KS&R Blogs


I love HGTV. I am always trying to guess, will they Love It? Or List It? House Hunters who can't get it through their heads that wallpaper is not a deal-breaker drive me crazy. And when Jonathan and Drew suggested that a creative, inspired approach to remodeling would bring new function and flair to the master bath, I jumped on it (currently in progress; see photos).

No worries, I thought. I know I am creative -- after all, I scored 100% on this "Are YOU Creative?" quiz:

  • Do you have an active imagination?
  • Do you have a problem with authority?
  • Do you ask lots of questions?
  • Are you your own worst critic?
  • Do you use intuition to make decisions?
  • Do you find humor and fun in pretty much every situation?
  • Are you a pain in the butt?

Of course, it's ridiculous to attempt to identify creativity (or the lack thereof) in a pop quiz.

The truth is, everyone is creative. It isn't a gift or special talent reserved for a privileged few. But there are plenty of roadblocks to expressing and nurturing creativity: environmental (i.e., a workplace that does not reward it) and personal (fear of failure, fear of criticism, applying too much logic).

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to being creative is self-perception. A study published in the Harvard Business Review by Jeff Dyer et al. suggests that if you don't think you are creative, then you won't be.

So why does this matter in qualitative research?

Part of what makes qualitative research so exciting and valuable is when participants are able to challenge assumptions, push the envelope, and see things in a different way -- and produce new insights and ideas.

There are plenty of "how to" books that offer strategies to help people get in touch with and strengthen their creative self over time. The challenge in qualitative research is to find a way -- in a very short period of time -- to convince participants that they can be creative and get those juices flowing.

Here are three of my favorite techniques to help participants think flexibly and break away from the obvious way of looking at things -- in 10 minutes or less!

  • Sell a "Zork". Participants are asked to "sell" a strange object. The "Zork" can be almost anything -- as long as it is strange and inscrutable (look for the oddest items you can find; here's Allie Cook, KS&R Research Analyst, checking out a Zork I dug up in my grandfather's attic). Ask for a volunteer "salesperson" to sell it to the group for at least $500. As time allows, ask for additional volunteers, using other Zorks you have collected.

  • Play music. Brainwave Power Music specializes in creating original audio tracks to boost creativity, reduce stress, and improve learning. The music is designed to stimulate the brain through a neurological process known as "brainwave entrainment". It features beats and tones that turn on and off rapidly, creating sharp, distinctive pulses of sound. And the intensity of the sound goes almost directly from 0 to 100 and back again in an evenly spaced manner. You can find examples of this music on YouTube.

  • Color. Coloring isn't just for kids. Research shows that it stimulates the areas of the brain related to creativity. Carl G. Jüng was one of the first psychologists to employ coloring as a technique in the early 20th century. Today, in the UK, coloring books for adults are best sellers (Zen Colouring by GMC Publications is my favorite). Other great examples of coloring books that are complex enough to engage an adult brain but still free flowing are Color to Create, by BDM Mind Series and The Flow Coloring Book by Helen Dardic and Carolyn Gavin.

I encourage you to incorporate one of these techniques into your next qualitative research project. If there are other sources of inspiration or techniques you use to jump start the creative process, feel free to share them!