Spark up your creativity: Traits of creative people

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    (This is the 1st of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

    Most people say they want to be more creative. They want to build more traits of creativity. But what does that mean? That they want to be the next Steve Jobs? Or that they want to relax into an imaginative hobby?

    Does it mean they want to spend more time alone, thinking prolific thoughts?  Or that they want to charge into stimulating conversations with diverse thinkers?

    Hmm … (Pause to think prolific thoughts).

    What is creativity?

    So what is creativity? Here are a few definitions.

    • Originality, progressiveness or imagination
    • The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns
    • A mental characteristic that allows a person to think outside of the box

    From these definitions it’s clear that creativity links to individuality. But there are other perspectives. Creativity can be more than what meets the eye.

    Is creativity a solo or team activity?

    The answer to this question is simply YES. There are times when being around other people can be distracting. On the other hand new insights emerge from the collision of diverse viewpoints.

    Are introverts or extroverts more creative?

    Just as creativity can emerge from either solo or group activities, creative people can be either introverts or extroverts. Earlier I said that creativity can emerge from a collision of perspectives. Introverts may need to step out of their comfort zones and embrace the ideas of others. Extroverts may need to stop and do a bit of internal soul-searching.

    What is the difference between creativity and innovation?

    Some people consider creativity to be a starting point for innovation. In that sense, innovation comes from the creativity of one or more individuals.The outcome can be a new product, an enhanced set of work procedures or novel services.

    Think in terms of people AND culture

    I taught a creativity and innovation course at the Center for Professional and Executive Development at University of Wisconsin-Madison. In it I focused on the importance of both individual-think and group-think in establishing a forward-looking organizational culture. It’s a myth that only certain people are creative. People are creative in different ways, and to different degrees. So instead of contemplating whether you are creative, focus on how you are creative — and strive to enhance your own creativity.

    Traits of creative people

    Sometimes people are inspired by creative quotes. If you are one of them, download 100 Inspirational Quotes about Creativity and Innovation from SlideShare.

    Creativity traits – your creativity quotient

    Here are the traits, characteristics, skills and viewpoints that creative people (and companies) can work to strengthen. No single person will excel at all of them. Yet collectively they will ground you in your pursuit of creativity.

    A word of caution, though. If these characteristics are carried to extremes they can actually compete against each other. For example, being autonomous (independent) can sometimes make it hard to be tuned in to others. And some characteristics can have both a positive and negative side. Evaluating creative ideas is a positive activity that can turn negative if you focus exclusively on fault-finding.

    So, what is your creativity quotient? Ask yourself: are you …

    Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
    Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious
    Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
    Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
    Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
    Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
    Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
    Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy

    I will discuss each of these eight characteristics in future posts.

     

    Amplify your creative curiosity

    (This is the 2nd of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

    Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
    Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious
    Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
    Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
    Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
    Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
    Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
    Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy Creative curiosity

    Be forever curious

    We are surrounded by new ideas. In various stages of formation. All the time.

    But we might not be curious enough to even notice them. Don’t lose your sense of curiosity. Amplify it.

    Becoming interested in something kindles your curiosity to learn more. And ironically, by learning more you realize how much you don’t know. That can generate more curiosity. Interest encourages learning, which in turn, increases interest to learn more. That’s curiosity.

    Curiosity is not a general instinct

    Curiosity is a critical component of creativity. But while all humans have some degree of curiosity, it is not an instinct. In other words, it’s not a fixed response to some stimulus. Nor is it a routine or predictable action pattern. Rather, curiosity is an individual interest in trying to understand something you don’t know.

    So, how important is curiosity? A Psychology Today blog post stated that curiosity and conscientiousness were found to be more important than intelligence in predicting success.

    Do adults lose curiosity?

    Many people believe that kids are naturally more curious than adults. On the surface this seems reasonable since there is so much more they need to discover. However, it’s not black-and-white. We are all aware of some kids who are more curious than others. And even some adults who are more curious than kids. So it’s not just a gap in knowledge, but rather in an interest or desire to learn more.

    Raise your creative curiosity

    To amplify your curiosity, expand your thinking. Be curious about more and more things. Learn a new hobby. Complete a household project you’ve never attempted before. Develop an unexplored professional skill. Delve into an online course. Make learning a life-long goal rather than a burden to be endured. As you build your bank of knowledge, focus not only on what you’re learning, but also on the process itself. As a first step toward creativity, enjoyment of the process of curiosity (i.e., learning) can be an intrinsic reward – a motivation – for many people.

