Solving problems for others will help you if you're tied up in a creativity knot. According to research by Evan Polman (New York University) and Kyle Emich (Cornell University), we're more creative when helping strangers more than ourselves.
"It's been shown, for example, that greater physical and temporal distance lead us to think more abstractly, such that you're more likely to solve a problem if you imagine being confronted by it in a far-off place and/or at a future time," wrote Christian Jarrett on the BPS Research Digest. "Now Polman and Emich have shown that social distance can have the same psychological benefit."
In the first study, participants carried out a structured imagination task by drawing an alien for a story that they would write, or alternatively for a story that someone else would write.
"As expected, drawing an alien for someone else produced a more creative alien," the researchers wrote in the study's abstract. "In Studies 2a and 2b, construal level (i.e., psychological distance) was independently manipulated. Participants generated more creative ideas on behalf of distant others than on behalf of either close others or themselves."
In the third study, a classic insight problem was investigated.
"Participants deciding for others were more likely to solve the problem; furthermore, this result was mediated by psychological distance," the researchers wrote. "These findings demonstrate that people are more creative for others than for themselves and shed light on differences in self–other decision making."
Polman and Emich say there are practical implications of their findings.
"That decisions for others are more creative than decisions for the self is not only valuable information for researchers in social psychology, decision making, marketing and management but also should prove of considerable interest to negotiators, managers, product designers, marketers and advertisers, among many others," they said.
This information is extremely valuable and advantageous for meeting and event professionals, because you're consistently called on to solve problems for strangers.