There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all space-time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost… forever!
Every single thing in our world begins from an initial thought. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are continually contributing to the story of life through the way that we think, feel, speak and act, and through the creations that we bring into the world. Creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. Creativity is characterised by the ability to perceive the world in new ways, to find hidden patterns, to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and to generate solutions. Creativity involves two processes: thinking, then producing. If you have ideas but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative.
“Creativity is a combinatorial force: it’s our ability to tap into our ‘inner’ pool of resources – knowledge, insight, information, inspiration and all the fragments populating our minds – that we’ve accumulated over the years just by being present and alive and awake to the world and to combine them in extraordinary new ways.”
— Maria Popova
Because creativity is the process of bringing something new into being, it requires passion and commitment. We must be willing to take risks and progress through discomfort to get to the finish line. The creative process is the act of making new connections between old ideas or recognising relationships between concepts. Creative thinking is not about generating something new from a blank slate, but rather about taking what is already present and combining those bits and pieces in a way that has not been done previously.
The Creative Process
While being creative isn’t always easy, nearly all great ideas follow a similar creative process. In 1940, an advertising executive named James Webb Young published a short guide titled, A Technique for Producing Ideas. Young believed the process of creative connection always occurred in five steps.
1. Gather Raw Material.
Doing research and understanding your topic is the starting point. During this stage you focus on learning specific material directly related to your task and learning general material by becoming fascinated with a wide range of concepts.
2. Digest the Material Mentally
During this stage, you examine what you have learned by looking at the facts from different angles and experimenting with fitting various ideas together. Young found that this stage of the process “is harder to describe in concrete terms because it goes on entirely inside your head.” During this step, you’re looking to synthesise the seemingly unrelated and random bits of information in order to find a meaning of some sort.
3. Step Away From the Problem.
Next, you put the problem completely out of your mind and go and do something else that excites and energises you. The point of getting outside of your own head during this process is to decompress and move on to other tasks, while you allow your thoughts to synthesise and incubate.
4. The Ah-ha Moment.
Out of nowhere, the idea will appear! At some point, but only after you have stopped thinking about it, your idea will come back to you with a flash of insight and renewed energy. How many times have you had a great idea while in the shower or emptying the dishwasher?
5. Bring Ideas to Life.
Shape and develop your idea based on feedback. For any idea to succeed, you must release it out into the world, submit it to criticism, and adapt it as needed.
“A product is creative when it is (a) novel and (b) appropriate. A novel product is original not predictable. The bigger the concept, and the more the product stimulates further work and ideas, the more the product is creative.”
—Sternberg & Lubart
What is Innovation?
Innovation is the implementation of a new (or significantly improved) product, service or process that creates value for business, government or society. Creativity is a crucial part of the innovation equation. There is no innovation without creativity. The key metric in both creativity and innovation is value creation.
“Creativity comes from trust. trust your instincts. And never hope more than you work.”
– Rita Mae Brown
Types of Creativity
Experts also tend to distinguish between different types of creativity. The “Four C” model of creativity suggests that there are four different types:
1.Mini-C creativity involves personally meaningful ideas and insights that are known only to the self.
2.Little-C creativity involves mostly everyday thinking and problem-solving. This type of creativity helps people solve everyday problems they face and adapt to changing environments.
3. Pro-C creativity takes place among professionals who are skilled and creative in their respective fields. These individuals are creative in their vocation or profession but do not achieve eminence for their works.
4. Big-C creativity involves creating works and ideas that are considered great in a particular field. This type of creativity leads to eminence and acclaim and often leads to world-changing creations such as medical innovations, technological advances, and artistic achievements.
“Creativity comes from a conflict of ideas”
– Donatella Versace
What Does it Take to Be Creative?
Csikszentmihalyi suggests that creative people tend to possess a variety of traits that contribute to their innovative thinking. Some of these key traits include:
Creative people tend to possess a great deal of both physical and mental energy. However, they also tend to spend a great deal of time quietly thinking and reflecting.
Psychologists have long believed that intelligence plays a critical role in creativity. In Terman’s famous longitudinal study of gifted children, researchers found that while high IQ was necessary for great creativity, not all people with high IQs are creative. Csikszentmihalyi believes that creative people must be smart, but they must be capable of looking at things in fresh, even naïve, ways.
Creative people do not just sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. They are playful, yet they are also disciplined in the pursuit of their work and passions.
While some people seem to come by creativity naturally, there are things that we all can do to increase our own creativity. Creativity requires both a fresh perspective combined with discipline. Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.
“Rational thoughts never drive people’s creativity the way emotions do.”
