Few things can make you want to tear your hair out in frustration more than trying to think of creative new ideas when you’re feeling exceptionally uncreative.
We’ve all been there before. Whether you’re a marketer who needs to come up with new campaign ideas for a client or an HR professional tasked with coming up with new ways to boost employee engagement, creativity is a vital skill in the corporate world.
Knowing how to cultivate and tap on your creativity can you set apart at work and allow you to value-add to your company in ways that won’t go unnoticed. Hence, here are four simple ways to train yourself to be more creative.
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The most creative ideas tend to occur to you when you’re in a relaxed mental state. If you’re having a creative slump, though, you tend to be more restless and jittery because of the anxiety resulting from being unable to think of new ideas.
Additionally, stress heightens the brain’s tendency to filter out more information and enter a more focused, detail-oriented mental state. Both of these things are counterproductive to the initial stages of creativity, where pattern recognition and associative thinking are crucial in generating ideas.
So take a break. Consider making a short retreat into nature. According to the Harvard Business Review, spending time in nature and away from technology can increase your creativity by up to 50%.
If that’s not an option for you, then think smaller: go for a run, take a nap, or have a shower. It’s not for nothing that so many people get their best creative ideas when they’re in the shower; it’s probably one of the most relaxing experiences you’ll have in your day.
Steve Jobs said it best: “Creativity is just connecting things.” Being creative requires a specific kind of mental flexibility that allows you to recognise patterns and make links between the unlikeliest observations in your life.
In his book “Creative Quest,” musician and The Roots frontman Questlove echoed Jobs’ sentiment: “There are patterns and links everywhere, and if you’re trying to remain in a creative frame of mind, you should let your brain find its way to them.”
In other words, the more capable you are of making these mental associations, the more creative you’ll be. The key to developing your pattern recognition skills? Practice, practice, practice. Malcolm Gladwell, for one, wrote that to master any skill or discipline, you need to clock 10,000 hours of practice.
A more simple way, though, is to try creative problem-solving techniques that can help you perceive meaningful patterns that you would otherwise have missed.
For instance, consider the free association method:
The inspiration that’s so essential for creativity is all around us. The problem is that most of us don’t leverage it enough.
If you don’t know enough about the world around you, you’re not going to be able to recognise enough meaningful patterns and be more creative. The most creative people are often voracious consumers of information. That’s not a coincidence.
When you’re more informed about the world around you, you’re better able to build on others’ works with your own ideas, make more links between different disciplines and areas of expertise, and have a greater repertoire of knowledge to dip into for more ideas.
So be sure to keep your eyes peeled, listen up, and open your mind all day, every day.
A lot of the time, we fall into creative dry spells because we’ve been doing the same things the same ways while expecting different results.
Introducing an element of uncertainty into your life can go a long way in helping you to come up with new ideas.
Steve Jobs, for example, founded and built Pixar into the animation giant it is today when he was forced to adopt a beginner’s mindset after getting fired from Apple in the 1980s. He later called it one of the most creative periods of his life because having to start from scratch allowed him the freedom to truly let his imagination take over.
To quote Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
Of course, that’s not an invitation to get yourself fired and see how that works for yourself. Making simple changes like switching up your daily routines or picking up an entirely new skill can also precipitate that beginner’s mindset that’s so crucial to creativity.