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

3 Myths About Creativity

Everyone is Creative

Do you think of yourself as creative?  Or do you think you missed that gene?  You admire others who paint or sculpt or write or create, but it’s not for you.  Or maybe you remember a teacher encouraging you as a child, but that was long ago and you no longer think you’re very innovative.

David B. Goldstein and Otto Kroeger argue that everyone is creative.  In their new book Creative You: Using Your Personality Type to Thrive, they give readers the opportunity to understand their creative potential.  When you take the quiz, you discover which of over sixteen personality types you are and how you can harness your unique creative power.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with David about his work and what he has learned about creativity and personality.

 

Invent a Better Way

David, most people only use a fraction of their potential creative ability available.  What do you say to those who say they don’t care whether they are considered creative or not?  Why is it so important to understand your style and become more creative?frontcover_final_CU

Great question, Skip! Everything is changing quickly and each day we all have to solve unprecedented problems at home and at work. To survive and to compete we need to be creative. Creativity isn’t just about making art or music; it’s about inventing better ways to do our jobs, and if we leave creativity up to others, we will be left behind.

 

 

 

Busting Creativity Myths

You bust myth after myth about creativity.  I think you list twenty myths.  Let’s talk about a few of them.  Would you share just three of these myths and why they are wrong?

Yes, there is much mystery around the creative process and the myths that many of us accept harm us by holding us back. Here are three:

1.  “There is only one type of creativity.”

A critical mistake many of us make is in assuming that we’re all the same. Did Henry Ford have the same kind of creative style as Picasso? Ford was conservative and created within a rigid model; Picasso was much more fluid. We all have unique knowledge, can learn techniques, and are capable of creating in our own way. Give a classroom of children a topic and ask them to write an essay, and then see how many variations you get. Each of us sees the world in our own way, and we act accordingly. Our creativity is as unique as our fingerprints and leaves an impression on whatever we make.

 

Creativity is about inventing better ways to do our jobs. -David Goldstein

 

2.  “Creative people are spontaneous, untimely, and unstructured.”

Break Your Routine

Photo by Phototropy on flickr.

Routine is the enemy of creativity.

Now, somewhere someone is arguing with that idea, saying that routine can enhance creativity. Routines can allow our brain to go on autopilot for the unimportant.

Sure, there is likely truth in that.

But, I think that occasional, even small changes can fire up our brain’s neurons and create new connections. We travel the same paths so often that we often miss the changes occurring on the route.

Before:

  1. My alarm goes off, and I follow the same pattern I have for years.
  2. I drive the same route to work.
  3. I follow a routine when I arrive at work.
  4. Each meeting follows a pre-set agenda and most are held in a conference room.
  5. I rush from task to task with little time left.
  6. The day ends, I head to the gym and start my routine workout.
  7. I rush home in time for dinner and helping with homework.
  8. I drive home and the evening is much the same as the one before.
  9. I watch the news and read a book.

The less routine, the more life. Amos Bronson Alcott

After:

  1. The alarm goes off, and I reverse my pattern. I get up fifteen minutes early, and go outside first. My thoughts are not about the daily “to do” list but instead focused on the nearby tree or the birds.

Leading So People Will Follow

Erika Andersen is a Forbes blogger, a facilitator, consultant, coach, and the founding partner of Proteus International.  She’s also the author of three books:  Leading So People Will Follow, Being Strategic, and Growing Great Employees.  I follow Erika on Twitter and regularly read and share her blog posts.  In all of her writing, she offers advice gleaned from her thirty years of working with executives.
Leading So People Will Follow

I thoroughly enjoyed her most recent book, Leading So People Will Follow and wanted to share this great resource with you.

Erika, this is your third book and really they are related.  For people who aren’t familiar with your work, tell us about each of the books.

Thanks for asking! The three books each have a strong connection to one of our three practice areas at Proteus, the business I founded in 1990.  The first book, Growing Great Employees, is a kind of Boy Scout Handbook for people managers. It’s a very skill-based, practical approach to the whole realm of managing and developing employees: why it’s important and how to do it well.  That book is most connected to the management and leadership training part of our client offer, which we call Building Skills and Knowledge.

The second book, Being Strategic, is most closely connected to our Clarifying Vision and Strategy practice area, where we focus on helping organizations clarify the future they want to create – and then achieve their vision.  That book teaches our model and the associated mental skills for thinking and acting more strategically – in any part of your life.

This new book, Leading So People Will Follow, is connected to our Developing Leaders practice area, where we focus on coaching individual leaders and teams of leaders to get ready and stay ready to succeed into the future.

In your latest book, stories and folklore play a big part.  I love that because children’s books are filled with powerful leadership lessons.  Why did you choose to use fairy tales and stories to get your points across?