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We are all observers and dreamers

We’ve all experienced the constant pursuit for creative ideas to new and old challenges.  Yet few of us understand what it takes to be creative and, even worse, we often see it as something you either have or you don’t.

Rethinking creativity

“To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees.” Paul Valéry, poet

I recently attended a class by artist Cathy Haynes at the School of Life to discover ways to boost creativity.  As she challenged us to unlearn our ‘creative blinkers’ and rigid habits in order to see new possibilities I was reminded of some key principles:

Creativity isn’t a talent, it’s a skill we can all learn and build

Our creative spark doesn’t die when we enter adulthood. We don’t get less creative innately.  The workplace expects us to be logical and productive, but being fixed and routinised can be the enemy of creativity. We should encourage and practice playful freedom to open ourselves up to inspiration to stimulate new stories and ideas – to encourage productive thinking.

Unlearning old limits

Creativity isn’t an indulgence. It’s freedom to explore and we should practice ways to help us tap into our latent creative selves. Our brains are primed to make new connections, patterns and associations. We can all enhance our creativity by unlearning old limits:

  • Expose ourselves to new experiences and worlds, e.g. watch a TED talk at lunchtime on a topic outside of your own field.
  • Give permission to make leaps of association, e.g. share stories about what you’ve seen that’s inspired you outside of the work setting.
  • Ask different questions to see problems in new ways, e.g. What if you were from a different country or culture, what perspective would you take?
  • Take time to ponder, e.g. a lunchtime walk to allow ideas to percolate, taking a new walking route every time.

We can trust that our brains will make new connections if we expose it to a wider, richer resource of inspiration. To use link analysis to provoke new ideas.

Turning a scarcity into a plenitude

By exposing ourselves to greater influence, we can feed our unconscious mind with new possibilities. New ways of thinking. New ways to be creative. Most of us just need to get over the fear of the blank page. One way we can practice doing this is by setting ‘playful limits’. Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, famously imagined the setting for his novel while on holiday, drawing with his 12-year old stepson as a way to amuse him on a rainy day:

“As I poured upon my map of Treasure Island, the future characters of the book began to appear there visibly among the imaginary woods: and their brown faces and bright weapons peeped out upon me from unexpected quarters, as they passed to and fro, fighting and hunting treasure, on those few square inches of a flat projection. The next thing I knew, I had some papers before me and was writing out a list of chapters.”

Sometimes we need a creative constraint to push ourselves into a new way of thinking – to challenge us to use our creative resilience and enter into fresh and fertile territory. In Stevenson’s case, all he needed was the map.