Creativity is fast becoming the most critical skill to have in the 21st-century workplace. But the way that we think about it is, for lack of a better word, uncreative. Creativity is seen as innate – something that we are either born with or not. But it turns out that the science says something completely different: that creativity is skill, just like anything else.
What’s so odd about this view is that it changes our perception of creativity. Rather than merely being a creative person, the science opens the door to the possibility that we can practice and become more creative over time. Now that’s exciting.
It turns out that there are a number of strategies that we can employ to be more creative. Once we put them into effect, we can achieve anything: get paid more for our work, change our careers, and find solutions to some of life’s most intractable problems.
Use Ideas You Hate To Stretch Yourself
Everybody has their pet peeves: ideas that annoy them or are just useless. But often these terrible ideas are the spark you need for further inspiration. Terrible ideas are actually great tools. They’re awful for a reason, and so they demand a lot of thought to make them less so. Once you’ve unpacked a terrible idea and peered inside, you’re able to start thinking about what could be done to put it right.
Create The Right Setting
Great artists and writers say that there is nothing you can do to provoke inspiration. It either happens, or it doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean that your surroundings have no impact whatsoever. Even if you can’t determine the timing, you can do a lot to create the right conditions.
Many creative people thrive on silence. But sometimes silence can actually be an enemy, especially if you’re feeling an overriding emotion, like anxiety or grief. Music is a powerful tool in these situations, bypassing the stress centres of the brain and helping to refocus it on the task in hand. When mood is low, music gives creativity a boost.
Throughout history, many of the world’s best and most troubled thinkers used music to help them have their best ideas. Steve Jobs, the infamous Apple chief from the inception of the company up until his early death in 2011, used to listen to music to help generate ideas that would rescue his company. In fact, it was music that saved the company, with the release of the iPod in 2004.
Stop Sitting Still And Move
Our brains rely on a fresh supply of blood and challenge to thrive. Without movement, it can’t function at its best.
Throughout human history, people have had to be on their feet for many hours of the day, tending to crops and performing manual work. But in modern times, this lifestyle stopped, and now the majority of people spend between seven and fifteen hours per day sitting.
This is bad for the brain. Researchers at Stanford University proposed a solution: walking every couple of hours or so to improve brain function. They found that people who walked while at work were more creative in meetings, and added more value to their teams than those who didn’t. If there’s a creativity crisis, then it’s likely the result of the sitting crisis.
Swap Out Junk For Brain Food
The idea of brain food might sound far-fetched, but modern science is proving that the concept has legs. There are now dozens of foods and food compounds that are associated with better memory and concentration, suggesting that diet really does play a role. The supplements you can buy here, for example, may be among the substances which can boost creativity.
Researchers know that what we eat can have profound effects on the brain from one day to the next. Some foods can make you feel tired and sluggish – such as sugary drinks – while others help boost concentration, especially greens and herbs.
Just Do Nothing For A While
When you ask creative people how they do what they do, most don’t have an answer. It’s tacit knowledge – something cannot be explained in terms of a series of words or set formula.
This knowledge erupts from the unconscious mind. It’s an outpouring of the incredible parallel processing of the brain.
Because it comes out of the unconscious mind, creative people need to look after this vital part of their psyche. The unconscious works best when it has time to consolidate the learning of the conscious mind. It needs space to process new information and decide what should stay and what should go.
Doing nothing is a great way to help the unconscious mind develop. Sleep, slobbing in front of the TV, and even shopping can help to unleash its enormous processing power when you need it.
Explore Ideas From Other Industries
Psychologists often talk about the benefits of cross-fertilisation of ideas or interdisciplinary methods. The reason for this is simple: people who remain trapped within a particular field get stuck inside its paradigm. It’s hard to have new insights when you are surrounded by people who work and think in the same way as you.
Breaking out is easy. Be on the lookout for ideas and inspiration from other fields. Think about how the major paradigms in those industries could change the way you perceive yours.
Be In Love With Your Work
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Few people are in love with what they do. But for creative people, this is essential. Being creative requires a level of emotional connection to one’s work. There needs to be a desire to develop something new and original. Without that, work can be stale and unappealing.
Albert Einstein realised this when he was young. He saw that to have his best ideas he had to get into a flow state where he forgot everything in the world around him and just focused on his new theory. It worked, and he often complained that he got so caught up in his work that he missed lunch.