Do you consider yourself a creative person? Creativity can help us in so many circumstances. Creativity is one of my core desired feelings.
Where do you get your most creative ideas? My best ideas come when I am not looking for them at all. I have dreamed up a fundraising theme or appeal while on a walk. While in the shower, I had the idea for a workshop. I have worked out solutions on how to deal with a tricky situation with a colleague during my commute. My best ideas come when I’m reading something unrelated and it triggers an idea. Tight deadlines and organized brainstorming sessions with other people thwart my creative process.
In order to be creative you have to know how to prepare to be creative.
Everyone can unlock their creative potential. Creativity is a skill than we can develop with practice. There are two key ways to do this. Avoid creativity killers. Use processes that help you unleash your creativity.
Avoid creativity killer #1: distractions
How many times does this happen to you? Just as a great idea pops into your head, you get distracted and lose your train of thought. Distractions come in so many forms. Your phone rings. Email pings. A colleague knocks on your door. A calendar alert reminds you to leave for your next meeting. Don’t get me started on meetings as idea killers.
Distractions cause us to be in a state of continuous partial attention. This state prevents us from having quality time to get in a creative flow. Schedule time in your calendar free from distractions to focus on your creative work.
There is another less obvious type of distraction to the creative process. In The Accidental Creative, Todd Henry writes about dissonance. Dissonance comes from three sources: lack of clarity, unclear objectives and unnecessary complications. Henry uses the equation pictured as a daily reminder to avoid unnecessary complications. Dissonance can prevent us from finding creative solutions to our problems or from taking action.
Avoid creativity killer #2: perfectionism
Another trap is the belief that everything has to be perfect before you can take the next step…I know it’s important to be prepared, but at the start of the process this type of perfectionism is more like procrastination. You’ve got to get in there and do.
Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit
Creativity is a two part process. First, we have to come up with our idea. Next, we have to act on our ideas. Perfectionism can prevent us from acting on our ideas.
Perfectionism is a plague, which often infects me. Perfectionism masks the real creativity killer – fear. Constant and endless writing edits are an example of my perfectionism/fear in action. Fear of mistakes and failure can prevent us from taking risks. Todd Henry calls fear “the invisible ceiling” which inhibits our creativity.
Creativity enhancer: Be childlike and play
Children love to play. Unfortunately, play is something that is not present in a lot of adults’ lives. What is play to you? What creative activities put you in the flow like when you were a child? I think it is wonderful that adult coloring books have become so popular recently. It is proof that adults are returning to a beloved playtime activity from their childhood. Find ways to incorporate time for play into your life.
Give yourself permission to incorporate play and childlike behaviors into your life. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Every morning write “morning pages” – three pages of handwritten, stream of consciousness writing.
- Take an improv acting class. Gain practice in “Yes, and” instead of squelching ideas with “No.”
- Be curious. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions.
- Approach situations with a beginner’s mind. You may need to fall down many times before you master the skill.
- Create something just for the sake of creating.
Creativity enhancer: Collect inspiration and scratch away
If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like old faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting. — Ray Bradbury
Collecting inspiration is my greatest source of creativity. The process provides me with a goldmine of ideas. Doing this allows me to make connections that would not ordinarily exist. Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Companies promotes the mantra A-B-C-D. (Always Be Connecting the Dots). This post is an example of this in action.
There are so many ways to collect inspiration. Read. Listen closely to everyday conversations. Admire other people’s creations (art, theater, music, dance, film). Go out into nature. Learn from your heroes and mentors. Visit new places. Todd Henry advises us to curate our stimuli because what goes in must come out. This does not mean we have to stick to only Oscar-winning films or Nobel Prize winning literature. I recently got a creative idea for a potential client from a women’s magazine article. But binge-watching reality TV should probably not be our sole source of inspiration.
Choreographer Twyla Tharp calls the process of collecting inspiration scratching. She believes that the combination of little ideas collected can lead to big ideas. For every new project, she fills a banker’s box with research, notes and various inspirational items she has found.
“Scratching can look like borrowing or appropriating, but it’s an essential part of creativity.” Twyla Tharp
Creativity enhancer: Incorporate visual thinking
I have recently begun to incorporate visual thinking into my creativity arsenal with mind maps. Mind mapping, created by Tony Buzan, is a well-known form of visual thinking. A mind map is a diagram that visually organizes information around a central idea surrounded by connected branches of related topics.
It is hard to come up with creative solutions if we have not fully defined the problem we are solving. In his book, Show and Tell, Dan Roam recommends that you start drawing to help clarify the answers to key questions for your projects and presentations. Ask yourself: why, when, who, what, where and how. He suggests specific types of drawing for each question.
- Why: an equation
- Who or what: draw a portrait or graphic representation
- How much: a chart
- Where: a map
- When: a timeline
- How: a flow chart
Visuals can help us not only create our ideas but also to present our ideas in a clearer fashion. There is a reason that children start to learn to read with picture books and not text dense materials. I now try to ask myself what words can I replace with images to make my ideas more clear.
Choose one of the creativity killers to focus on first. Next, choose a creativity enhancer. Visual thinking will work wonders for some. Morning pages will be revolutionary for others.
Most importantly, honor your unique creative muse and ways of being creative. For example, some people are most creative with background noises like their favorite music or the ambient noises of a coffee shop. Other people need total silence. Experiment to figure out what works best for you. Have fun with the process. After all, according to Albert Einstein “creativity is intelligence having fun.”
Question: How are you going to unleash your creativity?
References (or places where I scratched for inspiration):
- The Accidental Creative: How to be Brilliant at Moment’s Notice by Todd Henry (Book and podcast)
- The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
- Show and Tell by Dan Roam
- What is innovation? Fast Company article by David Brier
- Drew Boyd’s Inside the Box blog on Psychology Today
- Being Perfect by Anna Quindlen
- The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron
To discover your core desired feelings, read The Desire Map or consider attending a Desire Map workshop.