Fostering your creative juices takes the same focus and hard work as anything else. Creativity isn’t a birthright, but rather a learning process that can be developed.
In Sir Ken Robinson’s book, Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, for instance, he points out that “if someone tells you they cannot read or write, you don’t assume that they are not capable of reading and writing, but that they haven’t [yet] been taught how.”
Creativity comes from effort -- hard-earned, deliberate practice and time spent being creative. There is no secret to becoming a better painter than to just paint, to reading faster than to just read, or more creative than to imagine and innovate. Here are five ways to get your creative juices flowing and inspire the innovation monster within:
1. Define what it means to be creative. Just as people have different definitions of “ideal,” the same goes for “creativity.” Take, for instance, Apple. The i-everything company is a master at creating new products and spinoffs from old ones. Starbucks, however, can only come up with so many different coffee beverages because they all taste like, well, coffee.
Instead, the coffee giant’s creative touch lies within service, as it continually shapes and redefines the service industry by making each Starbucks a place to not only enjoy a tasty beverage, but hang out, read or study. In fact, the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Shultz, recently instituted a new creative approach to promoting service by offering paid online education funding for both current and former employees.
2. Be a copycat. Most ideas are not completely innate. In other words, ideas must come from something whether it's a personal encounter, a passage in a story or a news headline. Ideas, then, are recreated or repurposed as a result of someone or something. So if you want to be more creative, you must first recreate.
Now, I’m not suggesting you plagiarize, but going through the motions of rewriting words, movements or thoughts of an expert is a great way to build fundamentals and muscle memory that allow you to connect the dots in the future.
3. Exercise. Every muscle needs a break once in a while, and physical activity allows your mind to wander away from its current focus and get the rest it needs. Research conducted by the Creativity Research Journal measured the effects of exercise on creativity and found that people who exercised displayed more creative potential after working out than had they not exercised at all -- yet another reason why exercise is important.
4. Question everything. For job interviews, Thomas Edison used to invite potential new hires over to his house for a meal. If the applicant added salt to his meal before tasting it, then he did not get the job. Edison only hired people who questioned everything they did and did not operate off assumptions. Those applicants who salted their meals before tasting it failed to question whether it needed salt in the first place.
5. Substitute words. Words mean different things to different people. With every word comes a unique meaning that is exclusive to each individual.
For example, Michael Michalko, author of the creativity bible ThinkerToys, highlights in a blog: “Toyota asked employees for ideas on how they could become more productive. They received few suggestions. They reworded the question to: ‘In what ways might I make my job easier?’ They were inundated with ideas. Even tiny changes with words can lead to unpredictable, cataclysmic results.”
If you want more than one perspective, something as simple as changing your words can lead to greater idea flow.
Creativity, just like anything, requires practice. It means exercising an iron-willed determination to hit a constantly moving target -- and sticking with it until you do. Incorporate the above habits into your daily routine and watch your creative capacity build.