– Neil deGrasse Tyson
Conditions for Creativity
Creativity requires a certain state of mind. Barbara Fredrickson points out in her well-known broaden-and-build theory that an increase in positive emotions leads to a broader thought-action repertoire. This ultimately leads to more creative, flexible, integrative and open thinking patterns. Research from the University of Western Ontario supports this theory. The results of the study showed that participants who listened to happy music or viewed funny clips were more likely to think innovatively and solve the problem at hand than those who were not exposed. These findings suggest that we first need to create a positive environment conducive to creativity in order to see an increase in our flow of ideas and innovation.
“Creativity is one of the last remaining legal ways of gaining an unfair advantage over the competition.”
– Ed Mc Cabe
Creativity and Positive Psychology
How might creativity lead us to increased well-being or flourishing? Using the context of positive psychology, three mechanisms play a role here:
The Authentic Self
Those who count creativity amongst their signature strengths derive a sense of authenticity, purpose, and meaning from exercising this strength. They find ways of bringing as much creativity as possible into their lives. What shape or form this creativity takes depends on our personal “brand” of creativity; it may be artistic, cultural, inventive, scientific or any other kind of original activity.
Czikszentmihaly’s book “Creativity” is based on interviews with creative individuals from many walks of life and from varied careers. He found that creative outlets can harness otherwise destructive energy.
“Entertainment keeps chaos temporarily at bay, but the attention it absorbs gets wasted. On the other hand, when we learn to enjoy using our latent creative energy so that it generates its own internal force to keep concentration focused, we not only avoid depression but also increase the complexity of our capacities to relate to the world.”
Finding the time to incorporate creative activities into your life can open your mind to new discoveries, which can lead you to new places and ways to engage with the world. Creativity, when harnessed, is beneficial for your well being, even if creativity is not necessarily one of your signature strengths.
When challenges closely match a person’s abilities, they can enter a state of flow. Flow is the feeling of complete immersion and loss of sense of time when merging actions with awareness. This is experienced by individuals across a range of activities from artistic pursuits to sports, music, science or invention. Flow leads us to perceive an activity as enjoyable. In fact, according to Czikszentmihalyi, the process of discovery involved in creating something new appears to be one of the most enjoyable activities any human can be involved in.
“Creativity comes from looking for the unexpected and stepping outside your own experience.”
– Masaru Ibuka
Creativity and Economic Development:
We are living in the age of creativity. In his book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, Daniel Pink defines Economic Development as:
- Agriculture Age (farmers)
- Industrial Age (factory workers)
- Information Age (knowledge workers)
- Conceptual Age (creators and empathisers)
Pink argues that left-brain linear, analytical computer-like thinking is being replaced by right-brain empathy, inventiveness, and understanding as the skills most needed by business of the future. In other words, creativity gives you a competitive advantage by adding value to your products and services, and differentiates your business from the competition.
As Sam Palmisano said when he was CEO of IBM (2004), “Either you innovate or you’re in commodity hell. If you do what everybody else does, you have a low-margin business. That’s not where we want to be.” In 2012 IBM began reinventing itself to become a design company, investing USD 100M to hire designers, and educate 100,000 employees to become design thinkers. IBM helped expand design thinking throughout their organisation over a three year period to penetrate one quarter of the entire portfolio, enabling USD 18.6M in increased profits.
“Creativity is breaking out of established patterns to look at things in a different way.”
– Edward de Bono
Creativity is the Most Crucial Factor for Future Success
IBM’s 2010 Global CEO Study stated: The effects of rising complexity calls for CEOs and their teams to lead with bold creativity, connect with customers in imaginative ways and design their operations for speed and flexibility to position their organisations for twenty-first century success.
A 2012 Adobe study on creativity shows 8 out of 10 people feel that unlocking creativity is critical to economic growth, and nearly two-thirds of respondents felt creativity is valuable to society. However, a striking minority (only 1 in 4 people) believe they are living up to their own creative potential.
“To be creative means to be in love with life.”
Can Creativity be Learned?
Creativity begins with a foundation of knowledge and mastering a way of thinking. You can learn to be creative by experimenting, exploring, questioning assumptions, using imagination and synthesising information. Learning to be creative is akin to learning any skill. It requires practice to develop the right muscles and a supportive environment in which to flourish.
