~Joel Falconer on Lifehack.org
Recently, we asked the readers what their tips for staying creative were. Sometimes creativity flows from the heavens, but other times, as we all know, it’s like drawing water from a stone. The following are the best tips you gave us.
1. Surround yourself with creative people. Hang out with writers, musicians, poets and artists. Often, just being in a creative environment will inspire you and refresh your creative mind.
2. Start somewhere. If you create a load of crap for a few pages, whether it’s creative writing in Word or sheet music, the brain loosens up and it’s easier to break through the barrier and come up with ideas.
3. Expose yourself. Not after too much vodka. Expose yourself to new art – books, music, paintings – all the time. If you’re a rocker, listen to funk. If you’re a crime writer, read fantasy. If you’re a productivity writer, read something about slacking off.
4. Develop a “morning ritual” that puts you in the zone – whether it’s stream-of-consciousness such as in tip 2, or a series of non-spectacular everyday actions in sequence that tell your brain it’s time to get in the zone. Perhaps you drink a coffee while watching the news before going for a morning walk – if you repeat the same actions before doing creative work for long enough, it eventually creates an association that tells the mind to get in a particular zone.
5. Use GTD techniques – free up your mind from the hassles of life by doing an info-dump so your head is clear enough to create instead of worry.
6. Never stop learning.
7. Imitate the real world – find beauty (or the ugly, depending on what inspires you) and try to extract the essence of it into your work. This may lead you to what you need to create, or it may just warm up the muse.
8. Drink too much coffee sometimes (one of my favorite submissions).
9. Do something new. Play chess. Read a book if you watch television and watch television if you read. Go outside. Sing in the shower.
10. Don’t be too precious about your work. Being inspired by ‘the muse’ is important, but if the doctor and the garbage man can do their jobs every day, then those in a creative line of work can too. Change your attitude towards your work.
11. Based on the theory that everything that can be created has been and creation is simply a process of combining existing ideas, consume information by the bucket load. The more you know, the more you can create from that knowledge.
12. Meet new people from different walks of life. Gain insight into their perspectives on life. Strike up a conversation on the bus.
13. Shut out the world. Instead of sucking in new information, sit quietly, go to sleep, or meditate. Stop thinking and clear your mind so that the clutter doesn’t get in the way of your thoughts.
14. Carry a camera with you and look for interesting things in your every day scenery. Hadn’t noticed that crack in the path before? Then it’ll do. Set a quota and force yourself to make it. Don’t go to new places to do this – force yourself to find new perspectives on old knowledge.
15. Creativity is a muscle. Exercise it daily – if you only need to create once a week, your muscles may have atrophied if you don’t do it just because you don’t have to.
16. Carry a notebook everywhere. Or a PDA.
17. Write down a list of ideas and draw random arrows between them. For instance, if you’re a blogger, write down everything in your Categories list and draw lines to connect unusual ideas. If you had the categories “Relationships” and “Management” and randomly connected them you’d have an interesting article idea to work with.
18. If you’re not on a tight deadline, walk away and do something completely unrelated. Don’t let yourself spend that time stressing about what you need to do.
19. Create a framework. As many writers have said, the blank page can be the biggest show-stopper. Instead of trying to rely on pure inspiration, set your topic or theme and start creating within confines. Think within the box you create for yourself.
20. Remove obstacles to creativity. That friend who calls to complain about their life can wait until you can afford to get stressed about their problems.
21. Don’t judge your ideas until you have plenty to judge. Don’t be embarrassed by yourself – just write them all down! Even if you start with “pink polka-dotted lizard.”
22. Keep a journal. It can get your mind working, and in a month, or a year, when you’ve gained some distance from what you’ve written it can give you new ideas.
23. Stop telling yourself you’re not creative. If you tell yourself not to come up with ideas, then you probably won’t – no matter how hard you try.
24. Don’t be a workaholic – take breaks. Your mind needs a chance to wind down so it doesn’t overheat and crash.
25. Experiment randomly. What does a flanger sound like on a vocal track? Like Lenny Kravitz, of course.
26. Treat creativity like an enemy in a strategy game; if one thing isn’t working, don’t keep trying until you give up. Try a new strategy. Run through the whole list, not just the first tip.
