How Can You Develop Creativity?
Creativity is problem solving with relevance and novelty.”Stefan Mumaw
We all possess the ability to be creative. It’s a practical skill that can be cultivated and become a habit. However, societal norms and corporate pressures nudge us toward ideas and behaviours that are “appropriate” or expected. Over time, these choices and behaviours come at the cost of our individual creativity. Fortunately, “cells that fire together wire together”, and the more we seek out opportunities to explore our creativity, the easier it gets. Our Creativity Moments are 10-minute exercises to help your team begin to flex your creative muscles and discover your creative strengths.
If you think you can, you can. Psychologist Albert Bandura’s research around the concept of “self-efficacy” has shown that people undertake tougher challenges, persevere longer, and are more resilient in the face of obstacles and failure when they believe they have the power to effect change. Cultivating your creative problem solving skills can contribute to this sense of self-efficacy.
Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right”Henry Ford
Don’t worry: creativity isn’t just about making a masterpiece or expressing pure human emotion. It can be broken down into four main creative strengths:
- Fluency – coming up with multiple solutions to one problem
- Flexibility – coming up with multiple solutions across disparate themes
- Elaboration – being able to express multiple details, viewpoints and perspectives
- Originality – being able to come up with novel ideas and solutions
Here are some of the ways you can start to flex your creative muscles:
Shake it up. Our brains work in “uncreative mode” when we’re asked to do repetitive tasks with clearly defined expected outcomes, get it “right”, and do so quickly. “Creative mode” happens in more nuanced, open-ended situations. You can help nudge your brain into “creative mode” by fostering new experiences. A simple change of habit is a great place to start: take a new route to work, change the orientation of your desk, rearrange where you keep your coffee cups.
Explore. “New ideas come from interconnections among old ideas.” Learn something new, even if it isn’t related to what you’re working on. Listen to a podcast, read a book, take a course or simply ask your neighbour or coworker to show you something they’re expert at, whether it’s changing a spark plug, baking bread, or quantum physics.
Take on a challenge. Do you remember the feeling of being accidentally locked in the bathroom? You suddenly find yourself coming up with all sorts of ideas and solutions, including turning the knob, using a credit card in the crack, climbing out the window, banging on the door etc. Challenges act as a catalyst for us to think creatively and fearlessly iterate multiple solutions. Create a challenge for yourself or your team by picking a topic and setting a time limit.
Get ready to fail.
Failure sucks, but instructs.”David Kelley, IDEO
Most “creative geniuses” are prolific failures, because they try hundreds of versions, experiments, and copies until they finally meet their goal. In order to uncover creative ideas, you might have to wade through a few less-than-great ones, and that’s ok. Failure, and the ability to be comfortable with the risk of failure is a key creative skill.
Pay attention. It’s not just the expressive power of artists, but the power of attention that really sets them apart from “the rest of us”. How do they pay attention to the world? What minute elements do they notice, and then copy, manipulate and play with to create an expression of the world? This attention to detail allows artists to abstract the world in new ways.
Cultivate your attention to detail. Notice patterns and details in things around you. Set aside ten minutes to collect observations about what you can see out of your office window. Drawing and photography are two great ways to focus your attention.
Take note. Find a place to collect your ideas and observations. A note on your phone, a piece of paper in your wallet, or a notepad by your bed are all great places to start. Simply capturing your ideas when they come up without judging them is an important step. You can evaluate, combine and revisit them later.
Make room for “relaxed attention”. Going for a walk outdoors, doing something relaxing and playful, or simply daydreaming might not seem like highly productive pursuits, but these activities all combine a relaxed physical state with a fully alert mind; the perfect conditions for creative thinking. Try it out the next time you feel stuck.
Expose yourself to more art. Whether it’s listening to a new album, walking through a new gallery or finding an artist talk online, exploring art, music, theatre, dance, and literature created by people who live and work in creative mode can be inspiring and instructive.
Do something. Embrace a bias towards action. Try something out. (You can call it a “pilot” so it’s ok to fail or change, and no one will expect it to last forever.)
Collaborate. The more people you bring into a challenge, the more possible solutions you can come up with. And cast a wide net; the wider range of perspectives and ideas you can bring to the challenge, the better. This diversity may lead to “creative abrasion” but will be most fruitful in the end!
We explore many of these ideas through our Creativity Moments. Set aside ten minutes and have some fun with your team while building greater creative capacity.