    Ask questions

    Asking questions – and finding answers to the questions – is somewhat of a template for the process of curiosity. As Einstein said, “The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” When faced with new information or unknowns, ask challenging questions, such as: Why? How? What if? Why not? Look for the answers that everyone else is ignoring (or too busy to consider). Political consultant, Bernard Baruch, was quoted as saying: “Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton asked ‘Why?’.”

    So start asking questions. Lots of them. Here are some examples.

    Can ordinary things be used in extraordinary ways? Spider silk and silkworm silk, which are biocompatible with human tissue, have been used to treat nerve damage. Efforts are under way to increase usage for regenerative medicine, and to find better ways to commercialize the process.

    What caused that to happen? The story of Percy Spencer’s curiosity has been well-publicized. In 1945, while working near microwave magnetrons, he discovered a candy bar had melted in his pocket. He tried to figure out how it happened. The result was the microwave oven.

    And asking “what else could this be used for?” can sometimes trigger accidental inventions. Play-Doh was originally a wallpaper cleaner. Velcro was discovered by George de Mestral when he noticed burrs sticking to his hunting dog’s fur. Saccharin was originally discovered by a chemist looking for alternative uses for coal tar derivatives.

    Capture your ideas

    Even when curious people are good idea generators, they don’t always keep track of these ideas. Do you have the discipline to capture your ideas? Do you jot down notes and review them periodically?

    Apply curiosity to your domain expertise carefully

    As people grow older, their curiosity may become more focused in specific domains. Occupational fields, defined recreational activities, or individual (personal and spiritual) pursuits are the center of their attention. That means the questions they are asking and the answers they are seeking have a more limited scope. But curiosity can still be fostered – as long as the domains don’t become so few or so narrow as to restrict open-mindedness and objectivity.

    Where to from here?

    A challenge that occurs as people gain expertise in specific domains is that they can become more risk-averse and less tolerant of failure. So in addition to curiosity, building resilience in the face of failure is necessary for creativity. That will be covered in the 3rd post.

     

     

    Grit: Build a reservoir of creative resilience to overcome failures

    (This is the 3rd of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

    Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
    Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious
    Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
    Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
    Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
    Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
    Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
    Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy

    Creative grit

    Do you have what it takes to withstand creative flops?

    Creativity cannot exist without failures. Period. Unfortunately, failures can occur without creativity. The challenge is how easily you give up.

    The picture at the top is one of the few photographs of my mother’s family. My grandmother had 10 children. Two were still-born, one died at an early age, and two were unable to make the trip to the United States with her. She faced continual hardship, but was resilient enough to be creative in her own way. That’s true grit.

    Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed, wrote an article about grit for the New York Times Magazine. In it he discussed the role of resilience and persistence in attaining success. He emphasized that people insulated from botched outcomes don’t develop the fortitude necessary to succeed. Taking risks is part of life — and part of creativity.

    That’s where grit (creative resilience) comes in. Sustained creativity requires not just failures, but also an ability to bounce back from them. It requires an ability to manage adversity. And it’s a character skill most people have not been taught.

    So, do all educators agree there is a link between grit and creativity? No. Nevertheless most concur that it may play a role in long-term projects. In other words, in pushing creativity toward innovation. An initial creative spark is not enough. You need to continue through to a result. That means you have to keep bouncing back.

    What is your creativity safety net?

    To bounce back from adversity, you need a virtual trampoline, a safety net. You have to strengthen your ability to cope with outcomes you don’t want. The Mayo Clinic provides these tips on improving resilience:

    1. Get connected
    2. Make every day meaningful
    3. Learn from experience
    4. Remain hopeful
    5. Take care of yourself

    I want to augment these tips and relate them to creativity.

    Get connected to build creative resilience

    Develop a strong social network of family, friends, colleagues and/or mentors. Find people you can confide in. Share your frustrations. Use their support as a “sounding board” to help reduce the frustrations you are feeling when faced with creative dead-ends.

    Make every day meaningful

    Look for opportunities to be grateful every day. Oprah Winfrey keeps a gratitude journal to help her appreciate what she has rather than bemoan what she doesn’t have. According to Inc. Magazine, gratitude can compensate for stress, thereby opening creativity ability.

