The subject of this article is about how you as an individual can hone in on your creative potential and my goal is to help you realize that it is the key to your success personally and professionally. First we look at what creativity actually is, what it can do for you, and how you can develop your own creative process with specific practices.
What is Creativity?
You might think you already know what creativity is. If you pick a person at random, they would probably say that creativity is the domain of painters, actors, performers, dancers, special effects people, musicians, and advertising professionals. This assumption no more holds true for generation next. The fact of the matter is that every person no matter what their profession needs to develop creative instincts in order to be the best at their craft. The word craft implies that all work is an art, and when one works with purpose and feeling, creativity flows like a waterfall in lush surroundings. So what does it mean to be creative? Can accountants and scientists be creative and why should they be? Can creativity be developed or is it something certain people are born with?
Our preconceived notions about creativity come from restrictions imposed during childhood and we carry these into our adult life. Children are told to keep within the black lines of the colouring book, young students are told not to look beyond their school textbooks for answers, and as adults we are subconsciously taught that expressing a new way of looking at a problem might label us as fools. Being out of line, whether you’re waiting in a cafeteria or presenting at a board meeting, is considered bad behaviour. Although creative thinking is very much part of human nature, ironically we tend to stamp it out early to feed our illusions about security, social acceptance, and our traditional conceptualization of intelligence and sanity.
Ponder over this original definition of mine for a minute:
Creativity is the ability to accept, explore, and develop new visions, perspectives, things, methods, and possibilities that lead to alternative ways of perceiving and dealing with situations that affect us.
New possibilities, methods, and things can be generated by what I call the units of creativity: a unique idea, a weird thought, or an amazingly different feeling. Unique thoughts and funny feelings have a mystical characteristic to them because they come into the mind uninvited as backdoor guests. You can get these inspirational million dollar ideas at any time of day or night while you’re in the shower, or doing laundry, or even looking out into space. But for this to happen, the mind needs to have been in a continual state of creative energy always asking questions that haven’t had the opportunity to reveal themselves, until now of course.
What does Creativity Require?
The 3 hallmarks of creative thinking are originality, expressiveness, and imagination. Being original, expressive, and imaginative is synonymous with creativity because this is what makes you different from the other 6 billion people on the planet. Here is what you need to do to build your own creative flow:
Be Original. Originality is the capacity to be able to think and act independently. External sources and people do not play a part in your originality. Even though working with a team could generate great creativity, you are truly original when you do not need to seek ideas from others. If you are the first source of a great idea, you are its origin. I was one of the first persons at university to study in the main cafeteria instead of the library. I liked the open space and never liked a ‘pin-drop silence’ atmosphere. This became a trend with many other students and eventually led to a change in the cafeteria working hours!
Be Expressive. Expressiveness is the ability to convey a thought, intention, or emotion in manner that gets the undivided attention of your audience. I remember making my first presentation at university; I had everybody’s attention because I used an underlying metaphor of relating the presentation to the first oil painting I did. I made two disconnected ideas connect. My professors told me that they had never seen a student present this way, and I soon gained a reputation for creative expression.
Be Imaginative. Einstein said that imagination is greater than knowledge. Boy was he right! Every great scientific discovery started with a “What if” question. What was considered science fiction in the past is now science. Imagination is the act of wondering, visualizing, make-believing, dreaming, pondering, and sensing. What do these qualities remind you of? A child’s mind! Children are the best role models to learn the art of imagination. Try this out: ask a child below 5 years “Where does the sun go at night?” You’ll be amazed at what they say, and I guarantee you won’t hear an “I don’t know”.
These hallmarks of creativity seem like if everyone were to apply them, they would come up with the same things. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There are always new things waiting to be discovered by minds that are on different vibrations and wavelengths. Your mind does not work like anyone else’s, and examining how your mind works is the first step in unleashing your creative capabilities.
How can Creativity be Developed?
By now you must have figured out that I believe creativity can be developed with time, patience, and practice. Even if you think you were born with it, you will lose it if you don’t use it. These steps will help you to keep your creative flow moving:
Understand Your Barriers. Are you aware of how you normally respond to situations, problems, issues, and challenges? The way you currently behave affects your creative potential. Assess your own response pattern with these questions and find out what blocks you from being freely creative:
- If someone suggests a new way of doing something, do you embrace it or do you feel nervous about trying it out? Your mind should be open and inviting to anything new.
- Are you more comfortable with routine, predictability, and structure or are you better with flexibility, chaos, change, and variety? Learn to be adaptive.
- Do you judge people based on your long-held beliefs about the group they belong to? Or do you judge people individually? Treat each person as a unique being.
- Are you logical and analytical or do you respond with intuition and heart? Learn to listen to your feelings because they give you clues about which way to go.
Train Your Mind to Think Different. Overcoming barriers to creativity requires you to change what you’ve been doing up to this point. Once you learn how to change, you can continually adapt to situations that need creative solutions. Before engaging in the creative process, you must dissolve the blocks put up by your usual habits. Here’s what you can do to train your mind:
- Take up to a do-it-yourself change project. It can be changing your eating habits, managing your time better, or even learning a new sport. Identify one thing you could do different in your life right now and just do it. Notice what made you successful and develop your own change process. Learning to change will pave the way to be creative in all areas of your life without fear.
- Exercise your mind. Creative thinking demands that your mind be coherent, sharp, active, and positive. Involve yourself in creative exercises like Sudoku, crosswords, and analytical riddles. With constant practice you will start applying the logical principles you learn from these games to implement creative ideas. Reading also broadens your horizons and is an excellent way to exercise your mind.
- Raise Questions. I have been heavily influenced by the study of Philosophy all my life. The most important thing it has taught me is to raise questions without the intention of receiving answers. I love Philosophy for the questions it presents rather than what the answers might be. If you can get to the point where you get excited by unanswered questions, you are on your way to being a creative genius. So stretch yourself and ask the questions that no one else does.
Stimulate Your Creativity. Every person has the capability to be creative, even if you think you are naturally dominated by the left side of your brain. Examples of creative exercises include visualizing where you want to be in the future, thinking about how you can manage your workload more effectively, thinking of a unique birthday gift for someone, and even thinking about why the universe exists. Remove the clutter in your head and make place for generating creative solutions. Here are questions to enhance your creative power. Taking these as starting points, create a list of your own stimulating questions that apply to you. Think about how original, expressive, and imaginative you can be:
- How can I accomplish this task in a way never done before?
- How can our product impact the lives of customers that no other product does?
- What other uses does this tool have, besides the obvious?
- How would another person view this issue?
- How can I better explain my point to this person?
- How else can I interpret this piece of art?
- What does this character symbolize for me?
- How did this word originate?
- How can I make my presence felt and what would get me noticed?
- What other ingredients can I add to this dish?
Why Be Creative?
Every individual will experience more inner fulfillment if they bring in the innovative spirit into life by thinking new things, changing old ways, offering new perspectives, and generating breakthrough ideas. This is how millionaires are made and how corporations stand the test of time and competition. This is how life-changing discoveries are made. This is how personal relationships are strengthened as a result of understanding another with an open mind. This is how health improves when the mind realizes that there are better ways to live. This is how a path can be found when there seems to be no way.
Now you could argue that you wouldn’t want your heart surgeon or jet pilot to have a unique epiphany from out of nowhere and then decide to experiment on you! But maybe you might. If that surgeon or pilot is faced with a scenario that demands creativity in order to save your life, you might not want them to follow the rule book. When all else fails in a desperate situation, responding to a cry of “Do something!” usually requires an unusual, rare, creative act. Do you now see how your creative process actually designs your life’s destiny?