People tend to think of creativity as an inherent trait—a quality that you’re either born with or can never hope to have. But professionals ranging from psychologists to entrepreneurs to artists have undermined this theory, demonstrating that creativity is a skill that can be acquired, developed and honed.
Not unlike parallel parking or learning how to knit, creativity gets easier with practice. And it can be embraced by anyone, regardless of their industry or role. Sure, not everyone will become the next Yayoi Kusama or Elon Musk, but anyone can improve their ability to channel their imagination into the production of richer and more original ideas.
In our last blog post, we explored the way that creativity fuels innovation. At ExperiencePoint, we teach an innovation method that is swift, repeatable and scalable. When you come to an innovation project with heightened creative skills, you’ll be that much more adept at brainstorming and prototyping, two key phases of our innovation process.
But unlike innovation, creativity can’t be repeated or scaled. In fact, it’s defined by its very inimitability. The lifeblood of creativity is the uniqueness and individuality of every human being.
So how can you become more creative? Here are four great ways to start.
If you want to become more creative, you need to immerse yourself in creativity. Whether you’re a corporate accountant or human resource specialist, exposing yourself to different modes of expression, analysis and exploration will provoke new ways of thinking and of connecting ideas. You could start by pursuing a pre-existing interest in greater depth. For example, if you’ve always loved modern art, go beyond just visiting a new exhibition at a local (or virtual) gallery. Read some critical or biographical writing about the artist, and consider what themes and questions they were trying to explore in their creation of certain works. Look at the ways that they used experience, emotions and symbols to evoke particular effects. Play detective and try to connect the dots between a work’s originating impulse and its final form.
When in doubt, read. Creativity is fueled by knowledge, sensitivity and feelings—all of which you’ll expand and exercise when immersed in a good book. Moreover, a growing body of research suggests that reading literally changes our brains, strengthening neural networks and warding off cognitive decline. If you normally limit your reading to non-fiction picks, challenge yourself with something more literary. Allow yourself to get swept up in the language, story and/or mood, but take the time to think about the way various aspects of form and content come together to make a cohesive artistic whole.
Honor Your Own Instincts
Creativity is an entirely unique thing—no two people will see it manifest inside themselves the same way. So if you’d don’t honor and share a creative impulse, that impulse will be forever lost to the world.
Self-editing is anathema to creativity. If you stifle an idea before it’s had a chance to live and breathe, you’ll train yourself to be cautious and critical. In the short term, it’s not your job to assess whether your creativity is good or valuable, or to judge how it compares to other strokes of inspiration. Instead, try thinking of yourself as the ambassador of your idea, rather than its author, and thus removing any sense of pride or ego.
As the great American choreographer Martha Graham put it: “You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.” This availing of oneself to your instincts will enable creativity to flow.
Ever heard an interviewer ask a fascinating follow-up question to a very banal answer? Being curious—or even downright nosy—about the way that other people think, feel and construct meaning in their lives will open your mind to a range of different experiences and perspectives. At the same time, it will stock your thought-arsenal with new information and narratives, gathering qualitative “data” that expresses the richness and complexity of what it means to be a human being.
It’s no secret that great artists tend to be shameless eavesdroppers, note takers and clandestine sketch-drawers. Cultivating a keen curiosity for people, places and things, will train you to think unconventionally, while deepening your inner pool of resources.
Albert Einstein cherished his daily walk. So did Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens. The Romantic Poets of the nineteenth century worshipped nature in their verse, as did their contemporary artists in painting. In other words, being outside provides both context and content for new creative thought.
Research shows that walking outside has a positive effect on creative thinking. One theory holds that this is due to a kind of resetting of the brain to its “default network.” Modern life demands constant multi-tasking, making the brain too occupied for little sparks of new thought. Spending time in nature allows you to slow down and clear your mental slate, setting yourself up for bursts of creativity, problem-solving and feelings of contentment.
All these techniques will deepen your connection to life, art, nature, your community and, perhaps most importantly, to your own instincts. With time, you’ll find that you’re more in tune with your imagination, able to channel its flickers and visions into more consistent output. In the long run, this ability will set you up to be a stronger innovator. We can’t wait to see the results!