    Turn mistakes into lessons

    Rethink failure. Learning from mistakes and setbacks is an achievement. It’s an element of success. Not learning from errors is a failure.

    In fact, failure often creates new opportunities. Ian Robertson observed in Psychology Today:Paradoxically then, failure can help us to encounter new possibilities because it forces us to abandon the blinkered focus on reward that repeated success causes.” In other words, success can cause complacency and risk reduction, sometimes referred to as the incumbent’s curse.

    Challenge yourself to engage in experiences where success is not virtually guaranteed. If you need to wade into this by making mistakes that nobody sees, start there. Teach yourself that that you are resilient enough to rebound from occasional defeats.

    Keep track of what you have learned from missteps. Apply that to new situations. Contemplate setbacks without dwelling on them. Accept them as part of the normal process of creativity and innovation.

    Remain hopeful

    Being hopeful is not Pollyanaish optimism. It’s not wishful thinking.  Rather, it’s about embracing possibilities, even while knowing some outcomes will fail. It’s about accepting the present while being motivated to change the future. This perspective on hope is believed to be related to creativity.

    So, encourage yourself to explore multiple solutions to problems. Believe you have the capacity to impact change. Take the long view.

    Take care of yourself

    Physical, mental and emotional health are all connected to resilience. The stronger you are in all these areas, the better equipped you are to bounce back from setbacks. Get proper sleep. Eat a balanced diet. Learn to relax. Manage stress through meditation, yoga or deep breathing. Focus on maintaining healthy self-esteem.

    And exercise. Studies prove the physical, mental and emotional benefits of exercise. And aerobic activity also stimulates prefrontal cortex areas of the brain generally associated with aspects of creativity. That’s why taking a walk, riding a bike, or engaging in a sport can trigger new ideas after you have been in a creative rut. It also gives a boost to resilience.

    Relearn life’s lessons

    Think about mistakes you made growing up. What were the responses of your family? What about peers? Or teachers? Or ministers? Were you criticized or encouraged? Were the mistakes viewed as learning opportunities or dead-ends? These experiences “taught” you how to deal with failure. Now you must decide if the teachings were appropriate, or if you need to “unlearn” the lessons. That requires creative grit.

    If you were taught that failure is bad – that only perfection is acceptable – you will likely look for ways to avoid taking risks. Or you learn to blame others. While risk reduction is important, too much will squelch creativity. It can cause you to limit your focus to only areas where you are strong. It may prevent you from seeing answers that aren’t directly in front of you. And even some that are right in front of you.

    Is all perfection necessary?

    Force yourself to distinguish between necessary and unnecessary perfection. Necessary perfectionism saves lives. Unnecessary perfectionism causes procrastination. It creates delays. And it obstructs the realization of ideas. There’s a lot of room for creativity in-between.

    When I published the first edition of my product manager book in 1995, it was far from perfect. However, it was “good enough” to generate an increased awareness of product management. It’s now in its fourth edition. Had I waited for it to be perfect, it would still be sitting unpublished in some long-forgotten location.

    Just to be clear – I am not suggesting that with creativity anything goes. Details can make the difference between a good and a great idea. But not all details are equally important. Strive for perfection. Just don’t let it become an excuse for lack of forward momentum.

    When you run into a dead-end, decide to move forward. Don’t allow yourself to be stuck in perpetual limbo. Scrap what you’re doing until you uncover an untried solution. Reframe the problem. U-turns can be okay. Decide if the problem you are trying to solve is the wrong problem. (Sometimes the best resilience is “quitting” and starting over anew.) Just continue moving forward.

    Failure is rarely fatal

    Failure is not enjoyable and can be a blow to one’s ego (and possibly one’s budget or profit), but it is rarely fatal. Coach yourself to tolerate missteps, learn from them, and recognize that they are instrumental in your pursuit of creativity and innovation.

    Be flexible. Practice improvisation. Try new approaches when the first way does not work. Be persistent. But do so with vigilance and intelligence, and be willing to change course when necessary. Strengthen your mental ability to be aware of and cope with potentially contradictory data. Acknowledge there may be multiple viewpoints for issues, and that other perspectives might add to your creativity.

    Where to from here?

    Resilience paves the way to follow-through. You need to bounce back from ideas that don’t work until you find ones that do. But you’re not done yet. Be ready to test, evaluate and evolve your creative ideas. That’s the topic of the next post.

