Is creativity something that you lost somewhere in middle school, or something that you wake up to every morning?

If you’re like most adults, you probably feel the sense of wonder that comes with creativity would be nice to have, but not vital to your everyday undertakings. After all, we’ve all been conditioned to get things done rather than explore, wonder and develop our creativity. In college and university, we’re so worried about assignments and exams that we lose our love of reading. In most work places, we have deadlines to attend to that leave little room for exploring ideas. The whole world seems set up so that it discourages creativity.

But the irony is that creativity is exactly what we need - both to be successful in what we do and to be content with what we produce.

Creativity is hard to define, and attempts at definition are definitely not straightforward. Caroline  Sharp of UK’s National Foundation for Educational Research wrote that most creativity theorists generally refer to the following components of creativity

  • imagination
  • originality, or the ability to come up with ideas and products that are new and unusual
  • productivity, or the ability to generate a variety of different ideas through atypical thinking
  • problem solving, or the application of knowledge and imagination to a specific situation
  • the ability to produce an outcome of value and worth

Interestingly enough, these components of creativity are exactly the traits we look for in the ideal employee. And these are the things that we usually all struggle with.

So what can we do to spark our creativity and produce inspired work every day?

Constantly look for ways to improve

Ask yourself, “What can I do to improve what my team is currently executing?” Ask yourself this question as often as you can until it becomes a habit. Provide initiative by finding gaps and bridging them instead of waiting for someone else to notice and act on them. This type of initiative will force you to think and act like an innovator.

Accept some level of discomfort

Of course, we all want to be comfortable and safe in all we do. But creativity and progress involve doing things that we might not be used to doing. The choices to innovate and use our imagination in problem solving are not necessarily comfortable. They imply that we’re assuming a level of risk, and so creativity means that we accept and invite living with some level of discomfort.

Practice difference

You’ve heard this many times and it might sound like a cliché, but you can’t do the same things again and again while expecting the same result. Similarly, you can’t be a free and creative thinker in the workplace if the you don’t imbibe your whole life with creativity. You don’t need to do anything big to practice difference.

It’s enough to buy a fruit or vegetable you’ve never eaten before, or cook something no one in your circle of friends would know the name of (or how to pronounce). Give the barista a made up name next time you’re at Starbucks. Wear something only kids are expected to wear, like a hat with ears. You get the idea. 

Don’t stop asking ‘Why?’

When four-year olds constantly ask “But why?” it’s not because they’re trying to be annoying. It’s because they’re curious and want to find out the reasons behind why things are the way they are. If you feel you’ve lost your sense of wonder and exploration, consider whether you’ve stopped asking “Why?”

Do you accept things the way they are, or do you question the status quo? Do you wonder how and why things have become the way they are? If you’re looking to spark creativity, then you need to relentlessly ask “Why?”, often followed by “Why not?”

Be a little illogical

Certain professions and certain individuals are certainly more inclined than others to tie things up in neat bundles. But to be creative, you need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and to accept things that don’t fit nicely into the categories that we’ve formed for ourselves.

Take for example Buddhist Koans - short riddles or paradoxes that are used to be meditated upon by novices in order to quiet the logical mind. One koan asks: “What is the sound made by one hand clapping?” Pondering on these little one-liners are a great way to become more comfortable with being illogical.

Don’t forget your dreams

I mean this quite literally. Of course, it’s important to remember your aspirations in life - this will definitely boost your creativity as you’re trying to achieve your dreams. But dreaming and day-dreaming can actually create a rich and creative pool of ideas because our subconscious mind is at work. That’s why most of us have flashes of inspiration when we’re doing mindless activities that allows us to process higher order thinking in the background.

Don’t forget - creativity is not a product, it’s a process. The decisions that you make every day are at the core of the creative process. I hope you decide to be a little illogical, and, just like me, give your barista a made-up name next time you get a latte.

What are some ways you’ve gotten over creative droughts in the past? Share your stories with us in the comments below?