We all have specific skills that set us apart from those around us. Some of us are particularly good at sports or music or cooking or painting. When a skill involves an action in the world, we know what we need to do to improve it: practice, lessons, repetition. But for mental skills like creativity, a lot of people don’t quite know how to think about them as a skill.
Most people tend to look at those who develop creative ideas consistently with a kind of reverence, but the truth is that anyone can be creative. For some, it may take a little more practice than for others, but it’s still achievable.
One dictionary definition of creativity is “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations.” According to research by psychologist and psychometrician Robert Sternberg, at its most basic level, creative thinking is a regular action your brain is trained to automatically do, like brushing your teeth or tying your shoes: it’s a habit. And with persistence, anyone can develop a new habit.
Why is creativity so important to develop?
One of the measures of a truly successful individual is how innovative he or she is. Likewise, the creativity it takes to be truly innovative is what separates successful businesses from the rest. Creativity can accelerate a company’s profits and growth beyond that of its less-innovative competitors. The added benefit is that the creativity and the resulting innovation are unique to the creator – the individual or company that came up with the idea.
In 2010, IBM conducted a survey of 1,500 CEOs around the world. The CEOs were asked what characteristics in their organization and employees will help them overcome the challenges of our rapidly changing world. Overwhelmingly they responded that, “more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision,” creativity will play the biggest role.
Another study by Adobe and Forrester Consulting found that 82 % of companies believe there is a strong connection between creativity and business results. In fact, companies that actively foster creative thinking outperform their rivals in revenue growth, market share and competitive leadership, according to the report.
It’s obvious that creativity and innovation are powerful drivers for success in your career – not to mention for fulfillment in your life.
How can you enhance your creativity?
By being observant. Creative people are great observers; they notice details by using all of their senses. What others see as circumstances beyond their control, creative people see as endless possibilities. Whenever you can, “people watch”, and be curious about other people’s lives. You’ll come up with some of your most creative ideas by observing others.
By being intellectually curious. Creative people have a passion for gathering new information through reading and experience. So: read! Read outside of your comfort zone. And question what you read or experience. Use your curiosity to ask why, how, what if – and try to see things from multiple perspectives.
By keeping an open mind. Creative people aren’t quick to judge: they sit back, evaluate, and question their initial observations before proceeding. When you encounter new ideas, listen to them and think them through. Even if you’re not sold on the idea, put it aside for a while and come back to it later. When you think about it again, it will feel more familiar. Let that familiarity help you to begin opening your mind.
By playing and daydreaming. Creative people understand that to play and daydream as a child does is to remain as creative as a child is. Set aside time every day to play and to let your mind wander. Research has proven that daydreaming can bring out your best creative self because it can stimulate connections within your brain and provide insights that you may not have considered.
By not being afraid to take risks. Creative people take risks all the time, knowing perfectly well that their ideas might fail. But the idea of failure isn’t negative to a creative person; on the contrary, with every failure comes a new insight. Set your imagination free to come up with a new idea and then put it out there for all to see. Sure, it’s risky, but this is what creativity is all about. This kind of risk taking can not only lead you to come up with innovative ideas and new solutions to problems, but it can provide you with a sense of power that is motivating and rewarding.