Ways to Enhance Your Personal Capacity for Creativity

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It goes without saying that innovation, creativity, and design thinking are buzzwords nowadays.

In my work and education, I have observed that many people have a propensity towards innovation and creativity. Or so it seems.

Upon reflection, however, I feel that we verbalize these buzzwords quickly without considering how difficult it may be to implement in our personal and professional lives.

The academic literature on creativity, for example, states that some of us may hold a negative bias towards creativity (Mueller et al., 2012). Explicitly, we may espouse innovation in our work but implicitly, especially when we have a strong desire to reduce uncertainty, we become aversive to creativity. This finding has prompted me to reflect on whether or not I am aversive to creativity and delineate the ways in which I may enhance my personal capacity for creativity, both explicitly and implicitly (Hennessy & Amabile, 2010).

In this blog post, I suggest three concepts and strategies that enhance your personal creative capacity. Creativity is the process of generating ideas that are novel and appropriate in the specific context (Hennessy & Amabile, 2010). There are three forms of creativity:

  • Big C: Rare moments of creativity that have a major, significant impact.
  • Little c: Daily problem-solving and adapting to changing circumstances.
  • Mini c: Building personal knowledge and understanding.

1. Smile and be happy

One of the things I have observed is that people who have a positive orientation to their lives tend to show a higher capacity for creativity.

Most people are inherently negative; it is mostly a result of experiencing traumatic events and having unhealthy coping strategies.

But those who more positive tend to have more psychological space to think creatively and expand their capacity for innovation and change.

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2. Collaboration

Generally, collaboration within a group tends to result in work that is more creative compared to work completed independently. This is because a group consists of a diversity of views relevant to the project and task, and when integrated, results in more creative work.

However, creative group work depends on the learning and working environment.

Psychological safety is a concept that describes an environmental condition in which workers believe that their colleagues will respond positively when they express their concerns, report errors in work, or share creative ideas (Nembhard & Edmondson, 2006). Therefore, when we work in a group, we should be cognizant of whether or not we are contributing to a learning and working environment that is psychologically safe.

3. Diverge before you converge

I have observed that many groups tend to be solution-oriented and uncertainty-aversive.

It is beneficial to actively seek a solution to a particular problem. However, being solution-oriented may fix the group in an interminable, close-minded loop where they adopt the first solution that “makes sense” and proceed to formalize the solution without considering alternatives that may be better solutions.

Groups need to diverge before they converge.

Convergent thinking is narrowing many possibilities into a working solution (Hennessy & Amabile, 2010). This form of thinking is often employed to reduce uncertainty in the creative process and produce a deliverable. Divergent thinking, on the other hand, is a spontaneous, free-flowing type of thinking with the objective of generating as many ideas as possible.

The key to divergent thinking is being nonjudgemental. Too often do I have to remind my colleagues during diverging thinking to stop judging the veracity or validity of their ideas. Even if it is stupid or not feasible, write it down. That idea you may consider to be stupid and not feasible, combined with other ideas, may form a multi-faceted solution that combines the advantages and deemphasizes the disadvantages of multiple ideas.

In collaborative work, diverging before converging refers to cycling between moments of generating as many ideas as possible (diverge), then discussing these ideas in some depth (converge), then generating more ideas once again (diverge), then considering some of the more promising ideas in more depth (converge).

Next, I will suggest three simple strategies that may increase your personal creative capacity.

1. Know yourself

Know yourself. Know your work ethic.

Everyone has certain points in a day where they experience the highest creative capacity.

For me, this tends to be between 5 am and 7 am. For others, it could be immediately before calling it a night. The point is to reflect on the conditions that create creativity in your life and capitalize on those conditions.

2. Space

During moments of creative work, ensure that you have the adequate mental and physical space.

For mental space, ensure that you remove distractions (i.e., phones, Facebook, Twitter, notifications, tablets, etc.) and other urgent matters related to your personal or work life. If you are stressed because of a tight deadline on another project, you will not have the mental space to work creatively to your best capacity.

For physical space, use whiteboards, whiteboard notebooks, and markers to map out your thoughts and ideas. Use a top-down or bottom-up approach and just follow where your thoughts take you.

Write down everything! Do not expect your mind to remember certain things during creative work. If a fleeting thought comes to mind, write it down immediately!

Draw diagrams, frameworks, arrows, and relationships. Take pictures of your work often to keep a track record of your ideas.

Family and friends can be important influences in helping someone get treatment for mental health issues. Reaching out and letting them know you are there to help them is the first step. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Airman 1st Class Devin N. Boyer/Released)

3. Music

I listen to film soundtracks that motivate me to work and increase my capacity for creativity. Some music increases the speed at which ideas flow through my thoughts.

This strategy, however, may not work for everyone. For example, I have noticed that music containing lyrics tend to be extremely distracting and detrimental to my work efficiency and creativity. Again, know yourself, how you work, and capitalize on that knowledge.

That is all for now! See you next week.

Umair Majid

References

Hennessey, BA, & Amabile, TM. (2010). Creativity. Annual Review of Psychology, 61, 569-598. Doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.093008.100416

Mueller, J. S., Melwani, S., & Goncalo, J. A. (2012). The bias against creativity: Why people desire but reject creative ideas. Psychological science23(1), 13-17.

Nembhard, I. M., & Edmondson, A. C. (2006). Making it safe: The effects of leader inclusiveness and professional status on psychological safety and improvement efforts in health care teams. Journal of Organizational Behavior27(7), 941-966.

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