Here's 10 simple steps to develop the world’s most sought after skill.
LinkedIn Learning recently posted a feature outlining the skills that companies need most. The results were based on a rigorous analysis of the 50,000 professional skills used in 30 million companies. Right at the top of the list of skills most valued in today’s workplace was creativity - with economic trends suggesting that this particular skill will be even more important in the years ahead. LinkedIn Learning went on to conclude that as process driven jobs become less relevant in the world of work, learning how to think more creatively will consistently deliver the greatest long term benefit to any employee regardless of their role or position.
Raise your hand if you consider yourself to be really creative
Einstein once said that ‘creativity is intelligence having fun’. However, creativity is not just for artists, musicians, writers, graphic designers or, indeed, really bright theoretical physicists. The truth is we are all incredibly creative, but the people who tend to be labelled as ‘creative types’ are the ones who have made a deliberate decision to spend time cultivating it. People are not born creative or uncreative. Twin studies confirm that while intelligence has a strong genetic component, less than 20% of creativity is determined by nature. Recent evidence suggests that creativity is a learned skill – one which can be cultivated and developed, a critical life skill which grows exponentially, every time you use it.
The advantages of a creative mindset
People who adopt a creative mindset tend to look beyond the first right answer by generating a range of alternative approaches and ideas. Typically, they are able to identify imaginative solutions and will question traditional assumptions. These individuals are able to uncover different avenues and opportunities when faced with unfamiliar situations. They make connections between ideas and are likely to recognise patterns and relationships. Curious by nature, they can suspend judgement and tolerate ambiguity in the workplace. More inclined to solve problems through collaborative enterprise, creative people are likely to be catalysts for the introduction of new possibilities and directions. Capable of combining a number of established approaches to create innovative solutions, they will often focus on the practical application of novel ideas.
10 practical ways to build your personal creativity:
- Become a beginner. Learn something new like hula hooping, wood carving or dancing, or why not learn a new language. Practise your drawing skills. Sketching an idea is often more natural than writing. Envisage how your problem may look at a future desired state – draw what this would look like.
- Recognise that your rational, logical brain is slower to wake in the morning, so spend the first few minutes of every day in a state of relaxed attention and see if you can generate new ideas. Try using Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages ritual to get your creative juices flowing by writing down longhand three uncensored pages of whatever comes into your mind shortly after you wake up each morning.
- While silence is best for focus, ambient noise levels (not loud) have been found to improve creative thinking once we are fully awake. Brian Eno’s ‘Music for Airports’ is often cited as one of the best examples of ambient music.
- Try sticking to a strict schedule. Most creative minds religiously schedule their time. Ernest Hemingway rose at 6am every day and worked solidly until his midday break. Psychologist William James observed that an effective schedule allows us to ‘free our minds to advance to really interesting fields of action’.
- Be sarcastic. This sounds too crazy to work, but it has been found that the dual meanings found in sarcasm can actually increase your ability to solve creative problems.
- Take it lying down. Evidence suggests that our ability to solve creative problems may actually increase when we are flat on our back. Researchers at the Australian National University discovered that volunteers were faster at solving anagrams lying down as compared to when they were standing. Warning: long-term use of this unconventional strategy may prove to be counterproductive, especially if you are feeling sleepy!
- Think inside the box. Imposing seemingly unreasonable constraints can often inspire greater creativity. Dr. Seuss found that setting limits to his work led to one of the most popular children’s books in history. Green Eggs and Ham was the result of a bet that he wouldn’t be able to write a book using only 50 words. He replicated this approach for other books, too – The Cat in the Hat was written using only first-grade vocabulary. Creating boundaries can sometimes stop you drowning in a sea of possibilities.
- Forget about brainstorming. New research suggests that the adoption of a ‘no idea is a bad idea’ approach may actually stifle creativity. As an alternative, watch Linda Hill’s TED Talk on ‘How to Manage for Collective Creativity’ to help you develop a ‘marketplace of ideas’ by focusing on constructive debates.
- Widen the spectrum. PayPal founder Peter Thiel makes a point of deliberately hiring staff with autism and Asperger’s to encourage the exploration of more innovative ideas, thus reducing the potential for what he calls ‘herd-like thinking’.
- Netflix and chill? Traditional hierarchical cultures can sometimes disenfranchise people and stifle levels of innovation. Emulate the successes of organisations like Netflix and Spotify by making it easier for employees to develop and action new ideas by introducing flatter structures with fewer levels of management.
There is plenty of evidence to confirm that deliberately cultivating your creativity will pay dividends – both at work and beyond. A global study by Adobe found that businesses which encourage creative thinking: increased levels of employee productivity; had more satisfied customers; delivered a better customer experience and significantly, were more financially successful.
The same study revealed also that employees who described themselves as more creative, were likely to believe they were: innovative, confident, fulfilled and happy at work. Additionally, it appears that exercising your creative muscles may even influence your income levels - with creative people earning an average of 13% more than non-creative types.
So perhaps now more than ever before, is the time to: take it lying down, get sarcastic, listen to some ambient music and work to a strict schedule…
About the author:
A version of this article by Chris Watson was originally published on TrainingIndustry.com. As founder of Endor Learn & Develop, Chris provides fresh, practical ideas to extend performance at work. Drawing on a background in leadership, psychology, education and the human sciences, he has a proven track record in harnessing potential to help organisations flourish. Incurably curious about all aspects of organisational behaviour, his aim is to strengthen relationships in the workplace by sharing straightforward solutions which people can relate to on a personal level.
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