     

     

     

     

    Creative tinkering: Ideas evolve as you evaluate them

    (Creative tinkering is the 4th of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

    Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
    Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious
    Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
    Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
    Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
    Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
    Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
    Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy

    Creative tinkering

    Sand sculpture tinkerers at New Smyrna Beach, FL

    Some people believe that creativity is all about a single Eureka moment when a fully-formed idea simply jumps out. Sometimes that might happen. But not usually.

    It’s more likely that creative types are tinkerers – testing, modeling and experimenting with their ideas, often in a trial-and-error mode. They continually evaluate what does and does not work. They evolve their ideas beyond their embryonic beginnings.

     

    What is a tinkerer?

    I came across Rachelle Doorley’s definition of tinkerer on TinkerLab. While the site is intended for childhood education, several concepts are appropriate here as well. (In fact, you might want to take a look at TinkerLab for inspiration!) So, here is her definition of a tinkerer:

    “one who experiments with materials and ideas to fully understand their capacities, and who further iterates on their learning to find better solutions to current problems.”

    Note that her definition mentions the importance of continually iterating on learning. In other words, a tinkerer is a dabbler. An experimenter. A hands-on adapter. A maker. Tinkerers “play around” with ideas. They don’t necessarily accept their first idea as is.

    The tinkering process helps redefine problems and solutions. And the more idea variations you have, the higher the probably of having a good one in the pile. Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling said: “I am constantly asked by students how I get good ideas. My answer is simple: First, have a lot of ideas. Then, throw away the bad ones.”

    Ideas evolve through creative tinkering

    Think about all of the different types of people who tinker. And think about the variety of disciplines they represent.

    • Fiction writers try out various plots and characters before finalizing a story line.
    • Product designers experiment with various materials, components and approaches to prototyping.
    • Artists test new combinations of colors, shapes and textures.
    • Photographers shoot from different angles, with different lenses, under different lighting conditions to see what happens.

    Evaluation is integral to improving and/or prioritizing ideas. Look at your brainchild from multiple perspectives. What are the relevant facts? Are there better or different alternatives? What are the benefits and advantages of each? What are your gut reactions – how do you feel about it? Why is the idea good, and what can be done to make it successful? What are the risks and negatives, and why might it NOT be successful?

    I started writing fiction a couple of years ago, thinking that because I wrote successful business books I could easily make the shift to mysteries. Wrong. I had to learn about characterization. Plotting. Scene development. And the planting of clues and red herrings. I am finally making progress but it took a lot of tinkering. And evaluating. And really listening to members of my critique groups. Believe me, I learned I could not leave my ideas in their original conditions. (Some were dead on arrival!)

    Yes, tinkering is necessary for creativity to blossom. And it’s not necessarily a solo activity.

    Makers help evolve creative ideas

    The Maker Movement is a social movement of people who want to create. Anything. Some makers are do-it-yourselfers. Others are professional inventors.  But at heart they are tinkerers. And they share learning in many ways. One is through Maker Faires, defined on the namesake website as follows:

    Part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new, Maker Faire is an all-ages gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors. All of these “makers” come to Maker Faire to show what they have made and to share what they have learned.

    The Maker Movement has been enabled by technology (such as crowdsourcing and 3-D printing), and plays a role in some corporate product development. GE, for example, has used the concept of makers as a new paradigm in manufacturing. A few years ago, they invited makers from across the globe to submit ideas as part of an innovation challenge. They received many novel concepts for their aviation products. Some may have eventually emerged from internal R&D. But the use of crowdsourcing helped evolve the ideas faster.

    Become a dreamer and a doer

    Tinkering allows you to focus on something without succumbing to analysis paralysis. Permit yourself to spend some unstructured time “fiddling around with” your ideas. Resolve to be persistent, determined, and even tenacious in pushing them to the next level. Shape yourself into a die-hard tinkerer.

    Author Sarah Ban Breachnach stated: “The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do.

    So, flesh out your dreams. Convert ideas into something more concrete. The sooner you can craft models and prototypes, the sooner you can judge the strength of your concept. (As a side note, I want to mention that it’s okay when the result of a creative idea has value only to its originator. Creativity need not always result in commercialization. But many creative ideas are developed into products, services, processes or business models. In either case, creativity must move beyond an abstraction.)

    Where to from here?

    Above all, you have to take responsibility for evolving your ideas and for your own creativity. That’s where autonomy comes in, as I’ll discuss in the next post.

