In the past 2 years I’ve spoken with hundreds of CEOs, business leaders, startups, academics and systems thinkers about the qualities they are looking for in the people they want to work with, and the attributes they believe the successful organisations of the future will have. We’ve discussed the complex issues around the future of work, the impact that exponential technology will have on employment, and role of business in the challenges the world faces.
Several consistent qualities have emerged that these leaders believe are important for both organisations and individuals to cultivate. Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of these attributes is Creativity. But how do you become more creative? Here are 5 habits you can try which will help you activate the creative zone inside you and be more creative.
Many of us have our creative abilities quashed, if not eradicated, in the education system. Education – although it is trying hard to address this – is not designed to foster creative individualism. We are encouraged to believe that creativity is the perquisite of artists; people who can draw, paint, sing, dance, write exciting novels. Whereas in fact true creativity is simply about bringing something new into existence that hasn’t been here before. An idea for a new business. A new system for doing things. A new way of viewing the world.
Creativity is a discipline that can be taught and learned. Some people are more attuned to it than others, simply because they have been exposed to richer experiences during their young years. However, the ability to think in broader, wider terms – to have a more expansive picture of the world – can be learned. People we think of as creative may have been born or grown up with some neurological advantages (see other posts), but in general they will have worked at it, trained it, and failed regularly too. Everyone from successful entrepreneurs to leading artists are used to a cycle of creativity, failure, learning and eventually, success.
If you would like to increase your creative capacity, here are five simple habits you can try to activate your own creativity.
1 Speak to a Stranger Every Day
It might sound simple, but in our busy introspective, often unfriendly city lives, how often do we take time to hold a conversation with someone we don’t know. A conversation without any expectations attached to it, just an open mind and a curiosity to explore their life, their views, their experiences. Even if you just strike up a conversation with someone at the bus stop or in a cafe, make an effort to speak to someone you have never met. If not every day, then at least once a week. You never know what you might learn!
2 Take an Empathy Walk
A deeper experience than a random connection at a bus stop, the Empathy Walk was created by MIT/Harvard expert Ed Schein. Ed has shaped the field of organisational culture, learning and leadership over the past decades. The Empathy Walk is a deliberate act to choose to meet with someone who you know holds a distinctly different view to yours, or has a very different life experience to your own. One of the outcomes of 2016’s political upheavals of Brexit and Trump, was for many people to realise that they live in a ‘bubble’ of like-minded people and have little contact and therefore compassion, for others of a different persuasion. Since I learned this technique during Harvard/MITs Ulab, I have made sure I do this once each month. You can download the notes I made about The Empathy Walk Here.
3. Go Somewhere New
Travel broadens the mind, so they say and it’s true. But only if you go with a curious and open mind. And you don’t have to travel far. Most of us live in close proximity to different neighbourhoods, even if we live in rural places. Sometimes all you have to do is decide to get off the bus one stop early and walk home through your next-door neighbourhood with wide, curious eyes. Sometimes you can make a decision to go back to a place you grew up in and see what has changed.
Of course it’s an added bonus if you can travel to somewhere completely different from your everyday experience each year. Whenever I am invited to speak abroad I always try to book in at least one or two days either side to go exploring. I want to eat in the local cafes, live like a local (thank goodness for AirBnB), and understand what daily life is like in that place by speaking to as many people as I can. Occasionally this gets me into trouble as it did in Manaus, Brazil where I was held up at gunpoint during one excursion!!
4. A Practice of Immersion & Information Gathering
If you’ve ever been in the creative industries – advertising, PR, design etc – you may have experienced the high cost of services from organisations with global creative reputations. Without trying to justify those costs, one of the contributing factors is just how much time creative teams have to spend in immersion and information gathering in order to be able to active true creativity and originality on behalf of their clients. ‘Creatives’ spend days, weeks and months immersed in learning: they read enormous amounts, they watch films, they go to art exhibitions, they listen to thought-leaders on topics as varied as politics, economics and social welfare, they examine thousands of other creative campaigns.
You don’t have to commit that much time. But you should have your own practice of immersion that you devote time to each week. How can you expect to constantly innovate in your own industry if you don’t know what’s happening in it? So make regular time to look at what is going on in your own industry, and in the peripheries around it. In larger organisations, make sure there are a group of committed people who are constantly searching out the new – often this will be an R&D department. But don’t isolate it from the rest of the business – integrate people from all different disciplines into the process – it will be fresher and more insightful.
5. Train Your Mind to See Abstract Connections
Not everyone is a ‘joiner of dots’. It’s a particular talent of mine – it might even be my only real talent!! But I’ve also worked hard at it for many decades.
You can train your mind to find abstract connections between these things. The question “What if?” is your friend. Ask yourself ‘What if’ I joined this idea to that one and put it in an industry that’s never done that before? Train yourself to be receptive to new ideas and look in new and unexpected places to find them.
If you’re looking for a new communications idea, look at a successful one and ask yourself what it would look like in your own industry. What would a John Lewis style Christmas ad look like for a fishmonger?
If you are in need of a new product or service to extend your revenue streams, take a look at a completely different industry. In the UK we are familiar with the partnership at petrol stations between BP and Marks & Spencer. What kind of partnership could you strike up to expand your brand horizons if you are a legal firm – what else do people who need legal support often need when they come through the door? What’s the convenient equivalent of a sandwich and a chocolate bar?
Give these a go to start training your mind to be more creative and see what happens. It’s like a gradual awakening. Soon you’ll feel yourself more automatically paying curious attention to what is going on around you – despite everyday busyness. As you do that, you’ll find fresh ideas and thinking start to come more easily to you.
There are many more techniques you can use to activate creativity in your business and in your own life. If you are interested in bringing a more creative mindset into your organisation, we run Imagineering and Creative Thinking & Strategy Workshops both in-house and also for individuals a number of times each year, so let’s have a conversation about how we could help you. They have helped companies from global corporations like Levi Strauss and Timberland, to small creative startups unlock the barriers to creating a creative and innovative culture! Why not give me a call on 07702 285207 or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.