Creativity is your brain’s ability to think about yourself, others, and the world around you in unique and original ways.
In a professional context, we are referring specifically to the ability to take that creative way of thinking and use it to develop and redefine important ideas, approaches, and practices. And when creativity is no longer hindered by conformity, innovation happens.
As leaders, if we aren’t continually looking for new ideas and better ways to accomplish our goals, we will stagnate—but deviating from the norm can be an intimidating idea. Here are three lesser-known ways to help you tap into that creative side and maximize your innovative potential.
1) Talk to Yourself
Whether it’s through journaling or taking notes, making self-talk a habit improves your ability to think creatively under stress. Ask yourself questions that will force you to think about your circumstances in new ways, and consider solutions outside of your comfort zone. Effective questioning techniques allow you to find the inner creativity that leads to unique and innovative ideas.
Good strategic questions should create space for change, shake up old ways of thinking, encourage further learning, and help us see the big picture. Some examples might include
- How can I make the most of this mistake?
- What are some skills or strengths that I bring to this situation?
- In the past, I saw a major change here. What actions or circumstances contributed to that?
Journaling or mind-mapping are other effective avenues for self-talk. The process of putting thoughts to paper helps to harness nebulous ideas and give them substance. Some of the greatest thinkers in history were known for being tireless note-takers. Leonardo da Vinci, for instance, had a hard time making sense of his ideas if they weren’t physically laid out in front of him—and we all know the amazing things he contributed to the world.
2) Understand that Creativity takes Practice
In 2015, graffiti artist and inspirational speaker Erik Wahl gave a presentation at the Institute for Career Advancement Needs (ICAN) Conference on creativity as a “critical skill.” After stripping off his jacket and whipping out some paint, he spent five minutes transforming a blank canvas into a portrait of the Statue of Liberty. He then asked who in the audience could draw. Only a few members of the audience of over 2,000 people raised their hands. Erik then asked them to think about posing that same question to a group of preschoolers. Most 4-year-olds would jump at the chance to show off their artwork and vie to be picked to demonstrate their skills.
So where did that passion go? “Creativity is a practice,” said Erik. “The more you tap into your imagination, the more natural it becomes.”
Leaders must learn to reconnect with that passion for creativity. Shake off the shackles of “business as usual.” Realize that the way things are is not always the way things should be. So how do you tap into this? Drawing, seeing more of the world, and having new experiences—basically, doing things out of your comfort zone—is what opens your mind to new possibilities.
Erik’s suggestion? Use crayons. He cited a Yale University study that found that crayons were in the top 20 most recognized smells for adults. They take us back to a time when we didn’t have the inhibitions that come with growing up, to a time when there were fewer rules and expectations putting a damper on our creativity. Relaxing your mind in this way could help open you up to new ideas.
3) Never Stop Learning
Be an avid reader, never accept things at face value, always ask questions, take classes, listen to podcasts, constantly seek out new knowledge and ideas. When we are learning, we are growing.
Developing an appetite for learning makes us more open-minded and more willing to listen seriously to all perspectives. If you can find the time, take some classes on something you’ve never learned about before through a local community college or online. Take advantage of free educational resources. Technology has placed all of the world’s information at our fingertips; take advantage of it. Read classic literature. Follow the news. Read op-eds. Read things that you know you disagree with. Watch TED Talks. The more you learn, the more you will hunger to learn—and the more creative and innovative you will become.