     

     

     

     

    Creative autonomy: a cornerstone of creativity

    (This is the 5th of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

    Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
    Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious
    Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
    Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
    Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
    Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
    Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
    Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy

    What does autonomy mean?

    Autonomy is commonly used in a political context to define self-governance:

    • Autonomous countries maintain the rights (and responsibilities) to manage their own political direction and control.

    From a personal (non-political) perspective, autonomy refers to a psyche of independence and self-determination:

    • Autonomous individuals get things done in their own unique ways. They even doubt many norms that have been established by others.They are rule-shakers rather than rule-takers.

    Are you a rule-shaker – comfortable questioning norms and assumptions to “see what shakes out?” Do you enjoy working independently, and not following the crowd? Are you self-confident, occasionally to the point of stubbornness? If so, you are exhibiting traits of creative autonomy.

    Creative autonomy balance

    Creative autonomy: a corporate challenge

    But autonomy can sometimes conflict with collaboration. Highly autonomous individuals want to be “cut loose” from the constraints of corporate bureaucracy.

    The paradox of creative autonomy in organizations

    That can create a paradox for many organizations. Collaboration suggests (or requires) conformity. That, in turn, can limit autonomy. Defying conformity — being autonomous — is consequently a foundation of many creative minds.

    Numerous studies have shown that autonomy has a positive impact on individual creativity. For example, a recent article in the Journal of Creativity and Business Innovation highlights prior research and meta-analyses documenting the correlation between creativity and autonomy. Yet, collaboration is nearly always important to move from a creative idea to a final innovation. Companies need employees with both skill sets.

    Tips to increase creative autonomy

    Let’s start by listing a few ways to increase autonomy.

    First, take control of your own plans and tasks. Don’t wait for others to “assign” everything to you. Identify barriers in your work or home life that restrict your independence. Determine what you can and can’t change. And then plan and follow through on reasonable changes.

    Second, boost your self-esteem. Stop worrying about what other people think. Stop comparing yourself to others. In fact, seek out dissenters occasionally rather than always surrounding yourself with people who agree with you. (While this may challenge your ego in the short term, it can boost it in the long term.)

    Third, be more positive. Compliment other people, (including dissenters). Learn to graciously accept compliments, as well. This establishes a cycle of positive thinking (and/or breaks a cycle of negative thinking) that can raise your self-confidence.

    Fourth, do more things alone. Every so often, go to the museum, a movie, a restaurant or some other place by yourself. Take the opportunity to observe and absorb things you might miss if you were part of a group.

    Fifth, allow yourself to be independently, spontaneously creative. Pursue something that is a bit outside of your comfort zone.Take responsibility for your own success. Invest in yourself through books, presentations, and tools to spark your creativity.

    Finally, maintain a do-what-it-takes work ethic. Relish achieving what others deem impossible or impractical, even if it means creating a new path to get there. And  be comfortable as an autonomous, independent thinker.

    Once you are comfortable with autonomy, strive for a balance between individuality and conformity.

    Balance creativity autonomy and collaboration

    As a rule-shaker, decide which rules you want to follow and which you find questionable. Challenge assumptions that everyone takes for granted to see which ones survive. And challenge yourself to be objective rather than stubborn.

    Learn to communicate effectively. Listen to others and share credit for their contributions to your creative ideas. Beware the dangers of unhealthy pride and take care to avoid being a one-person relay race. Value the perspectives of others.

    As you observe and listen to others, you increase your perceptiveness to the world around you. I refer to that as being “tuned in,” as I’ll describe in the next post.

    Be tuned in to the world around you: creative observation

    (This is the 6th of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

    Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
    Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious
    Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
    Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
    Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
    Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
    Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
    Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy

    Creativity rarely, if ever, occurs in a vacuum. Rather, it comes from tuning in to what is happening around you.

    Close your eyes for a moment. What color are the walls in the room surrounding you? What type of handle is on the nearest door? Are there any particular marks on the floor?

    That was a simple test of your observation skills. How well did you do? How well are you tuned in to the world around you?

    Creative observation

    There is no one right way to do creative observation. Some people prefer to go out and experience things before researching data that might explain, affirm or expand on what they experienced. Others prefer to dig into data on trends and ideas before they go out to experience their learning. (Perhaps the former are “right-brain” and the latter are “left-brain” thinkers?) The Coursera course Creativity and Observation emphasizes the importance of exploring outside of your comfort zone.

