10 Ways to Develop Your Creativity

by Cameron Schaefer on March 17, 2008

creativity**Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Catharina F. de Wet, Ph.D and author of One View of Giftedland, a blog focusing on talented and gifted education.

Google the word “creativity” and you will get almost 84 million hits. The first few has to do with defining creativity and it ranges from the cerebral Wikipedia definition: “Creativity (or “creativeness”) is a mental process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations between existing ideas or concepts” to a simple definition by Henry Miller: “ The occurrence of a composition which is both new and valuable.”

Because of research we know a significant amount about the creative process and creative people. We know they are energetic, curious, flexible, independent, adventurous, perceptive, open-minded, and imaginative. Words like imagination, ingenuity, innovation, intuition, invention, and discovery are often used as synonyms for creativity. We are aware of two more traits of creative people: They are attracted to complexity, and they have a tolerance for ambiguity.

Generally speaking, when we talk about a creative person, we have in mind two kinds of people. The first is the kind of highly creative person in one particular domain that we can also label “talented.” Here we think of the Picassos, the Bachs, the Nureyevs, or if you are of a different aesthetic persuasion, the Warhols, the Kamens, and the Katherine Dunhams.

These are the people who have an innate exceptional talent that is developed to the highest degree through the application of time, effort, training, and dedication, and a handful achieve recognition and eminence. There are comparatively few of these artists and consequently their contributions to the world are highly valued.

The second kind of creative person is one who lives life creatively in a general sense, interested in new things, thinking in new ways, not constrained by social or intellectual limits. Creativity should not be associated too strongly with the possession of extraordinary and distinguished talent. Creativity is a lifestyle , a way of living, a way of perceiving the world.

Here are ten things you can do to develop your creativity:

1 – Deliberately remove barriers of tradition and habit that block creativity. These blocks to creativity have to do with habit, learned rules, traditions, and cultural norms. We learn ways of thinking and doing from an early age. We learn what is acceptable and what is outside of acceptable behavior. Societies that prize conformity inhibit individuality. Highly creative people are often seen as rebels and mavericks because they question traditions and rules. I do not advocate throwing all rules and traditions overboard. It is possible to remove barriers and blocks to creativity in a moral and ethical way by questioning the way things have always been done within the boundaries of your moral and ethical limits.

2 – Examine and remove perceptual blocks. We get used to observing things in a particular way based on our interests, needs, biases, values, and past learning. People with strong perceptual sets are prone to quick decisions and conclusions, rather than looking for alternatives. To be more creative, take a minute and examine alternatives. De Bono’s Lateral Thinking is a technique for breaking free of our perceptual blocks, as is Synectics.

3 – Recognize and remove emotional blocks. Emotional blocks to creativity are feelings such as anger, fear, anxiety, hate, and even love. Sometimes people experience these temporarily through home or work circumstances, or problems with peers, parents, partners, and children. Chronic sources of insecurity are things like fear of rejection, fear of being different, fear of failure, fear of ridicule or criticism, fear of people like supervisors or those with authority over us, timidity, or poor self-concepts.

The right attitude for developing a creative lifestyle is a willingness to take risks, a willingness to fail, a willingness to be different, a willingness to stand out, a willingness to question, a willingness to laugh at one self.

4 – Recognize and overcome limited resources. Sometimes a lack of finances, information, people, and time inhibit our ability to be innovative. This is an excellent opportunity to think creatively. How else can you make this idea work? What other people are available who might help? What can I substitute for the expensive resources I think I need?

5 – Practice divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is the generation of multiple answers to a problem. Think of many and various alternatives. Brainstorming is a great example of this technique. The secret to brainstorming is not to evaluate ideas as they are generated, but to name or write down as many things as you can regardless of their possible utility or value. The first things we think of are the usual, the known, the mundane. The longer you continue with this process, the more likely you are to come up with new ideas. Another technique is to break objects and ideas down into its component parts to analyze those parts and the relationships between them.

6 – Practice convergent thinking
. Convergent thinking is deliberately putting diverse and disparate ideas, concepts, and objects together to create a new object, idea or concept, or to find the best solution to a problem. De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats is an excellent example of a convergent thinking technique.

7 – Pursue new experiences. Putting yourself in the way of new ideas and new experiences will help you open your mind. The more you develop a curious mindset and an openness to new experiences, ideas, places, people, and objects, in other words living creatively, the more likely you are to produce creatively.

