I’ve developed a bit of an obsession around creativity - what it is and how we can practice it.
For me, creativity is the start of exercising choice; it’s helping people to change, and also how we create new models and concepts. Experiences and choice all start with ideas that add value.
Of course, there is evidence to suggest we know where creativity lives (in the right side of the brain, neighbouring with impulsivity and emotion), but how can we fuel it?
Inspiration or Insanity
I have looked into the habits of some of history’s most creative minds in the hope that I might learn some tricks to expand my own creative productivity.
Some things I found have been rather weird and personal!
Steve Jobs - routinely sat on toilets, dangling his bare feet while he came up with new ideas.
Yoshiro Nakamatsu (inventor of the floppy disc) – dived deep underwater until his brain was deprived of oxygen. He would then write his ideas on an underwater sticky pad.
Ben Franklin - started his days with an air bath - half an hour each day in his birthday suit in front of an open window - to read, write, and get his mental juices flowing.
T.S. Eliot - wore green-tinted face powder and lipstick.
Friedrich von Schiller - sought inspiration from the scent of rotting apples.
Yeah, I get it - do weird things to be creative! The good news is that you don’t have to. Exploring how these great thinkers achieved their ‘creative Zen’ has led me to insights of four habits that really do help me to be creative and what’s more, they are based on biology as well as psychology.
It should be noted that we could list lots of other tools, tricks and experiences that do help. My four below are what I get most impact from, and are simple to build into everyday life.
Make time and space to really relax on your own. We know collaboration, open offices, and being connected are really important fuel to feed our creativity, yet our brains need time and space to join up the dots in their own amazing way.
The benefits of relaxation and being on our own are powerful in many aspects, including:
- The opportunity to find your flow
- Thinking about the meaning of things
- Resetting your level of focus
For optimal creativity, set aside time for solitude:
- Take a walk in nature - find an environment where distraction is minimal but the atmosphere is inspiring
- Set time aside for a warm bath or extended shower
- Dark rooms or spaces can also stimulate the imagination (no horror films beforehand, though!)
- Write things down as they come to you, keep a 'scrapbook' - digital or physical
The most original contributions in any field don’t result from efforts to please the crowd. Research by neuroscientist Gregory Berns suggests that iconoclasts (or at least natural disruptors) “bombard the brain with new experiences” which scramble existing categories, links and assumptions and forge new connections.
One study of more than 3,000 entrepreneurs and business executives found that innovators spend 50 percent more time trying to think differently - and these intentional efforts sparked new ideas and associations. Think of an idea as this: a combination of old elements organised or joined together in new ways.
- Take a different route to work
- Spend time in new places
- Listen to a different type of music
- Try new food
The more intentionally “do it on purpose” we are, the better.
Research by Italian cognitive scientist Lorenza Colzato and her colleagues shows one type of meditation is particularly effective for creative thinking. It’s called “open-monitoring” meditation – in which you are receptive to your thoughts and emotions without focusing intensely on, say, your breath.
- You can record open-monitoring meditation with a voice recorder or phone app. This allows you to ramble audibly about ideas whilst capturing all the thoughts - without breaking your stride
- By contrast, the more traditional focused-attention meditation was better for “convergent thinking” (coming up with a single solution to a problem). So depending on where you are in the creative process, you can select different forms of meditation appropriately.
- Try simple meditation for 10-20 minutes a day. A great app for this is 'Omvana'.
The amazing creatives from our history were not tortured souls looking to punish themselves. They were believers, passionate to explore what mattered to them. They were adept at finding meaning and learning from their setbacks.
Some of the greatest creators had what the contemporary world may see as a disadvantage - a disability, mental illness, or significant loss - “a big change.” They channeled this energy from loss into their passion and what mattered to them.
- To help with your own creative growth, try this as a new habit, view a setback as an opportunity to reflect and grow: 'What can I learn from this and how can I take that learning forward?' - the '5 whys' root cause analysis method could assist you here
- Share your creativity and listen well to what people share back
Thank you for reading.
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