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App Smart

Finding an app to get creative juices flowing

Creative thinking is a huge part of a job like mine, but it’s also critical to many types of work — including yours, I’ll bet.

Sometimes, thinking creatively about an idea, a project, or a problem comes easily. Other times it can be tricky, and we get stuck looking at the issues without seeing anything new. At times like these, turn to your smartphone: Many different apps can help in the creative thinking process.

75 Tools for Creative Thinking

  • Free on iOS

  • For me, the most useful creative thinking apps are those that help me think of a new idea or a new angle on an old idea. I love 75 Tools for Creative Thinking from Booreiland, free for iOS.

  • This app has 75 flash cards with inspirational ideas. The cards are broken into different types, like “check around,” “break it down,” and “break free” — topics that should marry up to your creative task.

  • Each card has a cute image on the front to help you recognize it, and its text is revealed when you tap it.

  • The cards bear a list of instructions intended to encourage you to use various methods to try to understand your issue differently or to think of alternative solutions.

  • For example, the “absurd questions” card asks you to describe your problem in words, then to swap some of the keywords with synonyms. Instead of trying to “silence the noise,” for example, you may write down “calm the hiss.” The very act of thinking of the problem like this may help you come up with a solution.

  • The app is simple, but its ideas are clever and it has a slick interface. It’s free to try, so you can see if you like it before you pay $5 in-app to unlock all the cards.


SimpleMind

  • Free on iOS and Android

  • SimpleMind has a clean design that works well.

  • The app’s minimalist display doesn’t get in the way of the creative process of drawing a mind map.

  • But this simplicity doesn’t mean the app is limited: You can build a map as big as you like, with potentially hundreds of elements.

  • In addition, you can easily move components around the map or up and down the hierarchy as you see fit.

  • The free edition on Android is pretty powerful, but the full app has extras, like letting you embed images or hyperlinks to other maps you’ve built in the app.

  • The full version is $5. There are also iPhone editions of the free and full-featured app, though the price is $6 on iOS.

  • Idea Sketch, which is available for Windows Phone and iOS, is a mind-mapping app that takes a slightly different approach to helping you explore your ideas and issues creatively.

  • Its super simple mind map generator has an easy-to-use tap-and-drag interface.

  • You type the different elements of your ideas into text boxes.

  • You can control the shape and color of the boxes, and then link boxes into a meaningful hierarchy just by tapping on them.

  • The best part of the app is that when you tap on the small list-like icon, the app automatically expresses your mind map as a hierarchical list.

  • Seeing your problem broken down this way may help you view it in a new light.

Brainsparker

  • Free on iOS

  • Another creative thinking aid is Brainsparker, a free iOS app that claims to help tap your “inner genius.” This app is a random flash card app. It presents you with all kinds of content that may prompt you to think creatively. I imagine you’d use it like this: Think about the issue you have, shake the app to select a random card and then see an image of a Roman ruin, a simple word question like “Why?” or an interesting quote. You could use it to tickle your brain early on a dreary Monday morning with a random, interesting idea, or to help you solve problems creatively. I like its quirkiness.

Kit Eaton writes on technology for The New York Times.
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