Creativity is as much a skill as a gift, and as such, it can be developed. Of course, some people are naturally more creative than others, but all of us are able to develop our creativity and improve our innovative thinking ability. No matter what you do or what your job function is, you will do better if you can add creativity to it. With innovation now a ubiquitous requirement for success any and everywhere, we have to do this.
Here are nine techniques to improve your creative thinking abilities:
1. Feed your imagination
One of our book reviews in the Future of Work Academy was William Duggan’s “Strategic Intuition”. This excellent book provides a detailed study of the thinking that leads to strategic insights and new ideas. One of the pillars of his approach is that we need a depth of knowledge and expertise in our chosen profession combined with a breadth of knowledge and experiences across a wide range of disciplines.
It’s kind of obvious, but feeding our brains with a wide variety of thoughts is the fuel we need for creativity. People who are creative tend to read widely, enjoy entertainment and enjoy meeting people from different backgrounds. Creativity’s fuel is your imagination – make sure you fill up the tank.
2. Understand your brain profile, and stretch yourself
There is some debate about whether we have an actual “right” and “left” side of our brains. Our brains do have a variety of very different functions, with logical analysis on the one side and artistic ability on the other – with a whole range of functions in between, and some of us prefer one or the other approach to thinking. Our normal thinking and processing style is impacted by a number of factors, including our personalities. So, take some time to understand how you typically approach information.
For example, in the Meyers Briggs Temperament Indicator (MBTI) profile, we discover how we prefer to take in information (either big picture or more detailed analysis) and how we prefer to make decisions (on the basis of logic or on the basis of relationships), and we also discover whether we prefer to live life in a structured way or more spontaneously. Whichever profiling tools you use, make sure you are conscious of your default settings. These will be your thinking strengths, but can also blind you to alternative ways of thinking. Know your strengths, and stretch yourself to think in new ways too.
3. Be more curious
The human brain cannot possibly take in every piece of information that exists, so there is always something more to learn. We need to cultivate a curiosity that continually asks questions and has a thirst for learning. Your next idea won’t come from copying what someone else has already been thinking. So look for new ideas in different places, ask questions and keeps developing.
4. Engage with people who see the world differently to you
As part of a curious attitude, we should actively spend time with people who are different from us – especially including people who might irritate or frustrate us. We don’t have to agree with someone to have a good and healthy conversation with them, and seeing the world through someone else’s eyes helps to spark our creativity.
If you’re trying to deal with a specific issue, asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. A fresh outside perspective, or three, or many more from people we trust and people with relevant expertise and insights, may be just what we need. Even if you don’t use their advice, it may spark some new, creative thinking that will get you what you need.
5. Explain things to other people (or just yourself)
Being creative requires that you understand the information you have. It’s one thing to read a book and study a subject, but it’s another thing entirely to be able to explain that topic to someone else (or even yourself). Being able to explain new knowledge shows that you have processed and internalized the information on a deeper level, and a have a grasp of the depth and breadth of the topic. Make sure you explain things, to make sure you understand them.
6. Pursue new experiences
Putting yourself in the way of new ideas and new experiences will help you open your mind. The more you develop an openness to new experiences, ideas, concepts, food, places and people, the more likely you are to be more creative. Travel is especially helpful for this. If you can’t travel physically, then travel in your mind and through movies and books.
7. Don’t be scared to be wrong – and to change your mind
The fear that you might make a mistake or fail in your efforts can paralyse your progress. Mistakes are simply part of the process. But it isn’t just mistakes we must embrace, we must also become more comfortable being wrong. Not deliberately and not on purpose, of course. But we should be willing to question our beliefs and change when new information shows us we are incorrect or ill-informed.
8. If you’re stuck… Look for the worst ideas possible
Yes, you read that right. if you’re battling with something, step away from what you’re thinking of for a few minutes. Taking a break can really help. But then try this: What’s the most useless idea you can imagine? Make a list of the worst ideas you can think of. Now the real challenge to stretch your creativity: what are the best features of these terrible ideas? Looking at the opposite of where you are aiming can help spark an excellent idea. Seriously. Try it.
9. Make Time for Creativity
Creativity does not arrive on command. It needs time and space. We need to give ourselves time to let our minds wander, to daydream and allow space for new ideas to emerge. Many people find creative exercises useful, such as doodling in a sketchbook, writing flash fiction or even playing video games. Keep a journal of your ideas, however fantastical or impractical they might be.
You won’t be able to develop your creativity if you don’t make time for it. Schedule some time each week to concentrate on some type of creative project. For most people, including the very creative, the best ideas come when we’re not wracking our brains trying to come up with the next great idea. That great idea could even come while we’re sleeping. A good night of rest is often the best help to be more productive and creative. If your creativity is lacking, unplug. Relax. And let your brain do it’s magic.
The above Tuesday Tip is a lesson taken from our Future of Work Academy where we help individuals and teams develop the skills that are essential to succeed in the Future of Work. Skills include Creativity, Personal Intelligence (EQ), Diversity and Social Intelligence, Problem Solving, Curiosity and Entrepreneurship. Chat to us if you’re interested in becoming a member of the Academy – membership starts at just $12.99 monthly.