What’s the first thing you think of when you hear names like Steve Jobs, Ernest Hemingway or Marie Curie?
Genius. Prodigy. Visionary. Probably one of these terms comes to mind if you had to describe these famous personalities. We tend to put creative minds like these on a pedestal. Why? Because their creations live on, long after they no longer do, and because they shared those creations with us – the public.
Creativity, however, does not require a public work. You don’t have to introduce a new art epoch or invent a flying car. Anyone can be creative. All it takes is the right environment and an open mind. Because creative thinking is a state of mind and a way of processing the world around you.
According to Scott Barry Kaufman, author of Wired to Create, creativity must follow three principles:
- Original: The creator goes beyond the norm
- Meaningful: the creation is functional or offers a new interpretation
- Surprising: The result surprises not only the creator, but also those who experience it
Now, if you take a few moments to think it through, you’ll conclude that this three-part definition can be applied to startups and entrepreneurs as well as writers, designers, and IT specialists. And probably to pretty much everyone else, too.
With these three principles in mind, I’d like to share with you below seven creativity techniques that will help you boost your own creativity skills.
1. start small – creativity needs patience
Viewed soberly, creativity is one thing above all: problem solving. It gets difficult when you try to solve too many problems at once. Then it can feel like a tornado is raging in your head, making it impossible to think clearly – let alone combine all your ideas in an original way.
Does this situation sound familiar? If so, there is a solution! And it’s almost as obvious as it is effective: focus on one small problem at a time. This applies to both collaborative and personal tasks. You can’t write a novel in one sitting (unless you’re Barbara Cartland), so instead, start with one page. Then the next. And after that, you take a break where your ideas continue to take shape.
The benefit of doing this is not only that small, consistent steps slowly add up to a big whole, but they also allow you to do some real brainstorming and look at that one piece of the puzzle from all angles.
2. create limits – the limits of imagination
In 1960, Random House publishing founder Bennett Cerf bet one of his authors, Theo Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss), that he couldn’t write a great children’s book with just 50 different words. Dr. Seuss took the bet and created Green Eggs and Ham, which has sold over 200 million copies since its original publication.
How is this possible? Limits. Similar to focus, limits stimulate creativity. They make you think further, go further, and form unconventional associations that often lead to innovative solutions. If you are someone who tends to be frustrated by limits, start a self-experiment and get yourself to accept them.
Even more: Use them to your advantage! So the next time you find yourself in a situation where you can’t see the forest for the trees, set limits on your work. For example, give yourself a predefined word limit for your next writing session, or at most one hour to redesign your workspace.
3. let your mind wander – imagination is the trump card
Most people have it while showering, hanging laundry or walking the dog: the “aha” moment. It may sound cliché, but the effect is real, and even supported by science.
In a Harvard Business Review article by David Rock and Josh Davis, the authors explain that letting your mind wander can be the trigger for important insights. They cite a creativity test in which researchers gave participants two minutes to come up with new uses for everyday objects such as bricks and shoes. During a 12-minute break, some people had to complete a difficult memory task. Other participants were given an easy task that encouraged mind-drifting:
“People in the latter group performed about 40% better the second time they did the creative object use task. Conversely, participants who had done the challenging task showed no improvement.”
The brain needs time to process and explore. Try to schedule breaks, walks, or anything else that will give your gray matter some breathing room. Expose yourself to new sights and sounds. Changing your thought patterns is often all you need to turn on your creative light bulbs.
4. automate and systematize – create space for inspiration
Creativity needs time and space to grow. This is where automation comes into play. If you can systematize, delegate or even eliminate repetitive processes, steps or tasks, you save yourself important time. This creates new free spaces on which creative problem solving can be built.
It may sound simple, but it can be the difference between running through the day and just treading water. If you’re having trouble finding space for inspiration, take a look at your processes.
- Perhaps there are one or two things that can be automated?
- Where would it make sense to implement proven systems?
- Which activities take up an unnecessary amount of time?
- What requires your full attention and should therefore be prioritized higher? What does not?
When you create structure, you make room for new, exciting ideas at the same time.
5. ask, “What if?” – Let your imagination run wild
We have already addressed this in point 2: Limits narrow down problems and make them easier to handle. In contrast, however, it can also be beneficial to tear down the boundary fences and expand your horizons.
One of Google’s nine core principles for innovation is that everyone should aim to be ten times better. Not just a little better. Ten times better. Imagine you’re developing a new service offering. Instead of raising the bar a little, ask yourself: What would make the current version an absolute blast? You can apply this principle to so many problems:
- How could we increase profits tenfold?
- How could the social impact be ten times greater?
- How would this experience be 10 times more fun for our customers?
Now your wheels are turning, right? Keep it up! Sure, you’ll come across one or two completely wacky ideas, but chances are you’ll stumble across a goldmine in between.
6. prove courage to change – go new ways
Do you remember Newton’s law? If not, here’s a quick refresher: Newton’s Law states that an object at rest tends to stay at rest, while an object in motion tends to stay in motion. That’s why the third mile of a run is so much easier than the first, and the couch seems to have a magnetic pull on you when you’re watching Netflix.
The same logic applies to products (and services, too). As soon as you start tinkering with one part, you start seeing other problems that need to be fixed. But that doesn’t have to be negative in any way, quite the opposite. The momentum you develop feeds into new aspects of your work and can inspire you to find creative solutions.
Changing an established routine, practice, or even your day-to-day workspace can also lead to breakthroughs.
So invest some time thinking about how you can build momentum. Look for big and small changes that could lead you in a new direction.
7. have self-confidence
There are countless external factors that influence creativity, both positively and negatively. What counts, especially in the latter case, is confidence in yourself and your abilities.
You can. You will find the solution you need and the answer you are looking for because you know where you stand and where you want to go. Trust it, nurture that trust, and find out how much you can accomplish through that alone. You will surprise yourself.