Bounce ideas, trust your gut, learn to fail, and more
In a day and age where your creativity and your knowledge are your best tools, it pays to know how to get the most out of them. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or you work for someone else, your ability to think on your feet, come up with creative solutions, and implement new strategies determine whether you will be successful or not. I’d like to give some pointers on maximizing your creative potential using scientific research and personal experiences.
What does the science say about thinking creatively?
Some people come across as being naturally creative while others struggle with creative solutions. It has been proven that some people are genetically wired to think more creatively. Scientists have studied why this occurs as well as whether we have any control over our creative ability. The good news is you can still increase creativity even if you aren’t genetically predisposed to having a creative mindset.
A study in the Creativity Research Journal found people who aren’t genetically inclined to be creative can still capitalize on their creativity if they are intentional and follow some basic fundamentals. The study points to some very specific ways to immediately increase creative potential. They suggest writing new ideas down as they come to you, taking on challenging tasks, keeping company with creative people, and broadening your knowledge to topics outside your normal field of study as some ways to become more creative. These are the tip of the iceberg and a great place to start for anyone struggling with their creative potential.
1. Carry Around a Notepad and Pen
How many times have you been busy, had a fantastic idea, but couldn’t remember the specific details when you were trying to tell someone about it later? Everyone is different, but having a way to jot down ideas as they come to you will prevent you from forgetting. Don’t assume you will remember, just write it down. You remove any chance of forgetting the idea later and it solidifies the concept in your mind so your brain can continue to process it as you go about your day.
If you don’t have the option to write it with pen and paper, then use your smartphone or a voice recorder. Most smartphones today have the ability to dictate what you say into text, have an app for a voice recorder, or have a program you can type notes into. Use them instead of simply letting them take up space on your phone. With the amount of information-stealing our attention every minute, this simple practice will save you the frustration of letting that great idea slip away.
2. Bounce Ideas Off of Your Peers
Working through new ideas with your peers is a great way to get immediate feedback to improve or correct your creative solutions. Your peers may have suggestions that will shed light on possible flaws. Additional points of view can also provide input that will evolve the idea into a more creative solution.
Individually, we are constrained to our own limitations. Know your abilities and utilize the strengths of others to create a more successful outcome. Being able to work with a group of people allows for more insights and skills to improve your ideas. Combining multiple creative minds will only lead to more well-constructed ideas and help maximize everyone’s creative potential.
3. Be Able to Adapt
When you are unable to re-imagine an idea, you lock yourself into a limited mindset. Therefore, knowing when to change course provides a huge advantage. It’s not always easy but it is an invaluable skill.
In Chip and Dan Heath’s book “Switch” they discuss some really hard changes that helped produce incredible results. To explain why change can be hard, they use an analogy of an elephant and its rider. Essentially, the rider is the logical side of ourselves. The rider is responsible for our rational decisions and can lead our impulsive side (the elephant) to the best solutions. However, the rider can only control the elephant for a short time, because they become exhausted and eventually succumb to the elephant’s desires. Being able to get the rider and the elephant going in the same direction is critical when a change needs to be made.
More creative solutions can be realized when you understand which side of your mind is behind your decisions. Sometimes, the elephant and the rider want to go two different ways and a change is needed. The most productive and creative people can recognize this and use the combination of logic and emotional drive to align their elephant and riders. This makes necessary changes easier to decide and achieve, which increases the potential for new and novel ideas.
4. Make Sure to Get Plenty of Sleep
Many of the reasons behind why we sleep are still unknown, but research is discovering more about it all the time. Sleep is when our body is given a chance to recharge mentally and physically. Markham Heid says, “Sleep seems to play a crucial role in helping your brain sort, process, store, and make use of the stuff you encounter during your waking hours.” His article dives into the science behind why we sleep and what our brain is doing while we sleep.
For us to fully be able to process our creative ideas, the brain needs downtime to fully digest the pieces. Sleep is a necessary component in the creative process because it allows our subconscious to fully work through our ideas. According to Heid, research has shown that sleep is a major component in solidifying any of the tasks we’ve spent time on during our day. It’s a time our body is at rest, and while many people think the brain is also at rest, the opposite is really true. Our brain continues to connect the dots so we can wake up with more cohesive and well thought-out ideas. It may also explain why many novel ideas come to us earliest in the morning. Knowing this allows us to be ready with pen and paper to hash out the fresh ideas.
