dotTake a look at the picture to the left. Do you know what it is? “Of course,” you respond. “It’s a dot!” But what else could it be? Take a break in your busy day to stretch your brain. On a a piece of paper, write down a list of all the things this could be.

I’ll Wait …….. (Insert theme from Jeopardy here.)

How long is your list? Do you have five items listed? Maybe you wrote down one or more of the following:  an Oreo cookie with the cream licked off, a black hole, a bug, a freckle or the top of someone’s hat?

You might be surprised to know that in response to that question, the average six year old will generate a list of about 25 different ideas, while the average 45 year old will think up three possible solutions.

Why? What happens to us as we age? For many of us, that short list is a result of letting our creative muscle atrophy. Our brains are efficient, making hundreds of decisions for us every day. But to keep ourselves sane, we often build rules, look for familiar patterns and take the most obvious answer first. This is really a shame, because now, more than ever, businesses need creative solutions. As we race to keep up with changing market conditions, we need new ways of approaching old problems, new strategies, new tactics and new tools.

The good news is that this atrophy can be reversed. Here are a few simple ways to keep your creative muscle strong:

  • Stop censoring yourself. Give yourself permission to laugh and to fail. Children answer the dot question with whatever pops into their head. They aren’t embarrassed and they don’t hold back. Sometimes the most interesting solutions start as really crazy ideas. Brainstorm with abandon and edit later.
  • Strong muscles start with fuel. When I was a kid, Wonder Bread claimed to build strong muscles 12 ways. Build your creative muscle the same way. Read magazines unrelated to your field, drop by an art museum, take a class on something you have always wanted to learn. Spend time with people who don’t see the world the way you do. You don’t have to agree, but find someone with completely the opposite political views and ask them why.
  • Stretch your brain with puzzles and games. Even a five minute intermission in the afternoon can help shake those brain cells our of their rut. Websites like have lots of games and brain teasers, but you can simply buy a book of puzzles. At Roundpeg, we love summer days when we sit outside, have Popsicles and try to stump each other with the silly riddles on the sticks.

Start today, have a little fun, learn something, do something, laugh.  To get you started, here are a few brain teaser. Feel free to share your answers below.

  • A clerk at a butcher shop stands five feet ten inches tall and wears size 13 sneakers. What does he weigh?
  • Which is correct to say, “The yolk of the egg is white” or “The yolk of the egg are white?”