Creativity is imagining something new and making it happen.
The novelty can be big or small, radically new or somewhat different. Imagination is vital. So is action because the value of creative ideas is realized only when they are implemented.
New ideas always involve a change of mindset. According to Russel Ackoff creativity is the ability to identify and overcome self-imposed constraints. Making conscious efforts to see things in new ways is very important and not always easy.
We have ample evidence-based research that we are all creative. We are not equally creative nor do we use our creative skills in the same ways. Yet we can all further develop our own creative skills.
In our times of fast and accelerating change, more and more organizations are recognizing the value of creativity, without which no innovation can happen. A recent IBM survey of 1500+ CEOs concludes that creativity is the most significant leadership skill.
The following twelve tips will help you improve your creative skills at work and in life.
Tip # 1 Idea generation is only part of the process.
First, do the groundwork - explore, understand and clearly define your challenge – beforeyou start seeking creative ...
solutions. Then, after you find solutions, you must make them happen. Preparation and follow-up are at least as important and time-consuming as generating new ideas.
Tip # 2 Practice FIRST creative thinking THEN critical thinking.
Creative thinking calls for no judgment, many ideas and energizing the imagination – making lists. Critical thinking calls for organization, evaluation and selection of good ideas – making choices. Creative and critical thinking are both valuable and necessary. They are best practiced in sequence, creative thinking first.
Tip # 3 Formulate challenges as open questions.
A problem well-defined is a problem half-solved. Formulating a challenge as an open question “How might we + active verb + … ?” or “In what ways might we + active verb + … ?” invites open thinking and many ideas.
Tip # 4 Every problem has many solutions.
OK, some problems have just one answer (2 + 2 = 4 comes to mind, though even here more mischievous solutions are imaginable). Most of our problems, however, have many solutions. Generating lots of ideas gives us broader choices and higher chances of finding “wow!” solutions.
Tip # 5 Great ideas may not be logical a priori, but they are always logical a posteriori.
Most big ideas don’t begin with rational thinking. Archimedes cried “Eureka!” when his mind connected the king’s crown to the water in his bathtub. Newton saw a falling apple and the moon as he came upon his theory of gravity. Einstein imagined he was travelling on a beam of light when he developed the theory of relativity. Creativity is not about being silly, but trips to childhood and flights of fantasy can bring extraordinary insights. At the end of course, every good idea must be backed by solid reasoning and evidence.
Tip # 6 Train your mind to make unusual connections.
A host of techniques help generate ideas. Random associations (of pictures, objects, words, sounds, tastes, smells … ) with the challenge you want to resolve are all vehicles for out-of-the-ordinary ideas. Finding relations between seemingly unrelated concepts, imagining the impossible, asking “what if?’, purposefully dreaming are also ways of stretching our minds. The more you practice unusual connections, the better you become.
Tip # 7 When judging ideas begin with positive critique.
Not all ideas are good and some are really bad but do give every idea a chance. Find the positive points and alternative possibilities offered by each idea before listing its drawbacks. And think up ways of overcoming the drawbacks before you discard the idea.
Tip # 8 Practice creativity alone and with others.
Thinking creatively in solitude is hugely productive. Collaborative creativity is also very useful. An office brainstorm - well prepared, facilitated and followed up - will enrich individual ideas, bring up new ones, fine-tune weaknesses and ensure ownership of the outcomes. A good business idea is never a solo act – it needs a team to bring out the value.
Tip # 9 Creativity thrives in a creative climate.
You are more likely to be creative when you are with people who are eager to work on new ideas in organizations that value creativity and change. Trust, engagement, passion, judicial use of critique, time to create, peer support, tolerance of mistakes are all attributes of a creative climate. We all have responsibility for creating a creative climate, leaders especially.
Tip # 10 Keep an ideas notebook.
Ideas strike at unexpected moments. Like dreams they come and go. They get lost if we don’t capture them in time. Have a notebook and pen (or recording device) with you at all times to compile your own ideas roster. Browse at it from time to time, purposefully or not. You might discover that your notebook has become your own personal treasure chest.
Tip # 11 Actively seek out new experiences.
A number of studies have shown that after a substantive new experience our capacity to create new ideas significantly rises. Travel to a distant land, savor new sights, sounds, tastes and environments. Plant and nurture a new flower garden, take a new route to work. If you are a carnivore try vegan. Learn to paint, climb rocks, play the bass or do tai-chi. Or …
Tip # 12 Pluck up your courage and do it!
Your creativity is realized when it moves from the drawing board to the field of operations. You need a new mindset and courage to overcome the fear of failure. Sometimes you will indeed fail. On your creativity journey you will also discover new things and reap rewards you had never imagined before. You must take personal responsibility for your own creativity.