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In her new book, Think Bigger: How to Innovate, Columbia Business School professor Sheena Iyengar provides steps for how to generate new and useful ideas.Handout

Pablo Picasso created a new style of painting. Sir Isaac Newton came up with the law of universal gravitation. Nancy Johnson invented the hand-cranked ice-cream maker.

Ground-breaking ideas like these are often regarded as the product of a stroke of genius. A singularly brilliant mind experiences a sudden flash of insight or has a vision in a dream, and their “aha!” moment delivers them a revolutionary solution.

Sheena Iyengar is upending this narrative. By delving into the science of how creative ideas develop in the human mind, and reconstructing some of history’s big ideas, Iyengar explains there is a method to thinking like Picasso, Newton or Johnson, one that anyone can use to boost their creativity.

In her new book, Think Bigger: How to Innovate, the Columbia Business School professor, who is known for her best-seller The Art of Choosing, provides steps for how to generate new and useful ideas. These steps include choosing the right problem to solve, breaking it down into smaller subproblems and examining how others have successfully solved those subproblems in the past.

The path to innovation is not completely linear, she said, and one may need to revisit the various steps repeatedly, but seeing the process laid out makes it more achievable.

In an interview with The Globe, Dr. Iyengar dispels some common myths about ingenuity.

Myth #1: Creativity is innate. You either have it, or you don’t.

There is a structured way in which you can go about coming up with ideas. And then, it’s just a matter of practicing it and making it a habit, and you can get better and better at it. It’s accessible to anyone.

There’s no such thing as the so-called creative or analytic type. If you look at the minds of physicists and artists under the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), whether you’re doing a mathematical exercise or you’re writing a poem, essentially, your brain is doing the same thing; it’s all happening in working memory.

Myth #2: Innovation requires coming up with a brand new idea that no one has thought of before.

You can take any innovation from any moment in time, and it’s a combination of existing ideas, or as I call it, existing options. The way I define innovation is it’s a new combination of old ideas that come together to solve a complex problem.

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Myth #3: The best ideas in any given field come from experts within that field.

When you develop expertise in an area, you are doing lots of trial and error. And sure, as long as you’re doing lots of experimentation, meaning you’re learning lots of patterns, you’re becoming better and better.

After you develop a certain amount of expertise, though, it’s difficult for you to keep solving problems because you get stuck in a certain way of doing and perceiving. Often, it’s somebody from the outside, who can’t know nothing about what you do, they have some base knowledge of what you’re doing. But they may be able to see what you’re doing in a new way. And that’s why the innovators are often somebody new.

Now, the way you can expand yourself, though, is by learning about a different domain that might have to deal with similar problems. Let’s say you are really good at physics. You might learn about architecture. You might learn about history.

Myth #4: If you need an idea fast, brainstorm.

If you brought together experts on a problem, for which there is a known solution, like putting on an event, then sure. It’s a coordination exercise. It works brilliantly.

When you actually have a complex problem, like “how do I create a new product that will expand the growth of this company?,” brainstorming is not the answer. When there’s no known solution, all you’re doing is collecting ideas that exist in a few people’s minds that you happen to bring together. It’s what I call “idea diarrhea.” You know, “you could do this,” “you could do that.” It’s just a bunch of ideas. There’s no structured way of thinking about it.

Myth #5: Creatively designed offices yield creative ideas.

Many great ideas were created in a garage.

Is your office a more pleasant place? It can be, if it looks pretty. Maybe it’s higher status, and so it’s easier to hire people. There’s no evidence to suggest, though, that a fancy space makes you more creative. What does make you more creative is if you’re comfortable in the space because you’re able to work there, and if you have access to either people or bits of knowledge that you need to be creative with.

Myth #6: The best decisions are purely rational.

Even if I give you the perfect solution for your problem, you still may not do it. Why? Because if you don’t like it, you’re not going to do it.

That’s why listing pros and cons doesn’t work. You’re only going to do something that you really want to do and happens to be a solution to your problem. Not all solutions are equal. It’s the ones that are more in line with your wants that are going to be the dominating ones. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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