Creativity is like a muscle, so you need to keep exercising it if you want to be strong. By practicing some really simle methods for increasing creativity, you can get into a more flexible state of mind that’s capable of reaching new places. Here are 11 simple ways:
1. Commit to collaboration
39% of surveyed employees believe that people in their own organization don’t collaborate enough. (Source)
Sharing knowledge can be a big barrier to unlocking team creativity. Set out to change that. Collect and share your discoveries with your teammates so everyone can contribute. Be comfortable sharing early thoughts and ideas. Don’t be afraid to build very early prototypes so you can gather feedback continuously.
What’s at risk if you’re not willing to collaborate? More than just personal relationships are at stake: 86% of executives identify ineffective collaboration and communication as a major cause of failure in business. (Source)
2. Challenge everything
Challenge what you know. Challenge existing rules. Ask why they are there. Challenge preconceived notions and any kind of automatic thinking with the potential to cloud innovation opportunities. Challenge what you see. Challenge what you hear. Find ways to push past initial observations and get to the crux of the problem. Make sure your team is even asking the right question before you set out to find the answer.
3. Encourage people to ask questions
Employees must feel comfortable questioning authority. If people don't feel like they can bring up protential issues or critique an idea, companies can fall into the trap of passively letting mediocre ideas slip through, Encourage your team to always be asking questions. By asking questions, people can better connect the dots between something interesting and a creative solution to a problem.
4. Practice design empathy
Instead of going based of what you think, put yourself in the shoes of your customer to focus on generating user-centered solutions. It isn’t about you. It’s about understanding the needs of your customer. This can be done through various user-centered design processes, such as ethnographic research, walk-a-mile, and customer feedback (to learn more about these processes and how your company can use them for innovation, check out the Innovation Field Guide). Design empathy means not just learning about consumer preferences, but gaining a deeper emotional perspective of the consumers needs, wants, fears, and motivations, etc.
Tim Brown, of IDEO, wrote about the importance of empathic design in his book, Change by Design, “Empathic design has proven useful in addressing increasingly large systemic challenges, such as education, healthcare, and organizational efficiency."
Designing with empathy in mind can allow companies to tap into unmet and unexpressed needs and create new markets.
5. Find time for mind-wandering
“Mind-wandering seems to be essential to the creative process, and I don’t think a lot of businesses are aware of that fact,” explains Scott Barry Kaufman, in a Knowledge at Wharton article, Can Creativity Be Taught?
Kaufman specializes in the scientific understanding of creativity and intelligence, and is the scientific director of the Imagination Institute at Penn’s Positive Psychology Center. He suggests people need to have the time and space for “constructive internal reflection.” This type of thinking, where the mind is allowed to mull over things and draw from personal experiences, is often an important part of the process of creative incubation.
“Daydreaming leads to creativity, and creative activities teach us agency, the ability to change the world, to mold it to our liking, to have a positive effect on our environment,” explains Daniel J. Levitin, author of The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, in an op-ed for the New York Times.
6. Let people play
There’s a reason why children come up with candid, yet very astute observations of their world. They’re not hindered by inhibitions or fears of being wrong. They’re free to explore any and all ideas. “Childlike creativity” usually refers to characteristics such as being playful, imaginative, and curious. Children are known to try new things, experiment, and indulge in daydreaming without worry.
Give your team permission explore freely. Be adventurous; challenge yourself to leave the confines of the office to explore in new environments. Let people play, whether it’s with toys on desks or a basketball hoop outside.
Part of the reason why children are able to see new perspectives is their mind isn’t already crowded with existing knowledge and experiences. Remember to remain open-minded and try not to narrow in too quickly on ideas. This helps if your team feels comfortable sharing observations with others.
7. Honor your curiosities
As humans, we are curious by nature. We constantly explore the world around us, collecting things we find interesting, unique and noteworthy. Allow yourself to go on an adventure down a new path. Ask questions and dig deeper into subjects that are unknown or seem interesting.
8. Embrace risk-taking as part of the package
Don’t be afraid to fail. Fear of failure is a big creativity killer. You have to embrace an open mind and not let anything get in your way. Truly innovative ideas are usually different and this alone can scare people. Don’t let it scare you. If you’re afraid of failure, it will infect your entire team and prevent people from taking necessary risks.
There is inherent risk in innovation, so learning to take risks is critical to success. If you’re not willing to take risks, you limit your mind’s flexibility and ability to see new things.
"There is a deep and meaningful connection between risk taking and creativity and it's one that's often overlooked," explains Forbes contributor Steven Kotler. "Creativity is the act of making something from nothing. It requires making public those bets first placed by imagination. This is not a job for the timid. Time wasted, reputation tarnished, money not well spent -- these are all by-products of creativity gone awry."
9. Dive into research
Our brains look for both analytical support and creative combinations to solve problems. It’s important to explore research from within the field and outside of the field with your team. Use research to explore multiple paths, from customer and business needs to market trends and available resources. You’ll want to have a process for managing research so it can be reviewed and tagged. This optimizes the process of synthesizing research into insights and will guide product development and market execution, speeding up your path to innovation.
10. Break routine
Go a different way to work. Try a different form of exercise. Eat dinner in a different neighborhood you don’t usually go to. Take public transportation. There are many ways to change things up and stimulate fresh thinking. A study conducted by Mareike B. Wieth and Rose T. Zacks published in the Journal of Thinking and Reasoning found people are better at "thinking outside the box" during non-optimal times, so don’t be so fearful of breaking your rhythm.
11. Find stillness
Whether you practice yoga, sit still and breathe deeply, or simply pause your life, slowing things down can open your mind up for new ideas. The benefits of meditation for creativity have been documented in many scientific studies. To read about the scientific research supporting mindfulness, read this TED article, “4 scientific studies on how meditation can affect your heart, brain and creativity.”
Getting Started is simple
Set aside 15 minutes of your day today to try one of these ways to increase creativity. Pick something you think you can do regularly and identify how you can consistently incorporate it into your work routine.