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
How is the accelerating pace of technological innovation impacting strategy and innovation?
Andrew Grant: Most people would be aware of how the pace of technological innovation has been accelerating, but conducting the research for our book The Innovation Race has really highlighted this issue and made us think about the potential impact of this manic race. We have discovered that the pace of change is now so rapid that we are in an unprecedented position. It’s like there’s an automatic speed-up setting on the treadmill that can’t be changed, and if we’re not careful the pace will just become too much to handle. Since the rate of technological innovation in particular has become exponential, a whole new leadership strategy and approach will be required. Small incremental innovations will not be enough to keep up. It will also be necessary to look ahead and anticipate the next new trends. By constantly looking for breakthrough new ideas and being ready to implement them faster, it can be possible to stay ahead of the curve. Agile new systems and structures will need to be built that can respond rapidly and effectively.
What is sustainable innovative action?
Gaia Grant: There’s no point innovating for the quick sale and short-term success. Innovation also needs to be able to be sustained over the long term. And, at a deeper level, it should be socially and environmentally responsible for the good of all people and the planet. Sustainable innovative action requires a balance of focusing on both short-term survival and long-term strategy: On the one hand the organization needs to be flexible enough to adapt to new needs and trends, but it also needs to be stable enough to be able to ride out the stormy times with a firm foundation. This will be both the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity for success.
Authentic Connections Foster Innovation
How is empathy related to innovation?
Gaia Grant: Many people will innovate from their own perspective. That is, they will decide what they think the end user wants or what will sell the best and innovate based on this viewpoint. But being able to see from another person’s perspective is essential for innovation that connects with real needs, innovation that can make a difference in people’s lives and in the world – or purpose-driven innovation – and this requires empathy. To really embody empathy, you need to be able to see what someone else sees and, more than that, to be able to feel what someone else feels. This ensures the innovation process is human-centric and user-focused rather than innovator-centric. What’s essential to remember here is that the empathy process should not be a shallow marketing tactic but rather an authentic connection that enables the innovator to address real issues and meet real needs.
“Purposeful proximity in clever collaborative spaces can create hothouses for innovation.”
Andrew Grant: Most people assume that innovation is all about openness and freedom, but this is only part of the equation. Sustainable innovation needs to focus on balancing both openness and freedom – as well as the antithesis of these. That is, while there certainly needs to be openness and freedom, there will also need to be some focus and discipline to effectively guide the innovation process. Maintaining this delicate balancing act is at the crux of a sustainable innovation culture. The strategic leader will constantly be adjusting the balance to fit the market changes along with the organization’s current needs and future goals. It needs to be an ongoing constant strategic action, not a set-and-forget approach. It’s situational leadership.
I found it fascinating, and I kept returning to the prompts to push myself. Then, I reached out to Jane to talk about her research and experience into creative strength training.
Jane Dunnewold teaches and lectures internationally, and has mounted numerous one – person exhibitions of her art work around the world. The former President of the Surface Design Association, she has authored numerous books on textile patterning and surface design.
“You are perfect the way you are…and you could use a little improvement.” -Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
Yes, Skip, it IS possible. It would be disingenuous to say that everyone is capable of being creative at the same level, but EVERYONE is capable of learning to think (and behave) more creatively than they do right now. Of course there are people who are really creative, and they’ve embraced it. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the large percentage of adults who are “out of touch” with what it means to be creative.
Re-connecting with creativity happens in stages. The first step is acknowledging how you feel about your own abilities. You might not feel very creative. You might not feel creative at all. Either way, I’d be inclined to ask, “What about other people? How creative do you think they are?” Because most of us can see something creative about other people’s behavior more easily than we can see it in ourselves.
Once we begin to notice other people’s creative ability, it’s easier to acknowledge our own. After all, if everyone else has at least some modicum of creativity, by default we must, too! Accepting that creativity is in us, no matter how untapped it may be, is the first step in learning how to unlock its potential.
Copyright Jane Dunnewold. Used by permission.
By the way, I highly recommend actually writing down whatever you’re thinking concerning creativity – yours or someone else’s – because then you’ve tethered your thoughts to the earth plane. We’ve all had the bummer experience of having a great idea – one we can’t possibly forget. But then it slips out of consciousness, and no matter how hard we work to get it back, it’s gone. Writing captures thoughts and ideas in order to allow time to develop them.
The second stage is remembering creative approaches or ideas we’ve used in the past. Sometimes I use a few questions to get people started, like, “Can you remember making something as a kid, from odds and ends – maybe re-purposing something, maybe even a toy? What was it? How did you do it?”
Another good question? Games we invent as kids. What were the rules? Who made them up? These prompts almost always lead to memories of creative activity—changing a recipe, fashioning a quick fix for some household problem, coming up with a gift for someone that was off the wall. Most people are creating all the time. They just haven’t named it yet. So asking someone to recall small acts of creative action primes the mental pump.
The third stage encourages people to embrace being creative on a regular basis. Because, as is true of all learned behavior, practice helps us get better at whatever we’re doing. Athletes don’t come out fully formed and neither do musicians or spiritual guides. Each works repeatedly at improvement. Creativity isn’t any different. You may not ever be the most creative kid on the block, but you can get a heck of a lot better at it if you intentionally seek opportunities to be creative in your approach to work or play – or Life, for that matter – and then embrace those opportunities.
