Get your brain in gear

Get your brain in gear

Exercising your mind and turning things on their head can provide new solutions to tough problems

Are we born with a set level of intelligence and creativity, or are they skills that can be mastered? What struggles do you face that make it difficult for you to reach your goals? Here, we suggest some ways to become an accomplished learner.


The main aim of brainstorming is to come up with loads of new and unique ideas. The secret is to get all your ideas, no matter how crazy they might sound in your head, down on paper. At this stage, it's just about getting those creative juices flowing and keeping track of your thoughts. Jot the craziness down freely!

Research suggests that brainstorming lets us get closer to the core issue, either by logical reasoning, free association, or even by chance. Once you are equipped with tonnes of ideas, you can critically eliminate the worst ones.

Reverse brainstorming

If the idea you are trying to come up with just doesn't seem to be coming, and you've given conventional brainstorming a try, why not approach it from a different angle?

Let's take perfecting a presentation or your interview skills as an example. If you spend time thinking solely about how to improve your skills, you will repeatedly feel like you are not getting anywhere. Why not turn the question on its head and ask how you might make your presentation skills worse? For example, you could be worse by being the classic shaking wreck who is ill-prepared and under-dressed.

Experts have shown that this "reverse" approach can help to break the deadlock in our thought processes. Before you know it, you'll have a list of solutions to your problem.

Random input

How many times have you felt discussions just aren't on track and are going nowhere, or that your group is completely out of ideas?

Physician and author Edward de Bono says "random input" can help, allowing your brain to think in a new direction. This method uses the power of association. When the session is slowing, you just need to introduce a random noun. For example, if you are discussing global warming and how to solve it, you could scream "cows". Who knows where this might take your discussion...

Provocative thinking

Provocative thinking is another important skill that helps us come up with innovative ideas.

Start by deliberately making a stupid or shocking statement to challenge the assumptions we hold. One example of this is the owner of a cinema who was looking at different ways to compete with the internet. He said: "It should be free to watch movies in the cinema."

On the surface, this might not sound like an idea that would lead to anything profitable. But the owner found that many more people came to watch movies, and bought snacks at his cinema. Through challenging what seemed to be an illogical assumption, the owner was able to come up with an unexpected solution to the issue of declining profits.

It's often through challenging fixed notions that unique, innovative ideas are formed.

Train your brain

The science of neuroplasticity has shown that the brain is capable of reorganising and changing itself when stimulated by the right kinds of challenges. Brain-training programmes are so popular these days that they are used in some schools in the United States. Neuro-scientific puzzles, IQ tests, brainteasers and games are popular tools that are great for training your brain and keeping it sharp.

Rephrase questions

Sometimes we get stuck trying to answer a question, and waste time going around in circles looking for an answer. But if we simply rephrase the question, we are able to look at the problem from a different angle.

As an example, instead of asking "How can I make more money?", you can ask "How can I save more money?". The solutions will become a lot more obvious.

See it to realise it

Think about how many logos you instantly recognise in the street. Even a certain font type or design can make us think of a specific brand.

The ability to recognise patterns and to think in visual images is crucial for learning, especially when it comes to mathematical problems and comprehension. Do some exercises to help you differentiate between the orientation, size and shape of objects.

Vickie Liu and Amanda Tsoi, Senate House Education

Senate House Education's new Golden Brain Programme aims to boost students' brainpower and help them realise their full academic potential with a series of brain exercises, games and thought-provoking questions. For more information, visit or contact 2972 2698.

Senate House Education is a team of exceptional tutors and admission coaches from Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial, LSE and HKU with diverse focuses and professional experience. Based in Hong Kong and Oxford, it offers students the opportunity to engage intellectually, outside the constraints of the mainstream examination-based syllabus at their day schools.


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