27. Choose a topic and write about it as wonderfully or badly as you possibly can. Then edit it as ruthlessly as a newspaper editor who has thousands of words to edit in the next hour and doesn’t care what gets lost in the process. At the end you might have something decent to use as a starting point.
28. Trash what you’re working on. Start again.
29. Exercise every day, before you sit down to be creative. If you exercise afterwards you’ll get the creative burst – just too late.
30. Spend time with your children. Or someone else’s.
Lisa Bodell in strategy & business, Oct 6, 2014
Collaboration is essential for long-term innovation. Working together and sharing information enables employees to draw on expertise from the entire organization, avoid costly mistakes, and ultimately achieve a collective goal.
Yet many of today’s large companies still operate as siloed structures. While cubicle farms give a sense of efficiency and hierarchy, they prevent cross-pollination and dialogue across the enterprise. By design, silos prevent information from flowing outward; they discourage people from seeking out new ways to collaborate and build better ideas.
Productive collaboration isn’t about exchanging cubicle farms or offices for an open-plan setting. Nor is it about adding another layer of tasks or meetings. It’s about pooling resources, forming alliances, and achieving common objectives together. It should fit naturally into employees’ workflow and streamline the process of getting projects to the finish line. If you’re striving to create a more collaborative workplace, follow these 11 guidelines.
1. Identify and include dissenters. Find employees with new perspectives and get them involved in creating better solutions. To achieve this, Southwest Airlines gathered workers from its in-flight, ground, maintenance, and dispatch operations for a cross-discipline brainstorm. Over a six-month period, teams met for 10 hours each week to figure out the highest-impact changes that could be made to its aircraft operations. Of the 100 ideas generated and ultimately sent to senior management for review, three resulted in sweeping operational changes. One solution dramatically reduces the number of aircraft “swaps,” which are disruptive events that occur when one aircraft has to be substituted for another during mechanical problems. Results like this are possible when employees who aren’t the usual suspects are included in the problem-solving process.
2. Staff projects with unlikely suspects. Teaming up people from unrelated departments and having them work in the same space increases opportunities for fresh ideas and connections. When BMW begins developing a new car, project team members in engineering, marketing, and sales, for example, are brought together from disparate locations to the company’s central research and innovation center. Close proximity hastens communications, prompts face-to-face meetings, and stimulates impromptu brainstorms.
3. Designate a “connector.” Break down silos between divisions by designating someone in your organization to act as the official connector. This individual will actively track innovation activities across departments and connect people whose experience or capability matches a project need.
4. Dedicate budgets to collaborative projects. Assigning funds for innovative and cooperative work is the ultimate indicator to employees that senior management is serious about prioritizing collaboration.
5. Implement a user-friendly collaboration platform. Enable secure communication, file sharing, and progress tracking across departments and geographies.
6. Create a peer-to-peer mentorship program. Pair individuals from different parts of the organization to serve as each other’s go-to person for idea generation, advice, and resources. At Intel, people are matched by their specific skills instead of their job title or years of service. It’s not uncommon to find a veteran executive assistant mentoring a newly promoted manager. Matchmaking and relationship building takes place through the company’s intranet and emails, enabling employees to share best practices quickly throughout the global organization. Written contracts and solid deadlines ensure that the program delivers tangible results.
7. Reward people for not doing things. Encourage teams to work smarter—not harder—by rewarding them for reducing unnecessary processes, reports, or paperwork . Originally started at Commerce Bank, which was then acquired by TD Bank in 2007, was an organization-wide “Kill a Stupid Rule” policy, designed to eradicate inefficiencies. This rule rewarded employees with a US$50 gift card for addressing a superfluous or problematic banking rule and coming up with a more customer-friendly solution. The bank actively encourages managers and tellers to submit their ideas through its intranet system.
“Encourage teams to work smarter—not harder—by rewarding them for not doing things.”
8. Compile quarterly “learning lists.” After every project, make a list of evident mistakes and lessons. Share the list across the organization every quarter to ensure the errors aren’t repeated.
9. Communicate breakthroughs. Showcase collaborative projects through your intranet, newsletter, and other internal channels to motivate and inspire employees.
10. Create a physical area for people to gather. Walls between cubicles hinder conversation, but a common space in the office encourages employees across roles and functions to interact.