8 – Make time to think. No one is creative under pressure. Pressure, whether time pressure or emotional pressure, inhibits creativity. Positive emotions are conducive to creativity. Take time to think, to relax, to be happy. Maslow’s self-actualized person (see here) is the epitome of a fully creative person. Many religions link spirituality and creativity through meditation. For Christians, this includes prayer time. The Holy Spirit is a creator and allowing the Holy Spirit to suggest new ideas and actions to you is a natural outcome of a vibrant relationship with God. Sarah Stockton has some very good suggestions here.

9 – Collaborate. Shared thinking provides opportunity for many of the above thinking techniques: brainstorming is easier with more than one person; divergent thinking of multiple people produces more diverse ideas; multiple perspectives focused on one problem create better convergent thinking. Collaboration requires an unselfish attitude and can create positive emotions. Choose your collaborators well and enjoy the sharing process.

10 – Make time to study. Creativity requires knowledge. Both divergent and convergent thinking requires thinking content. People who know nothing have little with which to be creative. Some of the best creative producers are those who can use knowledge from one domain in another.

To help you study the topic of creativity, here are some suggestions:

Jack Ricchiuto’s book Collaborative Creativity: Unleashing the Power of Shared Thinking

Ken Robinson’s book Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative

Bill Breen’s article in Fast Company: 6 Myths of Creativity

Watch Ken Robinson’s 20 minute video on Creativity in Education

Watch David Macaulay’s 21 minute video on the creation of his book Rome Antics

In fact, give yourself some inspiration and watch all the videos at TED Talks

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Collin March 17, 2008 at 2:05 pm

Hi Cameron,
Sweet guest post! I sent it to my squadron as a way to help combat the creative-draining effects of the Academy, haha. I love your blog, thanks for making me smarter!

Cameron Schaefer March 17, 2008 at 4:29 pm

@ Collin,
Thanks so much for the kind words and sending this to your squad! I’m glad that you liked it!

-Cam

Brian Reese March 17, 2008 at 7:42 pm

Awesome guest post! I especially like the “willingness” quote described in #3.

I’ve often found that very creative people teeter on the edge of normality in regards to the rest of main stream society. Moreover, this type of individual is often not accepted in the normal constraints of society, nor do they flourish in rule-following environments (probably not a good thing in the military!)

I myself am a rule-follower for the most part; however, I believe I have a creative side regarding business and investing. I continue seeking the proper balance between independent thinking and conformity—probably a lifelong pursuit.

It seems the best form of creativity in terms of business and promoteability within companies deals with accepting and executing orders, while focusing on continuous improvement and questioning of the status quo (at the right times) However, a person must find a proper balance between fitting-in, taking orders from above, and improving processes within an organization (questioning the status quo.) I think these ideas carry over to life as well.

I’m not sure if you heard Scott Kirby talk at the Academy (current President of U.S. Airways). The guy literally functioned on a different level than your average citizen—in fact he was and is very creative with his methods and approach within the company. He described his rapid rise through the ranks of America West (now U.S. Airways), and his interview that he thought he bombed for being to confrontational with the higher-ups of the company. It turned out they really respected his opinions and wanted someone in his current position that would keep them all in line and question authority rather than just following orders. It certainly brings up an interesting argument for focusing on creativity within the functional constraints of an organization or company.

-Brian

J.D. March 17, 2008 at 11:10 pm

Good post.

I use Six Thinking Hats regularly to get meetings on track, but with a twist. I don’t have time to teach everybody the six hats, so I write a list of questions on the board that represent each hat. Each question sets the focus. The group then walks the questions. This means, we collaboratively beat up an idea, find a way to make it work, go through the facts … etc.

The ah-ha’s with the hats for me were:
1. putting on a “hat” makes it safe for people to think another way
2. rather than have six competing perspectives at the same time, walk one perspective at a time as team (ie. we’re all devil’s advocates, now we’re all shiny positive, now we’re all fact finders … etc.)
3. everybody’s perspective gets a chance
4. even the idea owner feels safer beating up their own idea, because they know they’ll get a chance to try and make it work

As far as adding creative techniques to your toolbelt, the most hardcore handbook I’ve ever come across is ThinkerToys. It’s by Michael Michalko who happens to be a former Disney imagineer. The book is full of techniques. I haven’t tried them all, but I’ve adopted a set that have proven effective time and again. Even if you are intuitively creative, it helps to have a name for techniques you might already do. For example, I did 8 patents before reading the book, but now I see how the techniques I instinctively used, are actually documented creative techniques with names.

