Creativity can be difficult for us because for most of our lives we have been trained to not think creatively. Much of our education during our earlier years focus on either remembering a specific set of facts or reproducing a solution we have been taught. For most of us at work, this is also true. A majority of the time we are rewarded for recalling how we previously solved such a problem, or finding how someone has solved a similar problem, and then adapting that to our current situation. But this is opposite of creative thinking. Creative thinking produces new, different, and unique solutions and is more necessary than we realize. After all, without creativity, nothing novel of value would be produced.
So how can we increase our personal creativity?
Creativity performance is the end result of creativity; it is the observable aspect of creativity. It can be either a creative product (a tangible invention such as an iPad) or creative persuasion. Creative persuasion happens when an individual has influenced the way others think or has changed the minds of others about what is possible.
Creativity potential signals the possibility for creativity. This potential for creativity can come from a person or a place. Some people are more creative than others, just as certain environments are more conducive to creativity than others. Research on personality tells us that people with high intrinsic motivation, a wide range of interests, high openness to new experiences, a propensity for risk-taking, and independence tend to be more creative. Similarly, research shows that organizations that value original thought and ideas and provide opportunity for exploration and autonomy are ones where creativity thrives.
If creative performance is what we want to achieve and creative potential is how we lay the groundwork for creativity, then creativity process is what happens in the middle—and explains how creativity actually occurs. This is where we can have the most impact in terms of improving creativity. By looking at the process aspect of creativity, we can learn about the certain ways of thinking (“cognitive mechanisms”) that lead to creative ideas and products. By focusing on the process, we can increase our chances of achieving creativity, no matter what our starting potential.
Tips for Improving Creativity
1. Take multiple perspectives.
Your first solution to a problem may not be the best one. Your first instinct may be the most simplistic one, the most complicated one, the most conventional one, or the most biased one. How would your boss approach this problem? How would your sister, father, or child think about it? By doing this, you increase your understanding and look at it with more depth.
2. Merge perspectives.
Combine unoriginal products or ideas to create synergistic results. Subjects that seem incompatible and highly dissimilar at first glance can combine to create the most value.
3. Come back to it.
On a different day, in a different mood, after a mental break, or after sleeping on it, your brain has done some reorganization and you may see the problem and the solution a bit differently.
4. Draw it out.
Use stick figures, diagrams, graphs, and charts. Viewing it in print rather than simply thinking about it enhances your understanding of the problem and the data you are working with. Seeing something displayed visually can trigger new ideas, opportunities, and ways of thinking about the problem.
5. Verbalize with metaphors.
It can be difficult to put abstract concepts into words but creating an analogy can spark new insights.
6. Focus on quantity.
Creativity and perfectionism do not go well together. Creativity can often be a numbers game. The more mediocre solutions you think up and the more bad products you create the higher your chances of finding something that works.
7. Involve others.
A second perspective can see value in things you have taken for granted or dismissed as unimportant. Although you have taken an idea as far as you think it can go, it might be just a jumping off point for a new mind with a fresh outlook.
8. Create a conflict.
When involving others, purposely choose those who think differently than you. If possible, argue or play devil’s advocate about the solutions. A conflict provides additional motivation to generate new ideas.