
I do: I understand

A special type of firsthand experience is...


There's no better way to broaden and refresh your outlook than travel. It gets you out of an environmental rut and exposes you to new people, customs, ideas and ways of living. One key to creative living is to view life from a fresh perspective, and travel can give you this new outlook - if you will allow it. Every culture provides a unique way of looking at common situations and solving common problems. Take photographs, keep a diary as you travel.

Charles Cave writes:

I'm an arm-chair traveller and particularly enjoy television programs about travel. Michael Palin's From Pole to Pole was the story of a wonderful trip starting at the North Pole. I was very inspired seeing such places as Finland, Russia, Estonia, Egypt, Africa and Antarctica.
Last week I watched a program about an Englishman who walked from the west coast of France to eighteen months!
Sorrel Wilby's book Across the Top describes a trek across the Himalayas. I have two books about the Ascent of Mt Everest. There's something very motivating about reading books on mountaineering.
A good place for arm-chair travelling and planning your next holiday is the Lonely Planet web-site (as well as reading the books!).


The more you depend on your own ability to think, the more proficient you will become at thinking up new ideas. Experts and consultants should be viewed as collaborators, not dictators. If you rely on someone else to solve your problems and tell you what to do, your creative abilities will shrivel rather than flourish for lack of exercise.

Personal Contacts

One way to learn how to think creatively is to associate yourself with creative people. Look for people who are fun to talk to and have a keen sense of interest in life. An individual who can stimulate your thought process is what you're looking for.

One special group of easily accessible and highly creative people are...


It has been said that insanity is hereditary; you can get it from your children. Another thing you can get from children is a great deal of exercise. A child's world is filled with fantasy, and yours can be too, if you make the effort to interact with them.

Try the association game. You both look at something together and ask the child "What does that look like to you?" or "What does that make you think of?".

Playing imagination games with children and creatively interacting with them is one good way to get you back in touch with your imagination.

You may want to explore the Children section of the Creativity Web.

Games and Puzzles

Certain games and puzzles can furnish you with plenty of opportunity to flex your creative muscles. The game of chess and checkers are both good games as they force you to map out strategies and make moves that depend on what your opponent does. Similar games of strategy are Shoji (Japanese Chess) and Go.

Physical sports such as football, basketball, baseball, tennis, racketball or handball can also provide creative exercise involving strategy.

Charades is another games that provides great creative exercise in thinking up novel ways to communicate something. The board game Pictionary is a similar style game.

Word puzzles and games are another avenue for creative exercise and Thomas Edison was a great believer in this. Today, newspapers carry puzzles of the crossword and jumbled-word varieties. A great word game, such as Scrabble or Boggle, forces you to think in terms of adding, subtracting and modifying various combinations of letters, all of which helps sharpen and tone your creative ability.


There are hundreds of hobbies and some of them can be real workouts for your imagination. Painting, Drawing or Sculpture can't avoid putting you creative machinery to work. Technical hobbies can also provide creative exercise, eg amateur radio, electronics, home computers.

Computers are a hobby with great potential. Think up new uses for computers in the home and write new programs to carry them out. There are several books on the market with titles like 101 Uses for a Home Computer &em; I own one such book!


Alex Osborn, author of "Applied Imagination" wrote: "Reading supplies bread for imagination to feed on, and bones for it to chew on." But not all reading is good creative exercise. The key to using reading as a creative exercise is to read selectively and actively.

Biographies also can be used for creative exercise. Any life worth documenting usually involved some real imagineering on the part of the subject. Perhaps you could profit from their experiences and use their creative ideas as a springboard to launch your own imagination. A good book is Made in Japan, by Akio Morita - the story of Sony.

Another way to use reading as a creative exercise is to take a topic of interest and read several different viewpoints.

Magazines can also be used for creative exercise. Walt Disney believed in reading Reader's Digest and said:

"Your imagination may be creaky or timid or dwarfed or frozen at points. The Readers Digest can serve as a gymnasium for its training".

One of the best things about the magazine is that it provides a kaleidoscope of topics in every issue. Such diversity can provide great creative fuel.

Here is a list of just some of the contents of a 1996 edition of Readers Digest:

Mike Vance talks about the value of reading Mad magazine, describing it as the idiom of our time showing us the direction we are heading. Alfred E. Neuman has big ears for listening and comes out with some fantastic quotations. The stories and cartoons are provocative and satirical. Buy and read a few issues of Mad and have a go at writing some stories and cartoons in the Mad style. It will greatly enhance your powers of perception!

Another interest area for stimulating your imagination is to buy a different magazine each month (or borrow from the library). Read something quite different to what you normally read, for example, sports, house and garden, travel, literary, gossip, fashion, comics, motoring, teenage, arts, etc.


Writing ability is considered to be a basic factor in creative aptitude. The act of writing forces you to utilise all phases of the creative process and come up with a tangible product.

For further information, I recommend the following books:

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Last updated: 2nd August 2002