Each of us can become more creative. Inside YOU is creative genius, as unique to you as your fingerprints.
It’s up to you to unlock it.
Over many years, I’ve had the opportunity to interview numerous experts in the field of creativity and innovation. Whether learning from an entrepreneur or an artist, I have collected some of the best advice available on how to boost your creativity.
And these experts have shared with me what we get wrong when we think about innovation. There are myths that we believe to our own creative detriment. Don’t believe these limitations which lock you in to a dull, gray world!
“This world is but a canvas to our imagination.” –Henry David Thoreau
63 Innovation Nuggets (for aspiring innovators) is a practical guide to boosting your innovation. George Barbee developed these nuggets during the span of his 45 year career as an entrepreneur and corporate leader. For the last 15 years, George has taught at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.
I recently spoke with George about his many decades of teaching and living the subject of innovation.
“An innovative network can change the culture of an organization.” -George Barbee
George, I have heard you say, “Yes, Steve Jobs is a genius, but what about innovating for the rest of us?” What exactly do you mean by that?
Steve was in fact a true genius of “Invention.” He could imagine what people needed and wanted even before they realized it or could verbalize it themselves. He could see around corners into the future.
But I believe most of the rest of us way underestimate our ability to “innovate”—especially with focus on techniques and methods within our control to improve this skill. And yes, it is a skill and an art, not an innate ability or something we are necessarily born with. I’ve witnessed this in my business career and the last 15 years teaching at University of Virginia, and interestingly across 40 countries. It’s a major theme underlying the book.
“Invention” is part of the broader scope of “innovation.” In fact, only a slice.
For example, the rest of us can be gifted and train ourselves to “innovate” in new and different ways. Key to the word “innovation” is doing something in a “meaningfully new and different way.” This takes us well beyond just product invention, but “innovation” now incorporates anything that is new and meaningfully different.
In the book we talk about dozens of “nuggets” or little gems that provide insights as to how to innovate. It is, in fact, remarkably easy to develop these skills. Like exercising a good muscle, the more you use it and focus on it, the better it gets. It’s a form of building innovative confidence through practice.
It’s learnable. It’s teachable.
“Innovation is best led by vision.” -George Barbee
That’s a tough question. I started with over 140 nuggets and in an effort to winnow it down to 52 (one per week) I couldn’t bring myself to cut any more, so I went with 63. Not necessarily brilliant, but sincere.
So, a favorite? Well, not necessarily only one favorite but it’s a good place to start: Nugget #19: Observing as an Art. The power and concentration it takes to observe what is around us is quite challenging. As we say, put yourself in “receive mode.” Just take things in around you. Listen. Look. Smell. Maybe even feel and taste. We observe with all our senses. This is time out to THINK. The key is sensing. Thinking.
“Successful innovators have a keen sense of observation.” -George Barbee
We go on to encourage note taking. Practice alone or with a like-minded friend and confidant. Have some fun with the process.
We then go on to tell some stories about observing. Practical situations where innovation around us is often under our noses, but we haven’t taken the time out to appreciate it or document it. One example is ATM or teller lines at banks. It used to be that we would go up to one of three tellers or machines and pick one and hope for the best. Woe to the person picking the wrong line! The tendency was then to hop over to the faster moving line. Then came the great innovation in line management—the “I” formation, or lining up in a single line, with the front person going to the next available opening. Brilliant. It takes the early guesswork out of picking the right single line. Happier customers. True Innovation.
Innovation Tip: Start conversations with “imagine if…”
This is a guest post by Greg Fisher; he is the Founder of Berkeley Sourcing Group. He started BSG eight years ago after realizing the need for coordination between manufacturing firms located in the U.S. and factories in China.
Creativity is a fantastic trait to develop that can help us to perform better in a huge range of situations – not least in business, where it can help us to come up with new products, new marketing angles, new business models and unique solutions to enduring problems.
“The world is but a canvas to the imagination.” –Henry David Thoreau
But creativity is also an elusive abstraction that is difficult to define and even more difficult to acquire if you aren’t naturally gifted in that way. With that in mind, how does one go about helping themselves to be more creative and to think outside the box? Especially in a world that more and more often seems to encourage conformity and output?
With these powerful hacks, that’s how! Follow these tips and in minutes you’ll be having better ideas and using your brain in ways you didn’t know you could.
“The creative process is a process of surrender, not control.” –Julia Cameron
Lying down or at least leaning back into a more supine position has been shown by many studies to boost creativity. Why’s that? Because it encourages us to feel relaxed and at ease. When you’re stressed or busy working, your body produces chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline which gives you a kind of ‘tunnel vision’ and focus. That’s useful for completing a dull task, or for outrunning a lion, but it’s not useful when you need to ‘see the bigger picture’ and try to connect abstract concepts.
Hack #2: Look at a Plant
Thus anything that helps you to relax to a degree will help you to access more of your natural creativity. Another example is simply looking at plants and greenery, which help us relax thanks to our evolutionary imperative of finding fertile land and luscious green nutritious plants.
For companies, creativity is the fuel for innovation and competitive advantage. For individuals, creativity is the key to quickly and effectively solving problems. But as important as creativity is, most of us don’t understand how it works and how to enhance our own creative thinking. Instead, we tell and retell a series of myths, faulty beliefs that serve as our best guess for how creativity works. But the implications of 50 years of research into creativity are re-writing many of those myths. The results might be counterintuitive, but they are effective. Here are four evidence-based ways to boost your creativity.
We tend to think of outstandingly creative works or projects as wholly original. But the truth is that most breakthrough creative works are the result of copying and modifying existing works. Microsoft and Apple both borrowed the design of Xerox’s Alto to build their personal computers. George Lucas copied the theme of Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth” and blended it with concepts and visuals from Akira Kurosawa films and Flash Gordon serials to create the blockbuster Star Wars series. Even on a smaller scale, ideas are made by the combining of older ideas. Research suggests that individuals whose brains make connections between various thoughts score higher on creativity tests. Start collecting ideas, testing possible combinations, and seeing what creative ideas emerge.
Creativity doesn’t just love constraints; it thrives under them. -David Burkus
While our most difficult problems are often given to long-standing experts, the most innovative solutions don’t always come from these experts. Instead, individuals with a sufficient background in a field, but with additional knowledge from a diverse range of fields, are those ones who dream up breakthrough innovations. Paul Erdos, the most published mathematician in history, changed his field of specialization constantly. Erdos was known for showing up on the doorstep of future collaborators and exclaiming, “My brain is open.” He’d trade knowledge with his collaborators and move on to find new ones. Open your brain and start studying new fields; you never know which one your creative insight will come from.