The Guide To Creative Thinking

Learning to Recognize Our Personal Creativity

Are aloof artists the only people who are creative?  In my experience, many of us think so. Its easy to think of creative people as those who wear unusual clothes, sport a daring haircut or weird glasses as being creative.

Society, it seems, grants a special permission to people who clearly appear to be “creative.” Can  we “normal” people ever hope to achieve the level of creative genius that these cool people appear to have?  If they weren’t creative, then they wouldn’t be allowed to dress or act in such a manner, right?

Every day throughout our personal and professional lives, we wake up and set about solving problems; some big, some small.  Often we do not recognize that we’ve even done this, nor do we appreciate the creativity involved in problem solving.

I’m talking about the school bus driver who looks at a map and adjusts his route to save time and gasoline.  Or the teacher who discovers a novel approach to instructing a difficult subject.

The janitor who figures out that if he uses two different chemicals in a particular order that he can remove a crayon stain from a carpet.  The recruiter who has innovated an approach that helps get her through the door of a desired candidate.

Are we just doing our jobs?  Are we being creative?  Both.  So why don’t we give ourselves credit for being creative?

A friend of mine sells steel for a living.  At first, I thought he had a boring job. I mean, how difficult can it be to sell steel?  You just take the order over the phone, right?  Wrong. The sales cycle can be very complex, and it requires a low level knowledge of processes, geology, hardnesses, cooling,  and other technical stuff I just don’t grasp nor do I care about.

My friend developed a method of taking new customers through a sales process that dramatically shortened  his time to taking an order.  He shared this with other sales people at his company, and was recently promoted, partly as a result of his innovation.

When I congratluated him and called him a creative guy, he just shrugged. He doesn’t think of himself as being creative. He sees it as just part of job, and anyone could have done it.  But “anyone” didn’t do it — he did it.

We should all be more appreciative of our talents and abilities to solve problems. Even when problems are ”just part of the job,” we should recognize that our solutions have engaged us in a creative process that have produced an end result.  In doing so, we can begin to change our understanding of ourself, and begin to think of ourselves as inherently creative people.

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Today, your task is to pay close attention to what you do.  Make a list of every problem you solve today, no matter how small.  Then ask yourself: Is the solution exportable to other situations? Can it be taught? Will you use this solution again?  Did the solution save you any time or money?

Recognize that creativity doesn’t come from funny clothes, an attitude or haircut; it comes from gaining a unique understanding of a situation and being able to communicate it. Discover and appreciate the creativity that you exhibit everyday, and then build that on that.

Forcing Creative Output Versus Waiting for It

When is the best time to engage in a creative activity?  When is our creative potential at its apex?

I wish I had some scientific analysis to offer, but I don’t. Maybe its out there somewhere, but all I have to offer today is my anecdotal experience. Take it for what its worth.

Let me tell you a story about two people I know who earn their livings from their creative output.

Margie is friend of mine is an artist who paints when she feels like it.  At a recent party, she was displaying some of her latest work.  I asked here, “Is there a time of day that when you usually get your best ideas?”  She looked at me as though I had just asked the stupidest question she had ever heard.

“I paint whenever I feel like it,” she said.  “This one here I painted at 3 o’clock in the morning. I saw it in a dream so I woke up and painted it.”  Then she walked over to another painting.  “This one was a complete accident. I was trying a new idea that didn’t work out, then suddenly I saw this!”

Contrast this my friend John, who lives near Washington, DC, and writes short stories for kids.  When I posed a similar question to him last year, he explained to me just how painful writing is for him.  “If I don’t force myself to sit down every day and write, then nothing happens.  It’s just so easy for me to procrastinate: I have to really make myself focus. That’s usually how my best ideas come to me.”

There is no single way to achieving  greater creative output.  As these stories illustrate, the approach will vary by the artist.  What they both have in common is the desire to create. But the approach to connecting with the creative part of their brain and actually trigger output will vary.  Experimentation, trial and error, and probably most of all — persistence — is the key.

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If you are one of these people whose creative ideas come fast and easy, then more power to you! If that approach doesn’t work, then keep looking for another way.

Environmental Mashup: Spur Creativity by Changing Your Environment

Are you in a creative rut?  Can’t seem to break out?  Perhaps you need a physical change in your environment. I’ve seen this work in personal and professional settings.

At Microsoft, I had a manager who liked to mix and match his team members on different projects. He would physically move people into physical proximity of each other, at least for awhile. Now, Microsoft often takes it on the chin for their perceived lack of creativity, but I really respected this manager.

Years after I had left his team,  I met him in a social situation and had the opportunity to ask him about this tactic.  He said that mixing the members around was a way for him to gauge and test the creativity of the people under him.

What I didn’t realize is that he would sometimes give the same assignment to two teams, and compare the proposed solutions. Over the years he had learned how to improve creative performance by changing up the team members.

An artist friend enjoyed a burst of creativity after moving her studio to a different space. After spending years looking at the same physical environment, meeting the same people in the stairwell, going to the same coffee shop and eating at generally the same nearby restaurants, she decided she had to mix things up.

When her lease came up, she decided to move to a different space in a less gentrified part of town.  The people and the restaurants were a bit more earthy and ethnic, and she has really enjoyed it.  The new friends she has made in her new location was just what she needed.

So if you’re in a funk, changing your physical environment might be just thing to snap you out of it.

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