Cultivating Creativity

Is creativity a skill or a talent? Is it something inherent—genetic code that comes hardwired—or is it a seed that can be planted, tended and grown? Often, people will say things like, “Oh, I’m not creative,” or “He’s the creative one!” as if creativity is a line that falls down the middle of the population, and you’re one of us or one of them. That isn’t at all true.

Part of the problem is that many people seem to conflate “creativity” with “artistry.” In other words, they seem to think that creativity has an artistic byproduct like a painting or a sculpture. Creativity isn’t the ability to make a painting, or drawing, or film, or choreographed dance. It’s the process of generating thoughtful ideas, building upon them, breaking them apart, finding connections, and linking them together.

Everyone has some creative capacity built in from Day One. It’s how you learn to solve problems like, “How do I get my toy that is too high for me to reach?” And it can become anything from “How can I earn more money?” to “How do I get this space shuttle out of the mesosphere?” And because creativity is a process and not a singular action, it’s a lot easier to practice and increase your creative ability than you might think.

Problems as Opportunities

The biggest block to creativity is the easiest to fix. In order to foster creative thought, you must have the drive to spend time cultivating it. Practice seeing every problem or challenge in your life not as an annoyance or a setback but as an opportunity to explore creative solutions. Reward the generation of new ideas and build confidence to pursue less obvious solutions.

Build Connections Between Solutions

An interesting way to think about creativity is not so much that is a good idea as it is perspective. One hundred individuals can approach the same problem, and most of them may be able to find a solution, but it may be very linear A-to-B thinking. Creative thought is about rejecting the idea of “The Solution” and instead seeking multiple answers, building a web of solutions in your mind and finding commonalities between them. From there, it’s much easier to step back and perceive the full scope of ideas—from the simplest to the wildest to the most interesting to the total failures. It’s no coincidence that word clouds and mind maps have become the picked-on stereotype of brainstorming. It’s the very same idea.

Be Absolutely Open

The only way to encourage new ideas is to push out beyond that first familiar tier of tried-and-true solutions. There you need to fill in your second, third, fourth tiers of thinking with new ideas, concepts, and frames of reference. The spooky, lurking enemy of creativity is The Rut: that feeling that you are stagnant, that you are in one place or mindset too long, that routine has gone from comfortable to oppressive. To create new perspectives you must experience new things. Go see a weird movie, go explore a new outdoor space, seek out new experiences, make space for new friends, show genuine curiosity in their experiences and hobbies, reject jadedness at all times and travel as much as you can to fill your brain with as many ideas outside of your home culture as possible.

Generate Before Editing

A key starting point in group brainstorming is that “no idea is a bad idea.” Okay, that’s definitely not true; there are a lot of bad ideas in the world. But the point of this isn’t to calm the stage fright in the room, it’s that it is important to first generate your ideas and then edit them. If you focus on trying to do both at once you may be stopping important lines of thinking, connections, and linked concepts before they even get off the ground. Allow yourself the opportunity to think freely—truly freely and without boundaries or concern for if something is “good” or not—before you bring your ideas back down to earth. A secondary benefit is how many new ideas seem to come out of the second editing pass when you’ve begun to form those first connections and you’re beyond the dreaded “blank page.”

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