Personal Growth

5 Sure-Fire Ways to Make Creativity Happen

Creativity is one of those nebulous concepts, like inspiration and motivation, that's hard to capture but essential for success. While there are hundreds of books and articles claiming to share the one true path to creativity (we have our fair share of them, we admit), creativity isn't a one-size-fits-all pursuit. It's not even a one-size-fits-you pursuit — creativity comes in different ways, at different times, in different situations. But in all of the advice on how to be creative, there are a few deep truths. Here are five things to keep in your back pocket to help creativity come when you need it.

1. Be open to possibility.

In psychological research, openness to experience is one of the biggest predictors of creative thinking. You can't be creative if you can't accept the ideas that come to you, however silly or inappropriate they might feel for your project. Openness is important at both ends of the creative process: Being curious and engaging with the off-the-wall possibilities that present themselves when you're brainstorming can help you come up with more creative ideas, and not being afraid of failure or embarrassment in implementing those ideas can help you create a fresher, more creative final product.

2. Do things that don't interest you.

In the Harvard Business Review, corporate trainer and bestselling author Joseph Grenny shares a valuable piece of advice he received early in his career; a mentor told him to subscribe to a bunch of business journals and added, "... every time you read one, be sure to read at least one article that holds no interest for you." If you only do the things that you know are interesting, you'll never find out how valuable the boring stuff could be. Who knows: A dry article about personal finance could contain the solution to the creative problem you're trying to solve — and even if it doesn't, it'll give you a new way to think about things. As Grenny puts it, "Sometimes, we call things 'boring' simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in."

3. Think about it, then walk away.

Your thinking essentially has two gears: focused and diffuse. Focused thinking is what solves math problems and learns cello. Diffuse thinking, on the other hand, is what plans rocket launches and composes symphonies; it's the large-scale, amorphous kind of thought that makes novel connections and comes up with fresh ideas. The best way to kick diffuse thinking into gear is to calm down, loosen your deadlines, and throw your fear of failure out the window, which might be why studies show that creative thought thrives when you regularly switch between tasks and that it's harmed when you're under a lot of stress. The next time you're faced with a creative problem, don't try to force it. Instead, take a break, go for a walk, or read a book on an unrelated subject. Give your mind a chance to relax and stretch out, and creativity might come.

4. Add limitations.

This one comes from Tiffany Beers, who was working as a senior innovator at Nike when one of her most prolific coworkers hit a creative wall. He was trying to come up with a way to recreate the automatic laces on the iconic sneakers from "Back to the Future" and was too burnt out to think of any good solutions. He came to Beers for advice, and she gave him a challenge: make a shoe using only materials he found at Home Depot. He took her up on it, and that creative twist was just what he needed to solve his original problem. The lesson is clear: If you're stuck in a rut, flip the script and attempt your task in a way you never would normally. Paint with a different tool; write without the letter "y"; plan your project as if you were James Bond.

Related Video: The Neuroscience of Creativity

5. When it hits, stop and work.

Creativity isn't worth much if you ignore it when it happens. As Grenny writes, "I can tell when something is coalescing inside of me. At an unexpected time, I will feel a rush of clarity." That could be in the middle of the night or the middle of the workday, but if you don't stop to at least write the ideas down, you risk losing them for good. "If I ignore those moments — or try to kick them down the road — I find them impossible to re-conjure," Grenny continues. "I lose the emerging clarity and slow the process." Don't force creativity, but when it comes, take advantage of it.

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Feeling inspired? Check out Eric Maisel's "The Creativity Book: A Year's Worth of Inspiration and Guidance." We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Hamer April 9, 2019

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