Undoubtedly you’ve seen the advertising – you know, the quick fix to boost creativity? They usually come with a click-bait heading: “Three Things You Can Do to Become Creative—and it only takes 10 minutes!”
The truth this, getting to a creative breakthrough is more likely to look like a long path through the woods than the express train. There are, however, steps you can take to lead you in the right direction.
We’ve talked about creativity before on the blog, debunking myths and getting around creativity’s arch nemesis. In this post, we go over some ways to prepare yourself (and others) for creativity. Although it may take longer than 10 minutes to do, we think the outcome will be worth the extra work.
Master the Basics
Have you ever wondered why it’s called “figure skating”? Years ago skating competitions were broken into two parts – figures and free skating. In figures, each skater was required to follow a particular set of patterns, or figures, on the ice and were scored on how precisely they followed it. Judges were on their hands and knees trying to gauge each skater’s precision. It was an important part of the sport’s tradition, but it made for very bad TV. Viewers wanted to see the skaters leap and spin. In time, the “figures” part of the competition fell away, but skaters still practice their edges, just as musicians practice the scale and other basics.
Mastering the basics forms the foundation for creativity and constitutes a discipline from which creativity can develop. But clearly, although they are important, creativity cannot stop at the basics. At some point, the truly creative person must break from convention
Seek Out New Perspectives
While spending time with others in your field of interest is an important way of fostering creativity, creativity also comes about from combining dissimilar ways of thinking. Creative individuals tend to develop other talents and interact with creative people doing things that capture their imagination both in and outside of their discipline.
According to Adam Grant, professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the most creative ideas come to fashion designers who spend time working abroad. And, compared to typical scientists, Nobel Prize winners are 22 times more likely to perform as actors, dancers, or magicians; 12 times more likely to write poetry, plays, or novels; 7 times more likely to dabble in the arts; and twice as likely to play an instrument or compose music.
What is on display here is a tenacious curiosity. One cannot get to “new” if you are only imitating what others have done.
Connect with Others
If you ask someone who is particularly creative, they will likely point to others as the source (or influences) of their creativity—it’s a team effort! Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen farther, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants.”
Ideas often emerge when conversing with one’s counterparts. Sure, individuals who are creative may spend time alone, but they also spend time connecting with others in the field.
Where are the creative hubs in your field? A young talent in the area of applied computing science would be well-advised to go to Silicon Valley and be around others with similar interests. For theatre it might be New York or Chicago. For music, Nashville. For entrepreneurship, perhaps Seattle.
Where is the most exciting place in the world for your ideas to meet the ideas of others? A city? A university? An annual festival? Go there! At a minimum, find local hubs or on-line communities where your special interests will be welcomed.
Just like there is no 10-minute fix, a seminar on creativity is unlikely to yield a substantial increase in creativity unless you take these suggestions and apply them over the course of a lifetime. Malcolm Gladwell popularized the “10,000 hour rule” which asserted that you need an innate talent, but then you also need to put in the work.
And not just any work – it must be challenging work done in partnership with talented people who share your passion. Think The Beatles – plenty of talent and thousands of hours playing in places like Liverpool and Hamburg before they hit it big. That’s not a jazzy, simple formula, but it is one which has stood the test of time.
A concise prescription for enhancing one’s creativity includes a combination of actions: 1) master a creative domain from the basics on up; 2) seek out new perspectives; 3) combine and connect your ideas with others in your field; and, 4) persist.