11. Hire proven collaborators. Which qualities are lacking in your organization? Do you need more staff with interpersonal skills? More negotiators? Enthusiastic cooperators? Make a list of your needs and hire people who demonstrate these skills.
Knowing what you want to achieve through collaboration—whether it’s cost savings or faster prototyping, for example—will help you take a focused approach as you implement these guidelines. And as with any new initiative, measuring results requires benchmarks to compare against. Before beginning, you should be aware of hard metrics such as how long it currently takes to bring a product from concept to market, the present number of feedback loops, how much time is spent on customer support, and how much is lost through duplication of work.
Productive collaboration brings together knowledgeable individuals who can add value to other employees and the company as a whole. As collaboration gets underway, note softer metrics like the level of cross-functional participation on projects, and communication between departments and regions. As organizational silos open up, the opportunities for ideas to become actual solutions will increase.
For more information about increasing productivity and innovation in your own business, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for our full “Collaboration Checklist,” which includes 23 tips on how to achieve successful collaboration.
The usual image of how creativity happens: A composer inadvertently hears a melody rising from a babbling brook, or an ad agency creative director crumples page after page of aborted ideas ripped from the typewriter until the right one lands. But creativity, some claim, can come from a far less elusive muse — from a structured process, one that opens up the ranks of the creative to a wider swath than the Steve Jobs, Jonas Salks and Franz Schuberts of the universe.
“I think there are individual differences in our propensity to be creative,” says Wharton marketing professor Rom Schrift, “but having said that, it’s like a muscle. If you train yourself, and there are different methods for doing this, you can become more creative. There are individual differences in people, but I would argue that it is also something that can be developed, and therefore, taught.”
Wharton marketing professor Jerry (Yoram) Wind has in fact taught a course in creativity at Wharton for years, and says that “in any population, basically the distribution of creativity follows the normal curve. At the absolute extreme you have Einstein and Picasso, and you don’t have to teach them — they are the geniuses. Nearly everyone else in the distribution, and the type of people you would deal with at leading universities and companies, can learn creativity.”
Does creativity need the right conditions to flourish? Jennifer Mueller, a management professor at the University of San Diego and former Wharton professor who has researched creativity, sees evidence that it does. “Every theorist that exists today on the planet will tell you creativity is an ability that ranges in the population, and I think in a given context, creativity can be shut off — or turned on, if the environment supports creativity.”
John Maeda, former president of Rhode Island School of Design, believes creativity can be taught — though he qualifies that belief. “I wouldn’t say it can be taught in the normal sense of adding knowledge and wisdom to someone. I would say instead it can be re-kindled in people — all children are creative. They just lose their capability to be creative by growing up,” notes Maeda, now a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and chair of eBay’s design advisory board. Creativity in a child, he adds, “is the ability to diverge. In a productive adult, it’s the ability to diverge and converge, with emphasis on the converging.”
Anyone called upon to tap creativity has his or her own method, but photorealist painter and photographer Chuck Close suggests the matter is actually less mysterious than the muse-chasers might believe. “Inspiration,” he has said, “is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
Working with Boxes, Inside and Out
In whatever the sector or discipline — product development, exploitation of networks, music or education — creativity shares certain traits, experts say. Jacob Goldenberg, professor of marketing at the Arison School of Business at the IDC Herzliya in Israel, says creativity has more than 200 definitions in the literature. “However, if you ask people to grade ideas, the agreement is very high,” he notes. “This means that even if it is difficult to define creativity, it is easy to identify it. One of the reasons why it is difficult to define is the fact that creativity exists in many different domains.” Still, he says: “Most creative ideas share a common structure of being highly original and at the same time highly useful.”
“If you train yourself, and there are different methods for doing this, you can become more creative.”– Rom Schrift
In Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results, Goldenberg and co-author Drew Boyd make the case that all inventive solutions share certain common patterns. Working within parameters, rather than through free-associative brainstorming, leads to greater creativity, the book says. This method, called Systematic Inventive Thinking, has found application at Procter & Gamble and SAP, among others. “We shouldn’t confuse innovation and creativity,” Goldenberg says. “Creativity refers to the idea, not to the system [product, service, process, etc.] that was built around it. For example, online banking is a great innovation, but the idea [of using the Internet to replace the branch] was not creative. It was expected years before it was implemented.”