    In any event, creative observation involves gathering both soft and hard data, and allowing that data to “incubate” and mature. Remember that ideas spring from other ideas. The more you observe, the more you explore beyond your comfort zone, the greater the potential for creative insights. It’s an iterative, integrative process.

    Creativity is connecting things

    Creative observation

    Well-known innovators acknowledge this stepping-stone process. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, stated: “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it; they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”

    Henry Ford was quoted as saying: “I invented nothing new. I simply assembled into a car the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work … Had I worked fifty or ten or even five years before, I would have failed. So it is with every new thing. Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready, and then it is inevitable.”

    Creativity is observation

    How to be a better observer

    So, how can you become more aware? Start by allowing yourself to be bored occasionally. Don’t feel compelled to spend every moment being “productive” or playing games on your cell phone when you are waiting in line or have a down moment. Stop multitasking.

    Pay attention to the people, sights, sounds, and even smells around you. Listen to nearby conversations (without eavesdropping obnoxiously). Can you spot opportunities for new products, services, or solutions?

    Modify your routines

    Change your daily routine. Tune to different radio stations (or listen to different music) during your work commute. Or take alternate routes. Skim through publications you don’t normally read. Try hobbies that are unique to you. Travel to varied locations. Cultivate a habit of noticing things you never paid attention to before. Challenge yourself to experience something unfamiliar each day – whether it’s striking up a conversation with a person you’ve just met, eating at a new restaurant, or taking the bus rather than driving to work (or vice versa).

    Become an expert

    Work to become more of an expert within the area you are trying to be creative. Listen to TED Talks (or similar sources on YouTube). Network with experts and lead users whenever you can. Look for mutual advantages within the network to keep it dynamic. Compile statistics, projections, assumptions, forecasts, expectations, and other data to inspire and inform your creative efforts. Feel free to beg, borrow and steal ideas (ethically and legally, of course!).

    Avoid NIH

    Creativity suffers when a Not-Invented-Here (NIH) attitude dominates. Don’t allow your ego to be an obstacle to new ideas. Be open to the unexpected. Creativity doesn’t just happen on command. Rather, the more you tune into the world around you, the more likely you will have provided your subconscious with the necessary stimuli to connect concepts in creative ways when the time is right.

    And when is the time right? The time is right for creativity when you are motivated – and I’ll discuss motivation in the next post.

    What makes YOU creative? Intrinsic motivation and creativity

    (This is the 7th of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

    Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
    Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious
    Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
    Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
    Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
    Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
    Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
    Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy

    What makes YOU creative? This post looks into the “I” of CREATIVE: introspection.

    Intrinsic motivation and creativity

    In prior posts I discussed curiosity and the freedom to explore and evolve creative ideas. But I haven’t talked about why you would even care. That requires introspection. Look inside yourself. Acknowledge what you value. Define your personal and unique motivators. No one has exactly the same motivators as you do.

    Intrinsic motivation and creativity

    Intrinsic motivation comes from the satisfaction, enjoyment or challenge you get from doing something specific. Decades of research have shown the link between intrinsic motivation and creativity. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, refers to incentives, rewards, or penalties that are external to the individual. They are not  similarly effective for stimulating creativity. In fact, people sometimes become less creative when provided with external motivation for a task they already enjoy because they begin to externalize the motivation.

    Flow sparks creativity

    Think about times you have been completely lost in what you were doing – so  absorbed and immersed that you lost track of time and felt almost engulfed by the process. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi refers to this as flow, or completely focused motivation.

    What is it that gives you this sense of flow? Do you enjoy the process of rebuilding old cars? Or get excited supporting a social cause? Perhaps you relish solving mathematical algorithms? Do you feel a sense of accomplishment after completing a strategic plan? Are you driven more by a need for self-expression or a need to find solutions? Answer these questions thoughtfully. Creativity is more likely to happen when you are in flow.

    Passion sparks creativity

    Creative people are supremely passionate. As cellist Yo-Yo Ma stated, “Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks.”

    You are more likely to be intrinsically self-motivated (in flow) when you are involved with a task or project you are passionate about. Even if you are not enthusiastic about every aspect of a project, look for specific parts that interest you.

    The environment sparks creativity

    Next, envision your environment. Do you become more creative when you are in solitude? Or when you are surrounded by people? Are you more of a sunrise or a sunset type of person? Do you need quiet? Or does background music help you think? What kind of music? Be as specific as possible as you define the ideal stage for you to spark your inspiration.

