A while back I saw a Newseek article about the decline of creativity in America. While I have some doubts about the methodology, I do agree that developing creativity is generally a good thing. As such, I’ll provide a little advice about how to be more creative.
It might seem odd that I would offer such advice. After all, it is often believed that creativity is something that you are born with (or not). While it is true that people are born with varying degrees of creativity, creativity seems like any other quality in that it can be developed (or stifled) by many other factors ranging from environment to training. In any case, it is easy enough to test whether creativity can be improved by trying to do so.
One way to enhance creativity is to develop your foundation of knowledge. This might seem a bit odd-after all, creativity and knowledge are different. A person might know a great deal, yet not be very creative and vice versa. However, consider the following analogy. Imagine a person with a small let of legos. She can be fairly creative with them, but she will be limited in what she can do. By adding more legos she can do more with her creativity. Likewise, the more you know, the more you have to work with.
A second way to enhance creativity is to expand your experiences. This can be done indirectly (reading, for example) or directly (travel, meeting new people, etc.). The focus should be on exposure to ideas, views and ways of life different from your own. In addition to boosting what you have to work with, this can be a help in expanding your perspective. To use an analogy, it is like going and seeing what other people are doing with their legos.
A third way to boost creativity is to be healthy. Eat well, get enough sleep and exercise. Being unhealthy tends to dampen creativity. True, some very unhealthy people are very creative and some very fit people are as creative as bricks. However, good health improves a person’s mental abilities and this includes creativity. You can test this yourself-the next time you are exhausted, sick and hurt, try to be really creative. Then try again when you are well rested, fit and feeling good.
A fourth way to boost creativity is to allow yourself time to mentally drift (or daydream). This allows you to let ideas drift around, merge, blend and split apart. It also allows your subconscious processes to work away at things. In my own case, I have found that I come up with my best ideas when I am running or sort of napping while I am a passenger in a car. Even when I am not consciously focusing on a problem, it seems that once I sort of set my mind in that direction it will “grind away” on the matter (much like my computer is running all sorts of background tasks while I write this blog). This process is, of course, formalized as brainstorming, which is a form of semi-directed drift.
A fifth way to boost creativity is to get rid of interruptions and let your mind rest. Some banes of creativity are obvious. For example, if I was trying to write while someone kept interrupting me with demands that I print this or look up that, it would impede my creativity. Other banes are somewhat less obvious, such as the electronic interrupters most people have invited into their lives. One example is the smart phone-it is almost always one and leaps in to disrupt with its beeps, rings and bings. It also seduces people, drawing their attention to it. Another example is the computer-the web, chat and email are all there ready to intrude. They provide an endless parade of pokes and prods that keep a person from ever truly settling down into creativity. So, people think a thousand shallow and disconnected thoughts, yet rarely have the chance for that deep creative dive.