Similarly, he adds, “cell phone technology is one of the most innovative developments, but the need was defined years before, and we just waited for the technology. In my view, a creative idea that is still changing our lives is the concept of letting users develop the software they need on a platform [that a particular] firm sells: the apps concept. This means that consumers develop and determine the value of the smartphone and tablets.”
This example, Goldenberg says, fits one of the templates for creativity described in Inside the Box: “Where you subtract one of the resources” — such as engineers and marketers — “and replace them with a resource that exists inside a closure (box), in this case your consumers.”
Schrift has used a different template from Inside the Box in his classes: The idea of building a matrix of characteristics of two unrelated products, and creating new dependencies. Such examples, he says, include an air freshener that changes scent every 10 minutes (remixing the concepts of time and fragrance), or a gym with a fee that is structured to increase if you don’t work out enough (fitness and incentive). “A lot of the time, looking for a new dependency gives you a creative idea,” Schrift notes.
Wind says that in whatever discipline, creativity is primarily “an ability to challenge the status quo and come up with new and better solutions. In art, the most creative figures are those who came up with new perspectives — Brancusi, who broke away from Rodin; Picasso, who broke away from the Impressionists; Duchamp, who took readymades [ordinary manufactured objects, a porcelain urinal being the most infamous] and said, ‘this is art.’ Anyone who primarily breaks the current status quo and creates a new dimension — the first person to think about understanding medicine in terms of a person’s DNA; in advertising it is [William] Bernbach, who came up with the slogan for Volkswagen, [or] Frank Gehry, who basically broke the tradition of the four-wall museum and came up with a dramatically different structure in Bilbao.”
Making Space for the Troublemakers
Corporate culture is no less hungry for creative leaders. Or is it? Any company would eagerly embrace the next iPhone, but it is far from clear that companies tolerate the cost of doing business when it comes to generating creativity. In an IBM survey of 1,500 CEOs from 60 countries in 33 industries released in 2010, creativity was cited as the most important organization-wide trait required for navigating the business environment. And yet, as Mueller found in a 2010 study published in Psychological Science, people often espouse creativity as an abstract goal, but then, when presented with it, spurn it. In The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas, co-authored by Mueller with Shimul Melwani and Jack A. Goncalo, experiments suggest that the desire for creativity is often overshadowed by a need to reduce uncertainty — even as subjects rate their attitudes toward creativity as positive. Moreover, this bias contributes toward people being less able to even recognize creativity.
Additional research underway by Mueller suggests that creative personalities are often dismissed as trouble. “They are seen as difficult, not as efficient or able to present their ideas with focus, and are also seen as naïve,” she says. “People, either rightly or wrongly, have this stereotype that creative people are high maintenance and emotionally volatile. And where it gets problematic, the moment the organization suffers, is when creative people are discounted for not being seen as team players. And that is the dark side of being tagged as a creative type.” And yet: “Why would you want somebody who doesn’t produce creative work [just because] they are less trouble to manage?”
“The stereotype is that creativity just has to be unleashed, and it’s not true. It has to be tightly managed. You have to know how to foster it.”–Jennifer Mueller
The bias against creativity even extends to the classroom, Mueller says. “There is the reality that any teacher needs a rubric in order to give a good grade, and creativity in being new or different creates uncertainty in the mind of the students about whether it fits the answer the teacher is looking for,” she notes. “Teachers think of creative students as disobedient. There is lots of focus on reducing ambiguity, especially in college where the student is your customer. You now have to answer to what the customer wants, and what the customer wants is to get a good grade — and the best way to get a good grade is to reduce ambiguity.”
Americans are not showing the kind of creative expression that might otherwise be bubbling away — in college, but also grade school. Scores from the widely administered Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking have been declining since 1990 among the nation’s youngest students, according to a study by College of William & Mary assistant professor Kyung-Hee Kim of nearly 300,000 test scores between 1968 and 2008. “The decline is steady and persistent, from 1990 to present, and ranges across the various components tested by the TTCT,” the study finds. “The decline begins in young children, which is especially concerning as it stunts abilities which are supposed to mature over a lifetime.”
“There is an understanding that this is happening in China and India as well,” Mueller adds, “and the fact that it is happening in the U.S. is troubling people, but I don’t think they know what to do about it. I, myself, have tried to do stuff students don’t like, and they will hate you. If student ratings aren’t high, then you’re not going to get tenure.”
