We tend to associate creativity with certain professions and fields of study. But the reality is that creativity is useful in all kinds of work. Furthermore, it is possible to become more creative, even if you don’t think of yourself as a creative person.
In this article, I’ll explore what creativity is, why it’s crucial to success in life, and some exercises you can do to start being more creative. The definition of creativity is broad, and reminds us that creativity is not limited to artists or musicians. It does however require that we have some kind of impact on the domain in which we create.
Creativity gives a higher chance of success than intelligence. Are you intelligent? Are you good at calculating, or you are a tech genius? But are you creative enough? Are you good at connecting dots that don’t usually align? Intelligence and technical skills definitely give you an edge in the workplace, helping you manage your business and doing the tasks faster and better.
However, to be able to imagine and create, a new venture needs something more. In your entrepreneurial endeavor, your intelligence might help you at later stages of managing your business, but in order to create something new, innovation will come in handy.
Creativity is more like a process and rarely comprises a single eureka moment. Everyone is innately capable to step up to that process. So we can actually “practice” creativity, or make ourselves more creative, by following these 9 steps:
1. Establish a creative work environment.
Environment plays an important role in stimulating or inhibiting creative impulses. A creative environment acts like a support system; it promotes relaxation and ultimately cushions creative thoughts. This is why huge companies like Google and Facebook are doing next-level investments in providing their employees with a very fun, relaxing environmental setting similar to a playground for grown-ups. The purpose is to provide a comfortable and relaxing zone where ideas can be easily vocalized. In such an environment, even unusual and bizarre ideas are appreciated because it is in the midst of those ideas that some really great ideas with potential for success are created and nurtured.
2. Merge different disciplines to generate wonderfully creative ideas.
It has been proven through studies that an “untidy” or messy environment can help boost creativity. In such experiments, different groups were placed in messy as well can clean and tidy environments. It was observed that group performance in a messy room was significantly better than those in a clean room. A messy room promotes the formation of random, unstructured thoughts that ultimately lead to creative ideas, whereas a structured and tidy place rarely promotes going beyond structure and norm.
- Running out of ideas? Some really great output can be obtained by merging dots that are not generally connected. Combining fields that do not usually go together can be very innovative. This has also been proven by a study in which people provided with more related words were unable to make up creative stories than those who were assigned unrelated words. This technique is also known as fusing ideas. Some exercises that can help in fusing unrelated ideas are given below:
- Connect remote things: For example, pick up two books, select a certain page and a certain word and then make up a story of how they are or can be connected.
- Find an analogy: Pick up a product and keenly observe it for its properties. Explain in detail its attributes and characteristics. For example, a knife can be described as ‘sharp’ and ‘metallic’ or it can also be identified as something that requires downward pressure to cut a thing. The next step is to find out how these attributes can help in solving the problem.
- Meet different people, try to imagine being in their place: Meeting or working with people who are like you, are in the same profession or are close to you can be comforting. Imagining yourself belonging to a different profession or switching places with someone you just met can help you to have a different perspective of problems and finding solutions.
3. Creativity needs both structure and flexibility.
It is questionable whether creativity flourishes in more structure or more flexibility. The truth is it takes a mixture of both to create an optimal environment.
Structure has both encouraging and discouraging impacts on creativity. On one hand, if someone adheres to structure, follows rules and routine, the brain cannot process the random thinking that helps in finding new solutions. However, some structure is important to give a sense of direction, goal and ambition. Knowing what someone wants to achieve helps in devising strategies to reach the goal.
4. Ask smart and appropriate questions.
Questions lead to answers, but asking a smarter question will give you an even more interesting answer. This is what led to the creation of Starbucks and Instagram. Their owners asked themselves simple yet intriguing questions, ultimately leading to the creation of amazing platforms.
- Some techniques mentioned in literature for practicing asking smart questions are:
- Start with one question, do not overthink, and make 10 variations of it.
