4 Proven Ways to Boost Your Creative Genius

This is a guest post by David Burkus. David is the author of The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas.  He is also founder of LDRLB and assistant professor of management at Oral Roberts University.

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.

1. Copy

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

2. Study a New Field

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.

3. Find Constraints

10 Myths of Creativity

 

The idea for the novel is not only clear, but the story is outlined and researched.  Still, the page is blank.  She is waiting for the inspiration to make it happen.

The business to create a fortune is constantly pushed to the backburner.  Magazines and books are consumed like candy as he studies ideas only to continue looking.  The idea never is good enough.

Someone is waiting for a divine moment, that flash of insight that is a near-religious experience.  Until that happens, the idea is frozen.

Creativity myths have been around for centuries.  David, you say that these myths hinder the creative process.  In fact, the subtitle of your new book is The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great ideas.  How does knowing the truth about these myths help?  Why is rewriting the myths so important?

David Burkus is the author of The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas. He is also founder of LDRLB and assistant professor of management at Oral Roberts University. Find out more about David at www.davidburkus.com. He also writes for Forbes, 99U, and the Harvard Business Review.

We’ve been writing myths for thousands of years. Myths are attempts to describe the world around us, everything from where sun comes from to the creative process. But myths are dangerous because they’re often not true, or at least are half-true. So it is with the myths surrounding creativity. They help us explain a little bit, but because they aren’t totally true, believing the myths in entirety can actually limit our ability to express our creativity. If we question them, find the truth, and rewrite them, then we stand a better chance of reaching our full potential.

3DCoverWileyYou are rewriting and busting these myths, but they are legendary in some ways because we love them.  That “falling apple” moment or “lightning strike.”  Why do we love these stories?

I think we tell a lot of these stories because they let us off the hook. If some outside force, a fallen apple or a lightning strike, is responsible for our creative insight, then the pressure is taken off us to generate great ideas. But creativity doesn’t come from outside ourselves, it comes from inside and from thought patterns we’re all capable of, as long as we believe we are capable of them.

Your new book The Myths of Creativity outlines ten creative myths.  Let’s walk through a few of these myths. Starting with the Expert Myth, aren’t trained experts the best source for creative solutions to dire problems?

Creativity doesn’t just love constraints, it thrives under them. David Burkus

Not always. In fact the research shows that many times professionals in a given field reach a peak early or mid-way through their career and then their contribution to the domain lessens. In Physics for example, it’s commonly held that PhDs will make their greatest discoveries before the age of 30. (Einstein was 26 when he published the paper that won him a Nobel Prize.) The reason is that expertise is important, but truly creative ideas often come from people on the fringes of a domain. They have enough experience to understand problems, but don’t have enough experience to write off “crazy” ideas without testing them. They don’t know what won’t work; so they try everything. The lesson is to keep learning and gaining experience in a variety of domains because you never know what field your breakthrough insight will come from.

Let’s talk about The Constraints Myth.  You write “constraints shape our creative pursuits.”  Give an example of how constraints encourage creativity.

We tend to assume that when we’re having trouble coming up with a viable solution to a creative problem, it’s because we’re too constrained. In reality, constraints actually help us find solutions. It’s impossible to solve a problem without understanding the structure around it. We can generate lots of wild ideas, but without the constraints of a problem, we’ll never know if those ideas are also useful. That’s why a lot of companies actually force constraints. Companies like 37Signals mandate small project teams and put limits on the amount of features their products can have. And it’s paying off for them. Creativity doesn’t just love constraints, it thrives under them. It’s like G.K. Chesterton suggested,  “Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.”