    Distractions can inhibit creativity

    Finally, remove distractions. We live in a world of continuous partial attention that makes it difficult to focus totally on creatively challenging activities. Clear your desk. Mute your cell phone. Suppress the urge to check email, respond to messages or clean your garage. Train yourself to focus on the creative task for as long as possible before taking a break or shifting to non-creative work. Then – when you’re done – think about how it felt to be in flow, so that you can continue to self-motivate and benefit from your unique intrinsic motivations.

    Part of your motivation will come from your dreams and visions, as I will discuss in the next post.

    Creative visionaries: Imagination, originality, foresight

    (This is the 8th of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

    Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
    Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
    Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
    Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
    Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
    Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
    Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy

    Visionaries are viewed as impractical dreamers, geniuses, or quirky entrepreneurs. They can be very future-oriented, or focused on the here-and-now. Some start businesses. Others are creative outside of business. But in general, creatives are visionaries.

    Definitions and themes

    Let’s start with definitions of vision and visionary.

    • Merriam-Webster defines vision as: “something that you imagine – a picture that you see in your mind.” It defines a visionary as: “one having unusual foresight and imagination.”
    • Dictionary.com defines vision as: “the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be.”  A visionary is defined as: “a person of unusually keen foresight.”
    • Oxford Dictionaries defines vision as: “the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.”  A visionary is defined as: “a person with original ideas about what the future will or could be like.”

    The common themes in these definitions – imagination, originality, and foresight – are what I’d like to focus on here. Creative visionaries use imagination to create mental pictures. They use original thinking to challenge the status quo. And they use foresight to connect their concepts to the future.

    Imagination of creative visionaries

    Imagination is the gateway to creative intuition. It starts with dreaming and daydreaming. We do it all the time in an unfocused way. Sometimes it’s referred to as creative visualization. According to the University of Pennsylvania’s Imagination Institute, imagination is “the conscious representation of what is not immediately present to the senses.”

    creative visionaries: imagination

    Your goal is to experience the outside world inside your mind. First you ask a lot of “what if” questions. Then you use your imagination to connect the answers together into a virtual tapestry. When you use your imagination, you form and manipulate mental images in the sophisticated neural network of your brain.

    Einstein believed intuition and imagination spawned achievements in both science and art. He suggested the main difference was that science is conveyed in the language of logic. Art is conveyed through the senses. But imagination is the starting point for both.

    To become better at imagining, practice visualization. Look out the window. Pick out an object (a car, fire hydrant, sign or anything). Mentally rotate it as a 3D image, “seeing” it in your mind from all angles. Or take two objects (either physical or non-physical such as music) and reflect on how you could combine them into a single complex item.

    You can also build your imagination in other ways. Write stories, especially fiction where you need to connect with the characters. Practice photography. Manipulate the images with digital software. Remodel your home. Your imagination goal is to work on activities that require complex, holistic connections.

    Originality of creative visionaries

    Originality is the next theme of being a visionary. While it’s important to “think outside the box,” originality is more than that. You should probably know what’s in the box first. I have found that people often mistakenly believe they have created something original simply because they haven’t taken the time to discover what’s actually out there.

    creative visionaries: originality

    So rather than isolated creativity, give your brain significant mental stimuli. Then let it incubate in an effort to create fresh ideas. Original thinking may simply be “seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.”  Reconfigure existing gadgets. Try unconventional applications of current things. Give them new life.

    The main point is, originality simply means viewing things in novel ways.

    Foresight of creative visionaries

    Finally, being a visionary means looking into the future.

    creative visionaries: foresight

    Creative thinkers need hindsight, insight and foresight. Hindsight consists of the data describing what happened. Insight is the interpretation of the data to explain why it happened. Foresight is your analysis of what might happen. Use foresight to ground your creativity not just in the present, but also in how the idea fits into a future scenario.

    Being a visionary – tuning into your dreams, aspirations and inventiveness – can be both energizing and exhausting. So it’s worth taking a look at energy management in my next and final post of this 9-part series.

    Energy for creativity: More than time management

    (This is the 9th and final segment of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

    Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
    Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious
    Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
    Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
    Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
    Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
    Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
    Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy

    You need energy for creativity. It’s obvious from all my prior posts that creativity is really demanding. And unfortunately, it really, really wilts without conscious energy renewal.

    energy for creativity

    This post is about managing and recharging your energy. You need energy to get out of creative ruts. No matter how strong you are in the other traits of creativity, your inventiveness will suffer if your energy has been depleted.

