Lately, there’s a lot of focus on encouraging innovation or creativity in all types of workplaces across the United States. Of course, if you have anything to do with PR or content marketing, the pressure to be creative is nothing new. It’s what we do. The thing is, even though we have to be creative on practically a daily basis, most of us lack a real understanding of how to summon and cultivate creativity.
The good news is that creativity is a skill that we’re all born with; we just exercise it to greater or lesser extents. Creativity doesn’t have to involve coming up with a unique and epic idea; it can just mean changing your perspective. For example, a commonly-cited technique for developing creative messaging involves noticing what the competition isn’t mentioning about their product or service (often because it’s a common industry feature that they take for granted) and adapting your message to take advantage of that gap and differentiate yourself. And that’s just one way to get inventive with your messaging or general campaigns.
The bad news is that sitting around and waiting for inspiration to strike is not the most effective way to be creative in your work. No one’s going to hold your deadline until your muse deigns to make an appearance. You’re going to have to court that muse. And muses tend to be more attracted to people to have invested in building their creative muscle, so to speak. If you haven’t already done so, add one or more of these “creative workouts” to your routine:
1. Consume Information Voraciously
The creative brain needs a steady intake of facts and concepts from industry media, general media, professional meetings, TED talks, etc. For example, have you heard about Bill Gates’ biannual “Think Week” ritual? Back when he was the boss of Microsoft, he would take a week months. He would spent one week (twice a year) reading Microsoft employees’ papers about the company and the future of technology. According to Fast Company, many of Microsoft’s most important innovations come from these Think Weeks.
Generally, Mr. Gates advocates reading more than just internal documents; he even shares what books are on his reading list.
Follow Mr. Gates’ example so that you can understand a broad number of issues and trends, especially what’s newsworthy at the moment. It’s also a good idea to become “culturally literate.” Know both classic and contemporary literature, the arts, science, entertainment, sports — so you can develop analogies, employ metaphors and see potential tie-ins.
2. Be Open to New Experiences
Experts agree that being open to new things increases creativity. So, try a new experience. I don’t mean anything immoral or extremely unhealthy, but definitely don’t get stuck in the same old routine. Try new cuisines, hobbies, etc. I read that even changing your route to work every once in a while is good for avoiding getting stuck in a rut.
3. Study and Talk with Other People
Seize opportunities to observe and listen to other people. If you watched the TV Show Castle, you know how many times talking to his mother and/or daughter about an unrelated subject has helped the protagonist, Rick Castle connect the dots and solve the murder. The inspiration you receive may not be so dramatic, but the point is creativity does not thrive in a silo. Someone else may have insights about your product/service or customer pain points that have not occurred to you. Or you may see people behave in a way that you can relate to your offering or use as a metaphor.
4. Carry a Notebook
You’ll constantly get ideas from the people and world around you. Carry a notebook or keep a journal in which you can record your observations, epiphanies, etc. If you get your best ideas in the shower, they make bathtub markers and waterproof notebooks now.
5. Reserve Mind Time
Conversely, you’ll need some solitude to make connections among the information from the media, books, new experiences, people, etc. Most of this will be a conscious process, so you need to allow yourself time to daydream, nap, or any activity that lets your mind wander. That when what novelist Stephen King calls “the boys in the basement” (another term for your muse) will roll up their sleeves and start sending up ideas.
6. Figure Out When Your Creativity Flows Best
You’ll have certain times of the day when you’ll do your most creative work. Hopefully, it just isn’t when you’re in the shower (a commonly-cited time and activity). If you’re not sure at what time of day you hit your creative peak, try doing different types of tasks at different times of day to see what work. A general note from creativity experts: your creative peak time will usually differ from when you’re at your most focused/productive. That’s proven true for me; my writing seems more natural and personable when I’m unfocused and don’t care as much (that is, I’m less self-conscious). So, it makes for a great first draft that I can tidy up when my mind feels less scattered.
7. Find Your Creativity Trigger
In addition to figuring when your brain is best primed for creative work, figure out what will launch you into the creative flow. It could be a particular location or special environment, , meditation, doodling, listening to music, fiddling with a specific gadget, engaging in some ritual that puts you in the creative zone, like taking a walk or even showering.
8. Manage Emotions
As it turns out, even so-called negative emotions can have their place in boosting creativity. According to a GoodTherapy blog post, “people experiencing frustration or anger are less likely to think in systematic ways, and more likely to engage in flexible, unstructured thought processes … which can be beneficial during brainstorming sessions.” The blog post also states that anxiety can help with problem solving (though personally, I’ve always found that it gets in the way). The point is, if you can use negative emotions in an adaptive way, they can support some of your creative efforts.
9. Welcome Dumb Ideas
It’s important not to censor yourself when you’re trying to get the ideas flowing. Accept that most of your ideas won’t be wonderful or even workable, and the ones that are workable and/or wonderful might not look that way at first glance. So, take the time to think through stupid ideas before you discard them. After all, some stupid ideas have made people a lot of money (think about the Pet Rock).
Hopefully these tips will help you keep those creative juices flowing. If they’re not doing the job, well, everyone’s different, and you may need something more radical like Richard Wagner, who took music composition direction from his dog, or Victor Hugo, who wrote in the nude. I’m not kidding. Or maybe you just need insight in how the creative process works. Here’s a video on the five classic stages of creativity so that you can devise your own ways to ignite your creative spark.