Be Creative in 10 Steps
I have worked as a creative professional all my life. Being a creative professional means that you create ideas, products, and solutions regardless of how your personal life is going; if you like the job or not; if you are inspired or not. To deal with this, you have to figure out ways to cultivate creativity, learn to lift your boundaries, and focus your creativity on a problem. Below are my go-to actions to cultivate my creativity, and I would be delighted if you shared yours in the comments!
Photo by Hush Naidoo Jade Photography on Unsplash
1. Read Voraciously
Creativity largely depends on figuring out trends, connecting ideas between different professions, and creating a hodgepodge to reach a novel solution. To be able to do that, you have to be curious and read anything and everything you can get your hands on. You don't know what will help you with your next task. Maybe, the fashion magazine you read while you were waiting for a haircut will inspire your next painting. Or maybe the animal you saw on National Geographic will provide the solution for your next engineering client. Maybe the book you read about electoral systems or municipal solutions will land you a position as a staff writer in a mayor's office a decade after.
If you read only for the task at hand and never dwell on other disciplines, you will never get the insights most creative people have. Focusing single-mindedly works for a factory job, but is a surefire way to stifle you and ensure your mediocrity in creative pursuits.
2. Take Notes and Organize Them
Memory is fickle, and all the reading you do will mean nothing if you cannot remember them. Moreover, all the insights you get will be lost as well. I always carry a sketchbook with me, so I can always write, paint, or draw my ideas, and I can always take notes. Notebooks are great memory aids. You can flip through one in just a couple of minutes, and you will remember when you were using that notebook, what you were working on, what you were studying, what you were thinking, and every time you go through your notebooks, they will fire up your neurons for new possibilities.
Going through the previous day's notes and digitizing them, taking pictures of drawings and paintings, and typing the text is a morning routine of mine and always fills me up with creative energy. Also, this practice ensures that I don't have information overload because if I spend one day learning new things, the next day is usually spent reviewing them and thinking about them.
3. Talk With Experts from Different Fields
Creativity is a team effort. If you manage crises or are trying to find a solution to a unique and complex problem and are stuck, it is always beneficial to talk with experts from different fields. A biologist, a physicist, a businessperson, a soldier, a programmer will all approach the same problem, your problem, from different angles. And while you are explaining the problem at hand to them, you are going to develop a deeper understanding of the problem as well, and that might just be what you actually need to find a creative solution.
I also like to spend time with experts from different fields to understand their fields. If you want to be curious about something, go find an expert who finds that subject fascinating and drink a cup of coffee with them. Before you leave, also ask what I should read about your subject. You will get the brain food you need.
4. Creativity Is a Muscle, Work It
The mindset and skills creativity requires are way different than most professions require. So, if you didn't start at a creative job when you were young, it might take a while to get used to being creative. You might feel like you are wasting your time reading all the unnecessary stuff. You might feel shy and uncomfortable talking with people. You might think that you are unfocused, you are not reaching anywhere, and you should return to living in your cubicle.
Don't give up, my young padawan. Have faith in the little worms hanging between your ears. The first time you find a solution that comes out of nowhere, you will get hooked. Once you show ingenuity, other people recognize that and start coming to you for solutions to their problems. You become like a bodybuilder who trains by carrying the market bags of his entire town. Before you know it, your creativity muscles build and you feel comfortable in your new position as a creative problem solver.
5. Ditch the Insecurity
As a creative person, your job is to live between the lines of different professions, different ideas, and different skills. What you do and how you do it are vague at best. Being creative means that you have ideas specialists don't have, and if you are good at what you do, all those specialists will come to you for new insights. When that happens, it is easy to feel like an impostor. But don't succumb to the impostor syndrome. Know that your interdisciplinary approach moves the world forward while their devotion to their fields makes sure the world works. We all do our part.
Share what you know and think, freely. Accept that you are not an expert like they are, but you have insights that most likely will prove fruitful.
6. Be an Expert At One Thing(At Least)
As a creative, you always risk being a jack of all trades and master of none, but it is better to be a jack of all trades, master of some. If you work in creative fields for a decade or so, you naturally lean towards one set of skills, and you start to be deemed as a master of that skill anyway. But it is better to figure out your own inclinations and position yourself to attain mastery.
Find your main interests and figure out where the most creative people flock to that kind of interest. Creative people are not that different from each other, so it is better to join the flock and learn that subject deeply rather than go around alone in a disparate field. In my experience, in business, creatives focus largely on marketing. In the natural sciences, creatives focus largely on astrophysics. In the social sciences, creatives focus largely on anthropology. In art, they focus largely on concept art.
Creatives flock to these specialties because they are also interdisciplinary and require most of the skills creatives have for someone to achieve success.
Laypeople think that creatives have a ton of ideas and their brains never stop. I live and work with many creatives, and the truth is the total opposite. Creatives usually have calmer, more organized brains than others. I believe that is so because observation is the super-skill of creatives. Without observation, you cannot understand the trends, the parallels, the disparities, and the patterns. And you cannot observe deeply if your brain is a mess.
Creativity is 80% observation and 20% ideation. The deeper you observe, the better you understand, and you cannot reach creative solutions if you don't understand. Therefore, it is imperative to improve your observation skills if you want to be creative. The best way to do that is to learn an art form.
8. Learn an Art Form
Be it painting, literature, or music, every creative must participate seriously in an art form. Art is all about organizing simple steps in a way that produces an elegant dance. Learning art teaches you to enjoy repetition with small variations, to observe deeply, to focus, to silence your mind, and to have a deep unspoken understanding of how the world works. These are all valuable skills for the creative's arsenal.
Art will teach you how each small brush stroke is part of the whole. How things relate to each other. That understanding is vital for any creative person.
Writing is structured thinking. Writing lets you slow down and organize your thoughts. The more you write, the better you write, you become a better thinker. Get in the habit of writing about the things you are trying to be creative about. Are you trying to solve a problem? Write about it. Are you trying to find an idea to paint? Write about it. Are you trying to build a machine? Well, write about it. Besides organizing your thoughts, writing will also show you the fallacies and holes in your understanding.
Words shape your thoughts. It is important to spend time sharpening your tools if you are to be creative.
10. Be Humble
You are closest to who you actually are when you are humble. It is easier to be creative and follow your curiosity, if you are true to who you are. To be curious, to search for information you have to know that you are not perfect. You are improving at best. To observe, to try to understand, you have to live outside of yourself and know that you are not that important. Without humility you cannot be creative.
A lot of creative people lose their creativity as they get older because they lose the humility battle against their egos. As their egos go bigger and bigger they stop doing the things that make them creative in the first place. Instead of being humble and going back to trenches, they start chewing up younger generations of creatives, and profit from their creativity.
I haven't seen a person who is creative that also have a huge ego. A great CEO once told me, if you want to be successful you cannot carry your ego in your shirt pocket. You have to carry it in your backpocket and sit on it and you should get it out only when it is absolutely necessary.
And your ego is necessary only when somebody is trying to take advantage of you. In that case take your ego out, understand your worth, leave and put back your ego to where it belongs. Your backpocket.