Clayton M. Christensen uncovered a function of five key behaviours that optimise your brain for discovery:
1.Associating: drawing connections between questions, problems, or ideas from unrelated fields
2.Questioning: posing queries that challenge common wisdom
3.Observing: scrutinising the behaviour of customers, suppliers, and competitors to identify new ways of doing things
4.Networking: meeting people with different ideas and perspectives
5.Experimenting: constructing interactive experiences and provoking unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge
Sir Richard Branson has a mantra that runs through the DNA of Virgin companies. The mantra is A-B-C-D. (Always Be Connecting the Dots). Creativity is a practice, and if you practice using these five discovery skills every day, you will develop your skills in creativity and innovation.
“Creativeness is the ability to see relationships where none exist.”
— Thomas Disch
Fostering Creativity at Work
Follow these simple rules and you will foster a culture of creativity and innovation: These were defined by HP, which in fact started in a garage.
Believe you can change the world.
Work quickly, keep the tools unlocked, work whenever.
Know when to work alone and when to work together.
Share – tools, ideas. Trust your colleagues.
No politics. No bureaucracy. (These are ridiculous in a garage.)
The customer defines a job well done.
Radical ideas are not bad ideas.
Invent different ways of working.
Make a contribution every day. If it doesn’t contribute, it doesn’t leave the garage:
Believe that together we can do anything.
-1999 HP Annual Report
We have created a culture in which being right and doing things perfectly is highly valued. But as we try hard to be perfect, we miss out on the benefits of being wrong. In fact, many inventions have originated from mistakes. Take Post-it notes, for instance. Spencer Silver failed to develop a super strong adhesive for 3M laboratories, but some years later Arthur Fry turned Silver’s mistake, a superglue that wouldn’t stick, into an innovative new product: an adhesive that sticks to objects but could be easily lifted off.
If only Silver was more aware of his potential for innovation and creativity! Ken Robinson claims that the reason we fail to be creative is that schools teach us to be right. We leave school in fear of being wrong, which suffocates creativity. Knowing this, why not allow yourself to be wrong once in a while? Create a work culture that sees mistakes as a pathway to innovation and growth. What would you do if you knew you couldn’t go wrong?
Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.”
– Mary Lou Cook
Create Upward Spirals through Positive Emotions
Another way to increase your creative output is by making positive emotions a habit. Generally, most events we encounter are neither positive nor negative. They are neutral before we categorise them according to our “lens” (how we choose to see the world). American social psychologist Barbara Fredrickson found that if we choose to categorise more events as positive rather than neutral (such as a sunny day) and experience positive emotions, such as joy and appreciation, we experience an upward spiral of emotion. This changes our radius of awareness.
Fredrickson conducted randomised control studies and found that positive emotions change our view and even our peripheral vision. They open us up and change our outlook on the environment and the way we approach tasks. This is where creativity comes in. As our world expands, we become more flexible, innovative, and creative and are able to see solutions we would not normally see.
Cultivating positive emotions is a great way to increase our creative output. One of the most effective exercises to create long-lasting upward spirals is a gratitude journal. Take a few minutes every evening and write down three good things which happened to you today. Initially, you may find it difficult to find three positive situations each day, but as you continue to screen your day for positivity, you become more aware of the many little things which categorise as either neutral or positive.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”
– Brené Brown
Are you still reading about mindfulness, thinking that one day you will incorporate it into your daily life? Well, if benefits such as improvements in physical and mental health and well-being have not yet convinced you, the prospect of increased creativity is one more reason to incorporate mindfulness meditation into your busy lifestyle. Let’s face it: creativity takes time. But our mind can be a tad impatient when it comes to producing solutions, right? Negative self-talk along the lines of, “You are so not creative! What a pathetic effort!” can be a real barrier for creativity. Practicing mindfulness has been found to increase self-compassion.
Mindfulness is a state of relaxed but alert attention to the present. As we observe our emotions and thoughts in an open, non-judgemental way, we distance ourselves from negative self-talk, and we make room for the experience of the moment. Practicing mindfulness regularly allows us to enjoy the process of being creative rather than just focusing on the desired end result. To make it simple for you to get started right away, here is an action plan, effective immediately:
- Accept mistakes! Starting today, realise their potential for growth and innovation
- Keep a gratitude journal and make time to write down three good things every day
- Take ten minutes each day to meditate
“Creativity is the power to connect the seemingly unconnected.”
– William Plomer
A Take-Home Message
No matter which way you express your creative potential, there are huge benefits to your business, as well as your health and well-being. Creativity starts with an encouraging environment and grows from opportunities where your innovative and original perspective is challenged. Find your flow, live your authentic self and welcome well-being and flourishing into your life.
“Even though personal creativity may not lead to fame and fortune, it can do something that from the individuals’ point of view is even more important: make day to day experiences more vivid, more enjoyable, more rewarding. When we live creatively, boredom is banished and every moment holds the promise of a fresh discovery.”