5. Give Yourself Time to Do Nothing
This goes hand in hand with getting enough sleep. When you work on a task continuously, your brain becomes fatigued. The quality of the work declines as you force yourself to continue. This is a clear cut sign you should take a break. You aren’t doing yourself or the work any favors by stubbornly muscling through when your brain is tired. Take 15–30 minutes to step away from your work. Take a walk, meditate, listen to music. Even when you aren’t actively thinking about the project, your brain is tying up the loose ends. Then, when you get back to what you were working on, you have “fresh eyes” for the work. It feels new again because your brain has been subconsciously working on the task while you were taking a break.
Think of it the same way you think of weight lifting. The basics of building muscle is to push them to their limits and then give them rest to build back stronger than they were. Your creativity has its limitations. When you want to flex your creative muscle, you need periods of rest so it can come back stronger than it was before, as your brain sorts through the intricacies of the idea.
Scientific research backs this. A Stanford University study found that taking walks can increase your creative potential. In the study, they found a spike in creativity after participants were allowed the opportunity to take a walk outside. The next time you find yourself struggling to keep working on a task, sorting through ideas, or just feeling like you can’t come up with any new ones, take a walk outside and let your subconscious take care of the rest.
6. Trust Your Gut
“I rely far more on gut instinct than researching huge amounts of statistics.” Richard Branson
I firmly believe in making decisions based on gathering as much information as possible, but what about the times you just have a gut feeling? Some of the most successful creatives suggest you follow your gut for everything. Intuition can be seen as an understanding of an idea your brain has stored somewhere, but you can’t quite pinpoint where it is. Just because you can’t fully comprehend your gut feeling doesn’t make it irrelevant. Trust yourself and know that your intuition is as important as any data you can find.
The science is still being researched, but in a scientific review of the subject, “The Role of Intuition in the Generation and Evaluation Stages of Creativity”, the writers discuss the importance of using intuition and creativity to drive the formulation of new ideas and knowledge. For their review, they assign the idea of problem solving to the concept of creativity. According to the research that has been done, finding a creative or new solution relies heavily on our intuition. When we solely use previous experiences to decide how to deal with a situation, the research finds our solutions to be predictable. Predictability isn’t where we find our most creative ideas. Therefore, to discover our most creative and unique solutions, we must understand the benefit of following our intuition. Trusting your gut is necessary to create new concepts and essential for the creative process.
7. Fail Often and Learn From Each Failure
The constant pressure for perfection is the killer of creativity. If you can’t stand to fail or fear doing something at a less than perfect level, you will find yourself slipping back towards the comfortable. Ideas that are comfortable are less likely to push your creative potential. If you aren’t willing to fail, then you aren’t going to evolve, learn, and come back with a stronger idea or understanding of what you’re striving for.
8. Listen to “Happy” Music
The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkley suggests that listening to uplifting or happy music can increase the brain’s divergent thinking. They say that divergent thinking can lead to more creative ideas.
Music has been shown to assist the brain in improving cognition and a new study went so far as to test the effects of different types of music on people’s creative ability. They found that “happy music” will increase the brain’s creative output more than working on a task in silence. I think it’s important to state that everyone will be different. If you find yourself more creatively engaged without music, with sad music, or with any other type of music, do what benefits you most.
For me, I like to listen to instrumental pieces that are either in a relaxed mood or uplifting. Something about them seems to allow the words to flow from my fingers. When I play these types of music, I find myself entering what I consider to be a state of flow. If the wrong music is on, I find my brain becomes jumbled and clogged with too many thoughts. I feel my brain trying to figure out the music as well as what I’m concentrating on, and the tug of war ruins any chances of formulating cohesive thoughts. My library of music has everything from folk to heavy metal, but when it comes to creating, I stick to classical music, movie scores, and orchestral music.
Conclusion: Do What Works for You
Whether you are genetically prone to being more creative or you have to work to improve your creativity, it is a necessary part of life in the world we live in. These simple steps will help anyone who wants to maximize their creative potential. Your knowledge and creativity are as good as currency; the ability to think creatively, solve problems in new and unique ways, and offer genuinely novel ideas is a skill needed by all. View it as a skill and be intentional in the way you progress it. If you want to be more creative, it only takes a little effort to maximize your creative potential. Using the steps above can get you there.
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A version of this post was previously published on GoFindYourHappy and is republished here with permission from the author.
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