There are several books and blogs about how to train your creative skills, and it is beneficial for you and your work place to be aware of your habits. Creativity will help you find better solutions, and most likely it will increase your job satisfaction and well being. What ever your motivation is, I will go through some of the most efficient techniques and habits. There is no quick fix like eating more blueberries and drinking enough water, but if you incorporate some of these techniques in your (work)-lifestyle, you will gradually train yourself to become more openminded and release your creative potential.
In the following I draw from research (check out the links at the bottom section), but also introduce classic methods from design thinking and other creative techniques that I have found useful in my work life.
Take care of your creative muscle everyday
Make space in your mind
Previously I have described how research found that the biggest obstacle to creativity is a busy mind. So once again – let your mind spend some time off. Go for a walk without your phone, look out the window, draw doodles or practice meditation. If you want to learn how to meditate, I recommend the Headspace app. You learn the basics in the free edition, and if you’re hooked, you can subscribe and access a range of wonderful packs, including the 30-day creativity pack. All it requires is 10 min of your time each day. I started my Headspace journey 8 months ago, and I have gained so much from it, learning how to clear my mind.
Challenge your thinking
Creative ideas require a flexible mind. No matter if you prefer using left or right side of the brain, you will expand your creative skills by training the other. Creative solutions often require a lot of analytical thinking to make a break through, and analytical thinking needs creative skills to go beyond limitations.
You might as well make it a habit to train both horizontal and vertical thinking, meaning having a broad interest in different fields, and a deep interest in a specific field. You enhance your pool of knowledge and experience to draw from when coming up with alternative ideas.
Explore the art world
Art challenges your perception of the world and inspires you to see things differently. You don’t need a degree to appreciate art, just be curious and take in new expressions. Find an art buddy and go to the theatre, to galleries or explore the public art that you pass every day in the urban space. Regular art visits will help train your brain flexibility and you might even enjoy yourself “at the gym”. The image above is from the wonderful sculpture collection at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. I find this piece really inspiring, reminding me to relax my mind and enjoy the colors in my life. (Unfortunately I don’t remember the name of the piece of the artist, but I’m sure you’ll find it in the museum if you go look for it).
Useful techniques in the creative process
Reframe the problem
Often our initial problem is not the real problem. Ask questions to open up the problem and your range of solutions. You should ask yourself what you really want to accomplish and why. Why are we doing this? Who will benefit from our solution? When is this a problem? Who can help us solve this problem? When will we know that we have succeeded?
Another good idea is to break down the big problem into smaller ones. If you can solve one small problem, you can get momentum to solve the bigger ones.
Push past your first ideas
Usually when we try to think of new ideas, our brain will search for already known concepts. You can help to push past this phase by exposing it to words or images that are not related to the subject. As Esteban Gast explains in an interview; “If someone tells me to design a car, my mind will first go to something that already exists, like Tesla. If that same person who told me to design a car then threw out the word ‘nature, I might instead think of something entirely new. Tires that can plant seeds, for example.”
Allow the craziness
There is no such thing to kill creativity as “that is not realistic”, “you cannot…”, “that is not usefull”, and “what a stupid idea”. In the initial phase of a creative process you have to let go of judgement and allow the craziness no matter how useless or stupid your ideas seem. If you keep judging you will never come up with something original. I recommend you sketch a diagram for your creative process so everyone will know when it’s time to be critical and when to let the ideas flow.
Give yourself time
Unfolding a new idea or concept takes time. You will be high on crazy ideas, you will fall when realising that they are not what you are looking for, and you will come up with something better. Creativity is an iterative process. You will have to revisit your initial problem and question it more than once, and you will sketch a range of ideas before finding the right one. Be patient, take a break and allow your brain to make new connections. Then you will come to a breakthrough.
If you want to learn more about training your creative skills, I recommend the book by Esteban Gast (2016); Building your creativity: Tools for having ideas and bringing them to be.
If you want to learn more about reframing your problem, check out this post: http://www.thunderheadworks.com/ten-ways-reframe-problem-challenge/