At its core, creativity is simply the use of imagination or original ideas to create something new. Creativity is at the heart of all innovative solutions and companies. And while robots are learning to imitate creativity by painting new works of art, artificial intelligence is yet to create something truly original.
This is why creativity is such a prized skill for graduates. Creativity in the workplace means people are better able to spot unique gaps in the market – from finding new ways for company’s to increase their business, all the way through to answering questions that haven’t been asked yet. For the companies that employ them, creativity in problem-solving means standing out among the pack of competitors. Netflix took a creative leap from shipping DVDs to distributing movies through the Internet, Uber created a solution to taxis that many hadn’t even thought of, and Pixar built an empire from merging cutting-edge technology with the most classic of creative storytelling. Innovation and creativity mean solving consumer problems more effectively and more intelligently, which makes it an essential skill to have in the workplace.
So, here’s how to improve yours.
What is creativity?
Research has shown that creativity relies on personality traits like self-acceptance, openness to experience, and unconventionality, though a higher IQ and lower latent inhibition (the function that rejects or represses ideas) helps. While these traits are mostly set in early childhood, several studies indicate types of behaviour can enhance creativity.
Step one: teaching yourself to capture ideas
A key part of creativity is teaching yourself to record and preserve new ideas as they occur. The role of the subconscious in problem-solving isn’t known, but most great thinkers can relate to a ‘eureka’ moment arriving at an unexpected time. A key skill is recognising when those ideas arrive, and having a place to store them.
Has inspiration struck in the middle of the night, or on the walk home? Evernote is an excellent note-taking app to have by your side. Just grab your phone and note them down. People often think they’ll retain a brilliant idea by memorising it, but why take the chance?
Step two: challenging yourself
Trying to solve a difficult problem is going to prompt more creative solutions than an easier task. Like Sudoku or Chess, the harder the task, the more challenging (and creative) the solution must be.
Let’s face it; after a tough day of work, more tasks are not what the guru ordered – so you can keep your brain working through some (really fun) mobile games. Keep your brain working with pretty puzzler Monument Valley and manipulate physics to clear the various levels. Threes takes simple rules to the limit in a number matching exercise that will keep you thinking long after you’ve put it down. And for a novel narrative, The Room 2 will soak up your attention even as you puzzle over the story within. It’s all about keeping your mind active, so when inspiration strikes you’ll know what to do (see step one).
Step three: broaden your knowledge
This involves seeking out knowledge and skills outside one’s area of expertise. By learning more about different disciplines, new ways of problem-solving arise. For example, why build more hotels when you could connect travellers with spare rooms and houses instead? Remaining curious about new disciplines means graduates can tackle problems in ways others haven’t thought about.
Kahn Academy is the ultimate app to learn new things. Math, science, physics, economics, and coding are all available in free downloadable videos. For the multi-linguals in the making, Duolingo comes recommended to start thinking in new languages, too.
Step four: change your surroundings
Exposing yourself to new experiences and ways of looking at the world will help enforce a new approach to solutions. Little changes, like changing the route you travel to work, is enough to view things in a different way, or prompt different thinking – but seeking out new entertainment, activities, and places to travel will all increase your creative mindset.
Step five: try some apps!
Google Maps will help you plan different strolls through neighbourhoods, while TED Talks will expose you to different ideas during those walks. And if you want to mix up where you work (studies demonstrate coffee shops are useful for new ideas), Coffitivity recreates the sound of a café to boost creativity.
Step six: meditate, meditate, meditate!
Everyone from IDEO design gurus to celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow has talked up the benefits of meditation for a reason – it works. A review of more than 150 scientific studies demonstrated the benefits of meditation for improving creativity, due to shifts in mood and personality. Creative blocks often occur in times of high stress – meditation can serve to relieve this stress and remove those blocks.
Headspace (one of Fast Company’s 2017 most innovative companies) produced a website and mobile app designed to make meditation approachable. It’s free to try, so you can test to see if your creativity improves before shelling out (at the very least, you might find some sense of personal zen in the process).
Creativity is a much-misunderstood discipline that people assume only belongs to graphic designers and artists. However, that belies its purpose; to see problems that others haven’t, and solutions that others won’t think of. Honing your own creative prowess will be applicable across disciplines and with your employer.
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