One environment Mueller admires for its healthy creative process is IDEO, the multinational design consulting firm. Creativity is begun in brainstorming sessions — which is certainly not novel — but it is then shepherded through a more structured route. “They have their initial session, called ‘deep dive,’ and that session is very short. Then they break the problem apart by assigning people specific pieces. Then there is a focus session, so there is chaos and focus, and interplay between these two things is always going on. There is a person whose full responsibility is to structure it, and I think in that process you learn, you ask the customer certain things, you tweak it some more,” Mueller notes. “The stereotype is that creativity just has to be unleashed, and it’s not true. It has to be tightly managed. You have to know how to foster it.”
Creative Safe Haven
The willingness to “foster it” is a challenge in many corporate environments. According to Schrift, one way to manage creative forces is to manage talent wisely. “Maybe we don’t want creative people in certain positions,” he says. “One of the obstacles for innovation is not necessarily the process of coming up with the idea, but is more cultural — a lot of companies do not incentivize employees to do things differently.” Sometimes, workers are evaluated on a relatively short cycle, and “when you are innovating, that involves a lot of failure.”
“Mind-wandering seems to be essential to the creative process, and I don’t think a lot of businesses are aware of that fact.”– Scott Barry Kaufman
Changes in corporate culture, such as giving workers permission to question authority, can be efficacious, says Scott Barry Kaufman, scientific director of the Imagination Institute at Penn’s Positive Psychology Center. The salient question isn’t whether creativity can be taught, notes Kaufman, since everyone is creative, but rather demonstrating faith in the creativity of workers. “I am not talking about rebelliousness, but giving people time for constructive internal reflection and even daydreaming. A lot of research is suggesting that the more that you demand people’s external attention, the less chance you are allowing them to dip into the default mode where daydreams and reflection happen — and lot of great ideas are not going to come from the brute force of work but from personal life experience. Mind-wandering seems to be essential to the creative process, and I don’t think a lot of businesses are aware of that fact.”
Neither are most multitaskers — which means, these days, most people. In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, neuroscientist and musician Daniel J. Levitin made the case that tweeting, Facebooking and emailing your way through the day saps creativity. “Daydreaming leads to creativity, and creative activities teach us agency, the ability to change the world, to mold it to our liking, to have a positive effect on our environment,” wrote Levitin, author of The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. In other words, we need time to hear the music in a babbling brook.
Measuring Creative Success
Is commercial viability the only gauge of creativity’s success? Wind points out that there are innovations in the arts whose value is best judged by other artists, and Goldenberg says peer expertise is sometimes required. “The only way to measure creativity is to use judges who grade many cases including the idea you want to grade,” notes Goldenberg. “This is a complex process and usually done in a research setup and not in practice. This means that a creative person repeats his or her success, and this is not an after-the-fact judgment of one random event.”
But Wind points out that in general, newness and usefulness are the main indicators of acts of great creativity. “I would take the extreme position that creativity has to have value to be successful,” he says. “You can come up with a lot of ideas, but if you are not adding value to the stakeholders, then they are not creative ideas.”
Airbnb certainly meets the criterion of adding value to stakeholders, and, according to Maeda of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the self-listing lodging clearinghouse stands an example of spectacularly creative thinking. “There are more people staying in Airbnb lodgings on any given night than all Hilton hotels combined,” Maeda notes of the company founded by the young and now-wealthy trio of Brian Chesky, Nathan Blecharczyk and Joe Gebbia. “It showed plasticity in their creativity that went beyond their design training in making physical goods. They recognized the excess capacity available in everyone’s home, and they designed a scalable service to enable anyone to access that capacity. Their successful design for a service solved the trust barriers inherent to a peer-to-peer economy.”
Wind cites Uber as his example. “Uber is a truly creative approach as opposed to the traditional taxi,” he says. “How wonderful it is that you could leverage the network idea and create a new business.” The Uber model is now being emulated and adapted to other sectors — Ubers for laundry, snowplows and even wine delivery. But while imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery, Uber’s success is actually a cue for the genuinely creative types to move on to other ideas. Says Wind: “The first one [to establish the model] is the example of creativity. The secondary companies following Uber — they are not.”
Knowledge @ Wharton, August 27, 2014