There’s nothing like a liberal infusion of personal creativity to add energy and magnetism to our communication methods. Strategy and content may be dead-on, but the ebb and flow of our creativity can determine whether our deliverables are bright or bleak, attention-grabbing or sleep-inducing.
The good news is that creativity isn’t a talent granted to a privileged few—it’s innate in all humans. The challenging news is that to ignite our imaginations, we must constantly nourish and exercise our creativity like a muscle.
Here are five ways to build habits and practices to spark and grow your creativity.
1. Be curious.
For my books and presentations on creativity, I’ve interviewed dozens of highly creative people in a variety of fields. And to a person, these individuals all share the common trait of curiosity. (In fact, they sometimes ask me so many questions that it’s easy to forget who is conducting the interviews!)
Curiosity is jet fuel for creativity. When we steadily explore and pay attention to the world around us, we feed our imaginations with insights and inspiration.
“People who are curious will develop themselves,” Mark Templeton, president of Citrix, an Internet software company, told The New York Times. “They’ll discover things, they’ll invent things.”
What you can do: Being relentlessly curious is a habit acquired with practice. Train yourself to stop, look and listen, whether you’re on the clock at work or out on the town at night. Be mindful of family and friends, customers and strangers. As Andy Warhol is often quoted as saying, “You need to let the little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you.”
2. Be courageous.
Paola Antonelli, curator at the Museum of Modern Art, once called Steve Jobs a “genius combination of talent, vision and guts.” Jobs’ vision and talent allowed him to create revolutionary advances in technology—but without his bold courage, Apple would never have become an innovative powerhouse.
Being creative isn’t for sissies. It takes guts to hold up our ideas for the world to judge and possibly reject. But the payoffs are worth the risks.
What you can do: Have you held back on developing or discussing ideas for fear of ridicule or criticism? Review past and present ideas to see if they have novelty and value. If so, muster the courage to show and tell, regardless of cynics and pessimists (as well as those naysayers disguised as “devil’s advocates”).
3. Be generous.
Creativity is a team sport. Our creativity stirs and spreads as we share insights and ideas with others.
Be quick to share your ideas and also be available to receive ideas from co-workers and friends. In his book Leadership Is an Art, Max DePree, the legendary leader of Herman Miller, used a baseball analogy to underscore this point. A fastball pitcher won’t succeed unless he has someone who can catch his pitches. It’s the same with ideas: for every idea thrown out, there has to be a catcher—someone who listens attentively and withholds immediate judgment.
What you can do: Help create an atmosphere of generosity for ideas in your workplace. Freely give your ideas. Carefully listen to those of others. Celebrate and support bold, fresh creativity. Also develop a personal network of people to share books, articles, blogs, websites, videos, films and other creative resources.
4. Be playful.
As a speaker and writer, I frequently visit the offices of companies, agencies and associations. As I walk down hallways, I can quickly tell if creativity is flourishing. Because in highly creative organizations, there’s scattered laughter. There’s spirited conversation. There’s whimsical artwork in personal workspaces. There’s a detectable attitude of play blended with business.
To be creative, we must be a bit childlike—not childish, but childlike. We have to shed some of our inhibitions and be ready to daydream, ask simple questions and laugh at ourselves. To be truly creative, we must acquire that sense of wonderment found in children.
Of course, such actions don’t always come easily. They have often been coached, managed and taught out of us, often when we were kids.
“When children are very young, they all express creativity, but by the end of the first grade, very few do so,” said Robert Epstein, former editor of Psychology Today, in an interview for “How to Unleash Your Creativity” in Scientific American. “This is because of socialization. They learn in school to stay on task and to stop daydreaming and asking silly questions. As a result, the expression of new ideas is largely shut down.”
What you can do: Take your work seriously—but don’t take yourself too seriously. Shake off unnecessary inhibitions and add play to your day. Take time to laugh with co-workers, ask uncomplicated questions about projects you don’t understand and roam out of bounds when brainstorming. Also look around your workspace to see if artwork and surroundings help inspire a sense of playfulness.
5. Be persistent.
It’s not always the best ideas that make it to reality; it’s repeatedly those ideas of tenacious people who stick it out to the finish line.
Creativity is a process, and having the seed of an idea is only the start of that process. At Facebook, one of Mark Zuckerberg’s guiding statements is “The journey is one percent finished.” We must acquire a steadfast confidence in our nascent ideas and travel their journeys to completion.
And as we near the finish line, we have to be effective in presenting those ideas to decision makers. As marketing guru Seth Godin has said, “There’s no correlation between how good your idea is and how likely your organization will be to embrace it…. It’s not about good ideas. It’s about selling those ideas and making them happen.”
What you can do: Look at ideas gathering dust in your files because they were criticized or rejected. Ask yourself if they call for extra effort, and, if so, forge ahead. Also, continue refining your presentation skills. Take a public speaking class. Read books and watch videos on selling techniques. Practice, practice, practice for your presentations—and solicit feedback from others as you rehearse. The world needs your creativity! Stick with your ideas and showcase them like a professional.
Join Sam Harrison for his presentation “Zooming into your creative Zing Zone” at the IABC World Conference, happening 14–17 June 2015 in San Francisco.