Catharine de Wet March 18, 2008 at 11:48 am

JD
Thank you for suggesting the Michalko book and I like your Six Hats variant. Most of my work is in training teachers to work with gifted students, so I will surely incorporate that idea next time we talk about De Bono’s techniques.

Sam Davidson March 18, 2008 at 6:06 pm

These are some great pointers that I’ll add to my list. Here are four things I recommend.

Evelyn March 18, 2008 at 7:59 pm

Creativity is something that I’m hoping to explore in greater depth now. I realise that I’ve been burying it and not given it a chance. Thanks for your article!

Cameron Schaefer March 19, 2008 at 6:54 am

@ Brian,
Thanks for your great insight. It’s funny how often people equate creativity with having no rules, or at least not following them when this is rarely the case. The most creative people in my mind our the ones that can come up with brilliant ideas, designs, methods, under strict constraints. On the other hand, there are times for that the norm needs to be challenged, sounds like Kirby is good at recognizing those times.

@ J.D.,
Thanks for your comments, what a great way of using the six hats effectively. I definitely want to read ThinkerToys now!

@ Sam,
Read, Dream, Share, Start. Those are very simple and effective ways to help become and stay creative. I would be interested in knowing about the creative process in developing your book.

@Evelyn,
So glad that this post inspired you to get back into exploring creativity…it made me very excited as well! Please come back and share what you learn along the way.

-Cam

Akshay Kapur March 19, 2008 at 12:55 pm

I constantly waver between “born with it” and “can be learned” when it comes to character traits. In the case of creativity and your great tips towards developing it, a lot of it boils down to thinking outside the box. And here’s where the innate vs. learned perspective comes in.

Someone can learn to think creatively and step out of their box.
But when that thinking becomes the box, you have to once again step out of it and so on. A person born with a creative mind will constantly and irrevocably think outside the box, no matter how that box morphs. A person taught to do so may be one step behind, needing further instructions and tips to be more creative.

So yeah, you can be more creative and a perspective change can open up all sorts of mental and physical doors. But in order to be continually creative when that isn’t your innate trait, you will also continually need further coaching to maintain it.

Btw, LOVED your push-up post! (I like ‘em better than bench, easy)

Catharine de Wet March 20, 2008 at 9:47 am

Akshay

This is a constant debate in education circles – Can creativity be taught/learned? My own conclusion is that it can. There is ample evidence from research studies that certain aspects of creativity can be taught. It is after all mostly about learning ways of thinking.

The other side of the coin is that some people are more naturally inclined to specific ways of thinking that are conducive to creative thinking. I believe there is a strong correlation between personality factors and something like creativity. My husband is a very literal, black and white kind of person. For someone like him, it would take intentional effort to think outside the box, whereas I tend to see uncommon trends and links more easily. But for both of us, there is an element of discipline involved in thinking creatively. He has to deliberately go outside of his comfort zone and work on finding the uncommon and the new, while I have to at some point, harness all the wild ideas into something that can be applied practically.

I do like your morphing box metaphor.

Jackie July 2, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Hi Camron,
Good post
I also believe that a person willing to be a creative, can become creative with some technique and ofcourse hardwork. It requires lots of dedication and passion to be something or to create something.
Nature is the best source for looking for idea. To think creative person need to leave boundary of his own belief or his own view and try to analyze the thing from different perspective.
And yes, i also belive the creativity is lifstyle. its a way of living.
creative person fell/see things differntly everytime they see them.
Meditation is a great way of becoming creative because if your mind is not relaxed you can not get the best idea out of your mind.

SAI KUMAR February 11, 2011 at 2:15 am

internet is my best friend because it gives me information to suceed

Shaina April 19, 2012 at 11:19 am

Hi,

I think this is a great article, would you be open to using it as a guest post on my digital journal, toolsies.com? It’s a website about people, their essential tools for life and work. I think this would be a great read for the readers, let me know your ideal situation for things like this!

Cheers~ shaina

Cameron Schaefer April 19, 2012 at 5:41 pm

@Shaina,

Just checked out toolsies.com – I really like it! E-mail me: cameron.schaefer@gmail.com and we’ll discuss using this post – think it could work well.

-Cameron

Hannu-Pekka Kulmala March 4, 2013 at 12:48 am

I’m attempting to rewire my brain for creativity with this ambidextrous exercise:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hzk0AlxJ-IM

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