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Ikea Designers Using Mars Simulator for Ideas Understand a Secret About Creativity

Pretending you're someone else or somewhere else can help you think more creatively.
Ikea Designers Using Mars Simulator for Ideas Understand a Secret About Creativity
Image credit: Ikea
3 min read

Just because we’re not living on Mars yet doesn’t mean we can’t benefit from the futuristic concept. Constant chatter about extraterrestrial habitats has inspired Swedish furniture giant Ikea to create new products suited for space colonies.

Related: 3 Surprising Ways to Unlock Your Creativity

As part of its Democratic Design Days, a time when Ikea shares the innovative projects it’s been working on, the retailer revealed its newest experiment to help its designers brainstorm furniture items for compact living: They’re pretending they’re on Mars.

A number of Ikea designers traveled to the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, where they spent three days inside a spacecraft-like environment devising ways to create simple, comfortable and compact furniture for small spaces. While astronauts spend up to three years in this simulation to prepare them for actual space travel, the Ikea designers’ objective was to come up with new product ideas to support confined urban living in large cities.

“It’s a crazy, fun experience. We’re basically completely isolated for three days to get a taste of what astronauts go through for three years… It’s great to be able to sit down and really spend time with amazingly creative people,” shared Michael Nikolic, Ikea’s Creative Leader.

Related: How to Find Your Passion in 5 Creativity Exercises

However out there this brainstorming method may sound, research has shown that imagining you’re someone else or somewhere else can help ignite creativity. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology discovered the positive effect psychological distance has on creativity and problem solving. Referring to the Construal Levels Theory (CLT) -- how psychological distance affects a person’s thinking and behaviors -- researchers discovered that when a creative task was seen as originating from a faraway location, people responded more creatively.

Another study, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, explains: “CLT assumes that people mentally construe objects that are psychologically near in terms of low-level, detailed and contextualized features, whereas at a distance they construe the same objects or events in terms of high-level, abstract and stable characteristics.” Cases in the latter group require more creative thinking.

Related: 8 Ways to Boost Your Creativity

Although not everyone has access to a Mars simulation, there are other psychological methods that can help boost creativity. In a study summarized in Harvard Business Review, researchers  divided students into groups and had them think about regular objects such as books, vegetables and clothes while behaving like either poets or librarians. The researchers found that pretending to be a creative person, such as a poet, got students thinking more creatively, while behaving like a librarian (with a rigid personality) had the opposite effect. Srini Pillay, executive coach and CEO of NeuroBusiness Group, coined this concept “halloweenism” -- a way to take on a different identity or perspective in order to get your creative juices flowing.

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