In his first year of University Steve Jobs dropped out. Instead he decided to just ‘drop-in’ to calligraphy classes. Jobs learnt all about typefaces and beautiful lettering despite the fact he had no application for it. Several years later, Jobs was toiling away trying to come up with the next big thing in computers. After contemplating the old desktop computers with black screens and ugly big green block writing, Jobs’ past experience and knowledge of calligraphy came flooding back to him. This sparked off what would be one of the biggest innovations in computing history – typefaces!

“If I had never dropped in on that calligraphy course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts,” Jobs said in a speech to Stanford students. Jobs’ story perfectly demonstrates how gaining a broad range of experiences and knowledge can boost our ability to be creative.

Scientists have looked into this very concept and studied whether exposure to a wide range of information increases divergent thinking abilities. In a study conducted at Drake University, Maria Clapham tested the hypothesis that diverse stimulus would increase creative thought. They asked one group of people to undertake an idea generation task without being exposed to any stimulus prior to the task. A second group of people were required to read a list of sixty random, unrelated pieces of information and then complete the idea generation task. Those in the latter group performed significantly better. These findings suggest that exposure to a wide range of information gets the creative juices flowing.

Of course we don’t all have time to ‘drop-in’ to classes at university like Jobs, but here are some easy options for ‘going wide’ in daily life:

* Each time you read the newspaper, pick out an article from an area you don’t usually read

* Got time to kill at the airport? Buy a magazine on a topic you know nothing about

* Attend a public lecture on something you wouldn’t normally gravitate towards

* Take a weekend trip to a town you have never visited

I’d love to hear about how you have been ‘going wide’. Please get in touch with comments or questions at helen@inventium.com.au or twitter: @projectbarclay