“How can I be more creative?” or “I’m just not that creative” are the common cries of many who start out in marketing or design. Fact is, creativity isn’t a finite resource that is doled out upon birth. It’s a skill that is cultivated through practice. Much current research has been done on the plasticity of the brain… that is how the brain can change based on stimulus. Of course, some genetic factors matter, just like in any skill, but fact is, you or I could learn to throw a ball, or paint a picture, play the guitar, or learn a language if we just dedicate time and practice. Creativity is no different.
Creativity is the intersection of things you already know.
What makes something creative? It usually is the unexpected intersection of two things we already know. Creativity comes from thinking of things in new ways, so this makes sense. So what does this look like in practice?
When we think about an elephant, we think of grey, wrinkled, large, tusks, long nose, etc. When you change one of these expectations… for example, a green elephant, now all of a sudden, you’ve entered the world of creativity. For example, dumbo was an elephant who could fly. A heavy animal like an elephant could never fly, and yet, because he could, Dumbo went on to capture the imagination of millions of people.
So is Creativity Simple?
In a word, yes… but keep in mind, letting your mind go to a place where you can freely associate between different things takes practice. Based on your upbringing or natural tendencies, your mind may be more or less naturally inclined towards this process, but everyone can learn it to some degree. The key is to reduce the “Executive Attention Network” process from your thought process. This is the part of the brain that is active when you’re focused on complex tasks or problem solving. To achieve this try some of the following:
- Put yourself in relaxing and new environments
- Let your mind free associate – Let your mind wander
- Be physically active. Take a walk, stretch, or find a physical activity that doesn’t involve a lot of focus.
How can I become more Creative?
Becoming more creative is a cultivatable skill. The brain is very much like a muscle. The more you use it in certain types of tasks, the easier it becomes. Here are a few things you can do to improve your creative mind
Write Micro Stories
The part of the brain that imagines things is the “The Imagination Network.” This is the part of the brain active when you think about the future or imagine what someone is thinking. By writing very short stories, 100-200 words, where you imagine things from someone else’s perspective, or the world in a different state from the one you know forces this section of the brain to work. The more you use it, the easier it will become to access it in the future.
When I first started doing this, I felt really kind of silly, but the exercise of letting your brain imagine without limits really helps when you need to be creative for business or creative problem solving. These days, I try to find links between unrelated things. Many times it leads to fun nonsensical connections, but sometimes great new ideas come from the exercise.
Write your Assumptions Down
Much like the example regarding the elephants from above, if you start by writing down all of your assumptions about a particular item, it gives you a starting place for replacing one of those. For example lets pretend we’re marketing for a coffee shop. What are your assumptions about a coffee shop? Here are some of mine.
Assumptions about Coffee Shops
- Sell coffee drinks
- Smells like coffee
- Baked goods and maybe sandwiches
- Art on the walls
- Social Environment
- Small tables, maybe couches.
- Students or young people working on laptops
- Chill music, jazz or indie
- Young trendy baristas
- Usually browns and earth tone colors
So lets look at this list and see what we could possibly change to make this location more unique or “creative.” So for one, the “small tables and couches” environment is one that doesn’t promote engagement between the clientele. What if instead of it being “coffeeshop” like, we made all the seating communal? Large tables with many chairs, or a bar around a central serving area? Something that promotes interaction between strangers? Now lets take it further. So rather than art on the walls, lets make the tables and bar counters art from local artists, with glass or resin on top so you’re literally working on the art. We invite local artists to come in periodically to redo the table tops or bar counters so that they are always changing. Now you have a more communal atmosphere that invites conversation, and art that frequently change to talk about. Now you have a “Creative” spin on the coffee shop motif. By creating a list of assumptions to change, it offers you a chance to offer a change and that will be seen as “Creative.”
Grow your pool of knowledge and experiences
We’ve discussed before how creativity is the intersection between things you know. It stands to reason then that increasing the things you know will further your creativity. The most creative people I know are the ones who consume the most knowledge in different fields. Read a lot, follow blogs, setup a pinterest page and expose yourself to new ideas and artwork. Listen to more than one genre of music and travel. The more “well rounded” you are in your knowledge and experiences, the larger a “pool” of ideas you can draw from when you create new things.
Collaborate with other Creatives One on One
So recent research suggests that large groups aren’t effective for increasing creativity, but I firmly believe that bouncing ideas off of one other person can be a great boon in creative thinking.
Other people have a different base of experiences and knowledge than you do, and by bouncing ideas back and forth, you can create a creative journey that may not have been possible on your own. By working with people like this regularly, you’ll in time learn to take paths of thought similar to the people you work with, thus expanding your ability to think in different ways.
Having other people join the conversation also can break old patterns. This can be a great boon when trying to think creatively.
Meditation Breaks Down the Walls to Creativity
Meditation has been shown to actually alter the physical connections in your brain, specifically by reducing the strength of the “Me” center of your brain. As discussed above, imagining yourself in the perspective of others is one of the sections of the brain responsible for creativity. Thus, meditation is a great way to break down the barriers to creativity. It also has other great mind and body benefits as well, so there is no reason not to practice it!