Creativity originates internally, but the degree to which it is nourished depends largely on our perspectives, behaviors, environments and actions.
Author and Stanford Professor Tina Seelig introduces a “crash course” on creativity in her book inGenius, which tackles many of the major influences on our creative work and how we can harness these to stimulate greater creative prowess. Anyone can be creative… and Seelig’s tactics for developing the skill span the following:
“Reframing problems takes effort, attention, and practice, and allows you to see the world around you in a brand-new light.” When you get out of your comfort zone, you open yourself up to and invite in a whole world of new experiences, insights, and, perhaps most importantly, inspiration.
“When you empathize, you are, essentially, changing your frame of reference and shifting your perspective to that of the other person.” Instead of maintaining your own point of view, you adopt (or try to adopt) someone else’s. And doing so makes your awareness and bank of experience all the richer. Spend an afternoon in a different neighborhood; learn a new language; travel and stay in an apartment instead of a hotel. Above all, listen to what others have to say.
Put two unrelated things together. Mix two concepts that are not conventionally mixed. Blend disparate ideas. “Connecting unexpected people, places, objects, and ideas” Seelig argues “provides a huge boost to your imagination.” By combining things that do not typically go together, you will expose yourself to new aspects and angles from which to see them.
Meet new people, try new things, do something you have never done before – and perhaps never thought you would. Eat breakfast for dinner. Try raw vegan Sloppy Joes. Use metaphors all the time.
We all perform differently – and adopt different mindsets – in, say, places of worship than we do in professional sports stadiums. Being in our office gets us in a different head space than being somewhere like Vegas. Obviously, then, an objective like creativity requires a creative environment. Seelig points out “space is a key factor in each of our habits, because it clearly communicates what you should and shouldn’t be doing. If you live and work in an environment that is stimulating, then your mind is open to fresh, new ideas. If, however, the environment is dull and confining, then your creativity is stifled… Space is the stage on which we play out our lives. If you want to be creative, you need to build physical habitats that unlock your imagination.”
If you can, get out of your office. Work in a high-energy, vibrant, colorful, or beautiful environment. If you can’t relocate, paint your walls – or put up some vibrant, inspiring art. (Do not hang up that inoffensive “corporate hallway” garbage.) Move the furniture around. Free yourself from the big, imposing desk and opt for light, mobile chairs and a glass-topped table. Whatever inspires you.
There is beauty in simply wandering, and I wrote recently about the value in experiencing, observing, and being in constant awe of our surroundings. “The more you observe, the more data you collect, the more patterns you see, and the more boldly you can act.” The skill sets involved in these actions can happen in any field, but, Seelig points out, the natural “scientists and artists of all types are the world’s ‘noticers.’ They are trained to pay attention and to communicate what the see and experience to the rest of us.”
So much can happen when we simply stop to look around. “By opening your eyes, paying attention, and asking lots of questions, there are remarkable things to see around every corner. True observation is a very active experience. It involves focusing all your senses and actively engaging with your environment.”
Learning how to create beautiful things is not about learning about the finished products or mediums alone. It is about “how to observe the world with great attention to detail, to internalize those observations, and then to give expression to them.”
You have to actually try things in the creative process. Without trying things, you won’t create anything new. But it is important to embrace failure as part of trying something.
Failure is an invaluable part of the creative process; if you are failing, it means that you are experimenting enough – and putting your work out there for validation (or rejection.) In fact, Seelig argues, “if you aren’t throwing away a large percentage of your ideas, then you aren’t trying enough options.”
“The longer you work on an idea, the more attached to it you become… You need to show your work to others when it is still raw.” As author William Faulkner said, “you must kill your darlings.” You must be unafraid to destroy good work.
If you believe something can be done, then – more than likely – it is. And “if you view yourself as a creative person, you are much more likely to come up with innovative ideas. But if you define yourself as a worker bee who merely implements the ideas of others, then that is the role you will play .” She goes on to clarify, “your beliefs are shaped by the language you use, and the language you use is shaped by your beliefs.” This concept, she admits, can be “both profound and freeing” because while nobody is stopping you and you don’t need anybody’s permission, this also means that we are responsible for making it happen.
If you want to be more creative, feed your soul. Give it diversity and strip conventions away. Foster confidence. Play, experiment, and try new things. Step out of your comfort zone. Listen to contrasting viewpoints and new stories. We all have “creative genius waiting to be unleashed.”