by Natalie Nixon, Innovation Expert, President and Founder, Figure 8 Thinking | May 29, 2019

Have you ever wondered how creativity works? Maybe you've contemplated your own creative limits while experimenting in the kitchen -- smacking your head (or the pots on the counter) and feeling defeated by a new recipe. Or maybe you've dreamt of crafting a more fulfilling career, if only you knew how to inject some creativity into your position. 

Where do our creative limits stem from, and do those limits have hard barriers? Can we exercise our brains to expand our own creative capacities? 

While completing my Ph.D. and working as a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, I conducted tons of research and numerous studies on personal creativity, innovation and improvisational organization. The truth is, we don't understand creativity. And, more or less, that's why we don't use it to our advantage. However, if we strive to learn more and embrace our own curiosities, we can learn to push our boundaries further and use our creativity to see, interpret and innovate beyond what we thought possible.  

Remember, creativity isn't just for the arts. Humans are actually hard-wired to be creative in their own capacities. Unfortunately, though, the passion to do so gets drummed out of us as we learn to be more "career-driven/serious" and less "day-dreamy". That no longer has to be the case. To be a meeting planner; a doctor; a writer; a scientist; a nurse in a senior living center -- you must tap into your creativity. What my goal is, is to help design this idea in a way that will work for your life. 

Instead of putting it off, start embracing your creativity in both your life and workspace today. 

EXPANDING YOUR CREATIVE COMPETENCY

EMBRACE CURIOSITY
  • Curiosity is the key to jump-starting your creativity, so let yourself be curious and ask questions. 
  • Set the example that inquiry, versus certainty, gets us to the next level. Encourage colleagues to ask lots of questions and not equate curiosity with ignorance.
  • Set rules for both yourself and others, and then allow for some flexibility. Humans respond well to structure... to an extent; it helps us better understand the limits we can push. Start training your brain to view 'mistakes' as 'creative expressions' and grow from their experiences.
  • Think abstractly. Strategy is not about seeing what is right in front of you, but anticipating what is around the corner. Abstract from the obvious to really kick up the ante of those creative juices. 
  • Humble yourself to ask for help. 
ASK BETTER QUESTIONS
  • Ask "Why?" and don't be afraid to challenge why you might be doing something a certain way. There may be a good reason or maybe not, but you won't know until you ask.
  • Ask "What if?" and muster up alternative ways of getting different tasks done. 
  • Make something new happen. Ask "How could we do this?" to develop a process for creating new pathways to accomplishment. 
  • Practice asking more questions versus reaching quicker solutions. Through this, you'll learn to reframe and, in the process, gain better perspective.
  • Visualize yourself having answered your question, then ask yourself, "How do I feel in that scenario?"  Next, visualize yourself having made an alternate decision.  Ask yourself, "How do I feel about that choice?"  This is a form of visualization.  It is really important here to pay attention to how you are feeling -- and for the moment, leave logic behind.
INNOVATE OUTSIDE THE OFFICE
  • Practice a hobby outside of work to tap into the beginner's mindset. This is crucial because it gets you comfortable with embracing clumsiness, learning from mistakes and thinking in new capacities. Inevitably, the beginners' mindset transfers into creativity and into your work environment. 
  • Cultivate a sense of humor. A light-hearted outlook signals your capacity for abstract thinking instead of only focusing on what is literally in front of you.
  • At least twice a year, visit a place outside of your comfort zone or go to a conference totally outside of your sector, where you will be sure to learn something new.  This helps you to practice lateral thinking. 
  • Sometimes, we forget that technology is a tool. Practice experimenting with new and evolving tech (like augmented reality and visualization tools) to open your mind's eye to a new way of doing things. 
TREAT YOUR MIND
  • There is huge value in pausing, waiting and taking a day or two to revisit something that has been on your mind. You may find yourself revisiting the idea days down the road with a fresh, new perspective. 
  • Go for a walk to refresh your neural pathways. Exercise has the physiological effect of releasing endorphins in our system which reduce stress, make us happier and more alert, thus opening the floodgates for renewed creativity. 
  • Doodling elevates focus and concentration. And because it engages associative thinking, you will be amazed what new ideas occur to you after engaging in a bit of doodling -- it's like yoga for the mind. 
  • Daydream a little. Head outside and stare at passing clouds or the trees. If you're finding this tip too open-ended, then time yourself.  A five minute daydream will do wonders for your creativity and focus capacities. 
BALANCE WONDER AND RIGOR
  • Creativity is a combination of wonder and rigor. It's not just about a sudden bolt of inspiration.
  • Allow yourself to wonder to a certain extent -- dream, be audacious and feel free to try new things.
  • Balance the wonder with an appropriate amount of rigor -- discipline, task on time and pay attention to skill development.
  • Put in the work and sweat, but don't be afraid to challenge things. This will give you the opportunity to personalize the system and develop creative ideas.