- Make up alternative questions to get to the right one.
- Tackling a problem in a different way needs a different perspective.
- Get your hands on all the information available to be able to think differently.
- Take one problem, and ask people from different origins or ethnicities what their take would be on that. Compare your perspective with theirs.
5. Test yourself with the 30 Circles Test.
This creativity exercise was designed by Bob McKim and explained by Tim Brown in his TED Talk Creativity and Play. In this playful exercise, you need to draw 30 circles on paper, and in one minute you need to assign objects to the circles. Most adults cannot assign more than a few circles. Children are good at such things because adults are self-critical and have a desire to be original. The goal of the exercise is to create more diverse connections among things that could ultimately help in the creation of ideas.
You can find more details about the 30 Circles Test in this article Build Your Creative Confidence: 30 Circles Exercise.
6. Learn something new regularly – sign up often for a course absolutely new to you.
Learn something new regularly – sign up often for a course absolutely new to you.
Always being open to learning something new helps to keep you flexible and open to new ideas. Creativity also thrives best when a person leaves his comfort zone. There are plenty of courses both online and in evening education programs with the purpose of giving an informal education for beginners.
7. Expect to be creative at atypical times.
Everyone has optimal times, like morning or evening, for working out complicated cognitive assignments. However, these are not necessarily the best times for creative tasks. A study showed that creativity-related tasks are more easily performed when someone is least alert. This phenomenon has been explained by Professor Sian Beilock who is a cognitive scientist by training. She says, “Sometimes people’s ability to think about information in new and unusual ways can actually be hampered when they wield too much brainpower”. She offers a fascinating look into the science of why so many of us collapse under pressure. She provides a toolbox of techniques and strategies that can short-circuit anxiety and turn high-pressure situations to your advantage.
8. Walk when you need ideas.
A couple of things that could activate creative flair are going for a walk and getting yourself bored. Walking is one way of activating the creative stimuli by increasing the blood flow to the brain and increasing visual stimuli that cannot be achieved behind a desk. Like walking, boredom could possibly be linked with some creative boosts. Some studies have indeed shown that despite being mostly associated with some negative connotations, boredom has a positive impact on creative thinking.
A Stanford study released in 2014 found that walking increased a person’s “creative output” by an average of 60 percent. Steve Jobs of Apple was known for conducting walking meetings, which are increasingly popular among employers, highlighted by a recent front page article of the Wall Street Journal that quoted an executive gushing how “ideas started to come to life” during a walk-and-talk through Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan.
9. Engage and encourage your team.
Nothing can replace the value of engaging the whole team in a task. It gives you multiple perspectives about a task or an idea, helping to refine the idea and crosschecking it before putting into practice. It also motivates the team by giving them a sense of ownership and by showing that their opinion is valued.
Creativity is the core of an entrepreneurial endeavor. Without a creative boost, an entrepreneur can only dream of success. This article helps in understanding how to enhance creative flair. If someone “thinks” that he or she is not creative, they can surely put creativity to work by following some simple routine tasks. You cannot just sit back at the desk and wait for the aha moment your whole life. It requires getting up and doing something. The good part is it is not rocket science, but involves activities like walking down the street or just cluttering your desk. However, you might have to try out different things, but at the end of the day you might hit the jack pot and build an idea that is worth putting into action. It doesn’t matter how well you paint or how beautiful your drawings are.
Like everything else, being creative is a matter of practice and intention. These simple practices will free you up to think in more lateral, creative ways. And when you learn to think creatively, you’ll be able to direct and design the life that you want for yourself. You’ll be able to draw on all the different aspects of your thinking. You’ll fuse ideas and ways of thinking together and generate original and innovative solutions in the process.
Also please do read this article Seven Habits of Highly Creative People by Linda Naiman, who is recognized internationally for pioneering arts-based learning as a catalyst for developing creativity, innovation, and collaborative leadership in organizations.