    Health is part of energy for creativity

    Let’s start with a few common sense items – the basics of wellness.The link between creativity and health is well established by research. While I’m not sure whether creativity improves health, or being healthy improves creativity, they are nonetheless linked. So improving your wellness matters.

    First, eat a balanced diet. Now I’m not going to promote any specific foods. You know what your diet should look like. Just eat more of the healthy items (fruits and vegetables) and less of the unhealthy ones (fats and sugars).

    Exercise regularly. Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain.That improves critical thinking, memory and other brain functions. Exercise also clears the mind, giving your subconscious the opportunity to think through problems. In that way it helps with the incubation of ideas (as discussed in my post on the process of creativity).

    A rested brain is more creative

    From a creative perspective, exercise is a form of rest because it is a restorative activity, even though it’s not passive. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang discusses this in Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less. While the title is a tiny bit misleading, it highlights why creativity cannot simply be forced.

    Here’s another point to consider. Most exercise programs and personal trainers utilize interval training to allow recovery times for our bodies. This involves interspersing high-intensity workouts with periods of rest. Our bodies are designed to alternate between high focus and periodic rest. We benefit from similar recovery for our brains.Experts recommend breaking every 90 minutes or so.

    So, build intermittent breaks into your creativity routine. Breaks can come in the form of total rest, or as energy-giving buffers. If you anticipate a particularly stressful period (with people or situations draining your energy) plan for recovery time. Then incorporate energy-giving activities as buffers between energy-draining activities. Energy-giving activities are those things that boost your energy. That could be a walk in the park, reading a novel, or stopping to watch the sunset on your way home from work. Plan for it.

    Finally, get sufficient sleep — in addition to rest and breaks. Even small amounts of sleep deprivation reduce creativity. (As a side note, sleep plays an important role in the incubation of ideas. I discuss that in my post on the process of creativity.)

    Patch together time for creativity

    Detach creative (conceptual) time from concrete (task) time. Freeze time chunks for creative thinking. Cluster meetings (and other concrete tasks) adjacently so you can carve out blocks of uninterrupted time for the more abstract tasks.

    Limit focus shifts during your creative time. When you have several tasks demanding your attention, your conscious mind keeps bouncing back to them. Your focus is therefore not fully creative. To minimize the pull, record the interrupting tasks on a to-do list. Force yourself to “forget about them” for a while. The sheer act of writing the list helps convey to your mind that the tasks will not be forgotten totally. They thereby demand less of your mental energy.

    Set aside one or two hours a week (or more as suits your needs) for pure idea time. Limit interruptions. Prevent distractions. Stop multitasking. As I’ve discussed in other posts, multitasking drains creative output. Don’t feel compelled to fill every single minute with doing (i.e., being efficient). Try to focus on effectiveness (being creative). Overemphasizing time efficiency (over effectiveness) can acutely damage energy for creativity.

    Relationships matter

    Build social networks that stimulate your creativity and boost your energy. These networks can be online or offline, work-specific or leisure-related, colleagues or friends and family, and close-knit communities or a patchwork of far-flung connections. The point is to find the type of networks and frequency of contact that energizes you. Steer clear of the creativity vampires — people that suck the creative energy from you.

    Creativity at your peak times

    Be honest with yourself about whether you are a morning person or a night person. Try to do your creative, abstract work when you are at your best. Do cognitively less demanding work at other times. While it’s true that “getting into the flow” can sometimes energize you when you are tired, it’s not a long-term solution to energy management. You will generate more and better ideas when you are fresh, than you will when you feel depleted. In other words, these are the times you will have more energy for creativity.

    However, that doesn’t take into account incubation time. Even if you start the creative process in the morning, the true a-ha points may occur later. An article in Scientific American suggests that eureka moments are greatest when we are NOT at our best. According to the article:

    “Insight problems involve thinking outside the box. This is where susceptibility to “distraction” can be of benefit.  At off-peak times we are less focused, and may consider a broader range of information.”

    So, not all creative output happens when you are at your best. Be alert to the serendipidity of ideas whenever they hit you. Energy for creativity comes in many forms.

    This is the end of my 9-part series on characteristics on creativity. I will address other aspects of creativity and innovation in future posts.