Cultivating strategies to enhance the ability to think creatively include asking questions when you face a situation where the “same old, same old” doesn’t feel like the best solution. The questions could include:
What’s boring about how this is usually resolved?
What are the roadblocks to the problem’s solution?
What’s the craziest solution I can think of right now?
What would ___________ do? (Not Jesus, but someone you really admire and believe is a creative person! What would that person do under the circumstances?)
Maybe you’re not problem solving per se; you’re just thinking about your life and wishing you could be “more creative.” If that’s the case, then answer these questions:
Is there something I’d really like to learn to do?
Am I afraid to try it? Why? What am I afraid of?
Can I accept trying something even if I’m crappy at it, if I think it will be fun?
Each of us can craft questions that suit our own situation and personality. But ask a few of the above to kick things off. Get a feel for how to advance beyond usual thinking where problem solving or personal use of time is concerned.
“Find your own rhythm. Seek your own alignment.” -Jane Dunnewold
Copyright Jane Dunnewold, 2005, Used by Permission
I LOVE this question! Stamina = strength, right? Athletes build physical stamina, and you might think “creative” stamina only applies to artistic types. But anyone can build creative stamina by showing up and by working with the three stages I described above. Just don’t turn away or give up when the going gets rough. I’m reminded of the movie “The Shawshank Redemption”: Tim Robbins cogitating, strategizing, working endlessly, bit by bit, to escape from prison. Creative stamina isn’t as harrowing as that, but it does involve good-naturedly returning to a situation with resolve. As an artist, it means not getting a “poor me”’ attitude when things aren’t going well in the studio. It would be easy to look at what other accomplished artists have done, and give up. Just shelve it. But don’t. Keep working. And there’s always more to do. The end goal is elusive. This is the story of authors who send manuscripts to 50 agents before they find one who will give them the time of day. This is the story of actors who try for roles until they’re totally beat, but go to auditions anyway – and eventually land a part.
People who don’t think of themselves as creative assume what I’m describing has nothing to do with them. But it does. Building creative stamina means figuring out what you care about and then engaging with it creatively—whether you love to cook, and the vegetable soup isn’t quite right, or you love to garden, but the ground is hard as a rock. Maybe you don’t even know what creative passion is, but you keep showing up and trying things on for size.
“If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased.” -Katherine Hepburn
Author and speaker Simon Sinek is a gifted storyteller. In this talk, Simon zeroes in on an often overlooked aspect of leadership: safety.
Simon recounts the story of an ambush and its powerful lesson. When Army Captain William Swenson and his men were under heavy fire in Afghanistan, it was all caught on camera. As Swenson is seen helping an injured soldier onto a helicopter, you see Swenson lean over and kiss the injured soldier’s forehead before running back into a battle.
“Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank.” –Simon Sinek
Why did he do this? Sinek’s first hypothesis was that the military somehow attracted selfless people. After further investigation, Sinek concluded it was the environment that elevated behavior. The culture and values of the organization were strong enough to encourage selflessness.
We will put our lives at risk to save others because of trust. That means that trust increases safety. When we feel safe, we are empowered. When we are not acting under threat, we are able to give our best, to be more creative, to be more productive. More trust = more safety = more productivity and creativity. It’s a formula that all leaders should study.
Trust and safety may be difficult to measure, but they are essential for optimal performance.
David Kelley has many titles: design thinker, writer, engineer, professor and co-founder of IDEO. IDEO is responsible for such things as creating the first mouse for Apple and the thumbs up/thumbs down button on the TIVO remote. But David’s proudest work is helping people unlock their creative confidence. He wrote a fascinating book with his brother: Creative Confidence Unleashing The Creative Potential Within Us All.
“Belief in your creative capacity lies at the heart of innovation.” –David Kelley
Kelley shares a story that had a big impact on him when he was only in the third grade. His friend was working on a clay horse. A passing comment from a fellow student caused him to quit and roll up the horse in to a ball. That single comment stopped this student’s creativity in its tracks. When Kelley shares this story, he inevitably gets a ton of people sharing various memories of similar experiences. Many of us have a debilitating fear of judgment.
Kelley tells of his visit with Albert Bandura, a social psychologist, and their discussion with Bandura’s work with phobias. Bandura has developed a methodology that cures people very quickly. Within hours people with a snake phobia actually touch one by the end of the session. By conquering this fear of snakes, they birth a new sense of confidence and have less anxiety about other things in their lives.
Using this model, Kelley decided to take the fear of being creative and use the same techniques to boost creativity.
“Striving for perfection can get in the way during the early stages of the creative process.” –David Kelley
Kelley tells the compelling story of Doug Dietz. Dietz was proud of the medical imaging equipment he developed. One day, he arrived to find his MRI machine in use and a little girl absolutely terrified. Apparently, 80% of pediatric patients have to be sedated just to go through an MRI. Dietz, once proud of his machine, now hated it because of the fear it caused in kids.
I’m often struck by the “why” behind an invention. The MRI worked as designed. Scientifically, it provided all of the data necessary for medical professionals to analyze.
But when Dietz saw the scared child, his why changed. Now his purpose shifted from the medical professional to the kids.