In the permanent disruption of the 2020s, the ability to invent new products, processes and value propositions is critical for any business.
Not surprisingly, there’s a growing premium placed on individual creative-thinking as it invariably sparks the journey towards innovation, so we asked author and speaker, Greg Orme, to explain how you can harness your full creative potential.
When asked to rank the most important workplace aptitudes of this century, CEOs placed creativity in the top three skills.
In my new book, The Human Edge, how curiosity and creativity are your superpowers in the digital economy I reveal how to unlock your creative potential to futureproof your value in the workplace. I explain you’ll need to overcome an obstacle to achieve this. School and work environments tend to erode creative potential.
As a result, the natural human tendency to generate new ideas becomes distant, mysterious – even unobtainable – for most people. The mythical ‘a-ha’ moment – when an idea strikes out of the blue – is part of problem.
Archimedes shouting Eureka and Isaac Newton’s bump on the head with an apple always crop up at school. These creative revelations have a gift for public relations.
Eureka moments born from effort & preparation
A-ha moments do exist and they’re important. It’s when our unconscious mind whispers to us, sharing what it’s been working on without our knowledge.
However, from decades of working with business leaders as well as my research into great artists, designers and scientists it’s apparent these iconic moments are not nearly as important as their fame implies.
The famous revelations in the lives of generational wunderkinds like Tesla, Einstein and Jobs place far too much emphasis on the ‘magic’, and far too little on the blood, sweat and tears which made it possible.
A-ha moments make creativity sound like witchcraft, rather than work. However, creativity is not a gift from the gods. Nor is it luck. It’s the product of preparation and effort. Here are three ways to turn creative ‘luck’ into a skill – and make inspiration more likely.
1. Waste nothing
Twyler Tharp has spent a lifetime paying the bills with her creative capacity. She’s a legend on the New York City dance scene, choregraphing both modern dance routines and Broadway musicals.
Despite her impressive track record, when Tharp wins a commission, she doesn’t know if it will be a hit, or a flop. She uses her insight into how our minds work to avoid paralysing uncertainty. She knows, when you ask your brain a clear-cut question, it quietly gets to work on your behalf.
To get her creative juices flowing, she begins in a surprisingly humble way: by selecting a suitable-sized cardboard box.
Your unconscious brain is an engine which requires fuel. Tharp gathers raw material for her project by simply throwing everything she finds, that might provide a spark of inspiration, into the box. Nothing is wasted: videos, books, art, torn magazine articles and news clippings are all slung together.
From experience, Tharp knows she’ll need many sequential a-ha moments to choreograph a feature-length dance routine. The box is symbolic and deeply practical. It transforms creative luck into an actionable day-to-day habit.
The same approach works online. I write my books and articles aided by the note-taking and archiving app, Evernote. Every time I see something interesting I add it to Evernote. I store smartphone pictures, written and audio notes, articles and webpages for the different projects I’m working on.
Nothing is wasted: whatever I’m reading, hearing, or seeing, can be instantly squirrelled away for future reference.
Not all of it will be useful. Not all of it needs to be. It’s surprising what pops into your head when you review what you’ve collected. It’s like brainstorming with a past version of yourself.
2. Establish creative rituals
Returning to a creative project is easier than starting one. However, you still have mental barriers to overcome. Distraction, procrastination, fear of failure, and the little voice warning of your presumption: ‘who am I to try this?’ ‘what will people think?’ These take their toll.
You need to create personal rituals to help you to begin over and over again. My sacraments on a writing day are alarm at 6am, ten minutes of meditation, poached egg on toast, an all-important frothy Nespresso coffee, made in my kitchen, then plonked on my desk next to my monitor. Open the Word document, start writing.
Try to avoid second guessing if it’s the right place in the document, or the right thing to say. Just get on with it. What rituals can you develop to save time, to defeat procrastination, and to ease the path into creative action?
3. Switch off the autopilot
Much of life is spent on auto pilot. We drive to work, catch the bus, eat our meals without thinking. Our attention is elsewhere.
Harvard’s Ellen Langer studies the opposite mental state: mindfulness. This is a condition of active observation, of fully inhabiting the moment you are living in.
Langer makes an explicit link between this state of awareness and seeing the world in a more creative way: “Mindfulness is simply the process of noticing new things…to be a true artist is to be mindful,” she says.
The key to everyday creativity is to tune your mental radar to ‘ping’ when you perceive the unusual and interesting.
The management guru Peter Drucker defined the innovative person as someone who pays attention to whatever is unexpected, unusual or simply unfamiliar.
Psychologists report when you’re baffled by a problem, you’re left with unresolved thought threads in your subconscious mind called “failure indices”.
As the French biologist Louis Pasteur remarked: “In the fields of observation chance favours only the prepared mind”.
Next time you see something out of the ordinary take care to investigate and reframe what you’re seeing with three simple questions:
- Why is it happening?
- How does that work?
- Could what’s taking place work in a different context?
I’m often asked: Are you born creative? Or, can you learn it?
The answer is ‘yes’ – to both questions. You need to reframe the question as a statement, replacing the ‘or’ with an ‘and’.
You are born creative, and you can learn to be even more creative.
To help lightning strike for you, don’t focus on being creative, instead focus on the groundwork that precedes an idea. Creative habits and rituals will transform the chance arrival of ideas into a skill you can practise every day.
About the author
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Greg Orme the globally-acclaimed thought leader and speaker on transformational change, programme director at London Business School and author of the new book ‘The Human Edge, how curiosity and creativity are your superpowers in the digital economy’ published by Pearson (2019).
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