By Luis S. R. Vas
The key to creativity is the knowledge that there is more than one way to do things and to look for them
How accessible is creativity to everyone? Although many of us today are aware that creativity is not the prerogative of artists, scientists and other eminent thinkers who have mastered the art or for whom out-of-the-box thinking is second nature, in practice we act as though it was not readily available to us.It should be, as soon as we discard the impediments on the way and become proactive in nurturing it.
Here are a few attitudes that inhibit people from getting new ideas:
• Fear of failure does not allow us to try anything different
• Everyone sees making mistakes as a crime. Parents, teachers and later the boss
• Seeking perfection allows very little tolerance for experiments
• The pressure to be right inhibits looking for other right answers
• ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ thinking stops us from even trying
• People hate uncomfortable questions and those who ask them
• It is easier to criticise a new idea than to pursue and implement it
• Some people fight shy of asking for help even when they desperately need it. Actually, ‘Can you help me?’ are the most powerful four words ever devised to nurture creativity.
• Feelings such as confusion, anger, anxiety and fear are signs that you are stuck, and are suffering from a mental block, and need help
• People settle for the ‘first right answer,’ whereas there could be several right answers
At a brainstorming session, designed to elicit how the participants got their innovative ideas, one lady said she got ideas every time she asked herself, “Why not?” Apparently, that is what inspires her to try out new recipes, new rangoli designs and so on. One man said he would beg, borrow and steal from anyone anywhere! He got most of his ideas that way. A young man said he got ideas by looking at things that are not allowed, permitted or accepted. He looked at most of the dos and don’ts and got inspiration from trying to break the rules. “Rules are for the obedience of fools and guidance of wise men,” he said. A senior R&D scientist said he and his colleagues would play pranks on each other. Some of their best ideas came when they were in a playful mood.
A mother of a 10-year-old said that she chats with her son and picks his brain. It worked often. Apparently, he made her look at things differently. There were several who said drinking tea or coffee, reading a newspaper or simply watching news on TV triggered off interesting ideas in their minds. You will discover your own creativity triggers if you experiment with them long enough. Dewitt Jones, National Geographic photographer and film director, is the author of nine books including The Nature of Leadership, in collaboration with Stephen Covey and A Roger Merrill. In a video titled Everyday Creativity, he explores the phenomenon and how it can be made accessible to everyone. “For most of us,” says Dewitt, “creativity is something difficult to define and even harder to implement.” He offers a definition. Creativity is the ability to see the ordinary as extraordinary.
Seeing the ordinary as extraordinary is something we have all done. We have all had those moments when we have looked at a landscape, a person, or an idea and for an instant, or a month, or the rest of our lives, felt its true uniqueness. The essence of creativity then is not a technique but an attitude, says Dewitt, an attitude of curiosity, openness, and celebration. His definition makes it something well within our grasp.
Listed below are the nine key concepts identified in Dewitt’s video.
Creativity is the ability to look at the ordinary and see the extraordinary
• Every act can be a creative one
• Creativity is a matter of perspective
• There is always more than one right answer
• Reframe problems into opportunities
• Do not be afraid to make mistakes.
• Break the pattern
• Train your technique
• You have to really care
Dewitt suggests that you think back to a time, whether it was on the job or at home, when you creatively handled an issue or challenge. How did it make you feel? Your example does not have to be earth shattering. Perhaps you creatively cut a few minutes from your commute, devised a procedure for more effectively handling customer calls, or designed a more analytical spreadsheet. Identify one area of your life in which you know you are creative. You might be inventive in your kitchen, good at solving mathematical problems, or talented at getting people to work together. Is there any way you can apply this talent to your work in other areas?
‘Creativity is a matter of perspective.’ One way to change perspectives is to find new ways to describe a situation. Try to describe, in several ways, an issue or problem that you are facing. You might write a story or poem about it, come up with a ‘Top 10’ list, draw a picture, or make a collage. Be as inventive as you wish. Take 30 to 40 minutes to complete your project. When you are finished, check whether your work led to any new insights. If so, what are they, if not, why not? ‘There’s more than one right answer.’ This is the key to creativity. There are a thousand ways to come at a problem to find creative solutions. You cannot stop with the first right answer. The first right answer is just doing your job. Anyone ought to be able to come up with one right answer. You must go beyond it, not in terror but comfortably, knowing that the next answer is out there for you.
To do this we need a sense of confidence that if we keep looking, we will find more answers. It is easy to believe that if we do not grab the first answer, we will not get another chance. However, if we keep going, we often find that there are more and better solutions than we initially had assumed. In 10 to 15 minutes, brainstorm at least five possible solutions or answers to your current problem. Then and then alone, review the list and if any of the solutions appear impractical, take another ten to 15 minutes to devise replacements. Repeat this until you have at least five workable solutions.
When you come at the world with a sense of abundance rather than scarcity, you get increasingly comfortable reframing problems into opportunities. You become adept at finding new angles, coming at the same elements from a completely different direction, and being confident that the next right answer will be there.
When you view something as a problem, it is easy to feel intimidated and immediately defeated. After all, when a situation appears insurmountable, why try to do anything to make it better? That is why the simple step of changing your perspective to view a problem as an opportunity can improve your ability to creatively approach that same situation. At once, you become more open to ideas that can lead to solutions. You may remember resources you had overlooked. Your attitude may make others more willing to keep working on the situation. As Dewitt notes, instead of thinking, “I won’t believe it until I see it,” we need to think, “I won’t see it until I believe it.”
Why might we find it difficult to view the world with a sense of abundance? Does it go against what we have been taught – that everything is limited and that we have to get what we can while we can? On the continuum of looking at problems as opportunities are two extremes, seeing problems and obstacles at every step, and refusing to acknowledge the potential for any difficulties. Where are you on this continuum? Is that where you want to be? One way to gain a new perspective on a problem and to bring new solutions to light is to describe it using an analogy. An analogy compares two things that, while essentially different, are alike in a significant way. For example: “He is like a lion ready to pounce on his prey.” Think of several analogies to describe your current project. Ask whether your analogies help to spark new ideas or better ways to approach the project, once you have done so.
Are you afraid to make mistakes?
As a child, it is easy to think that you will reach a point in life where you will know just about everything you will need to know. Of course, as we grow older, most of us realise that learning never stops. However, we hopefully assume that our propensity to make mistakes will. Not only do we continue to make mistakes, but also they get harder to take. We learn that bruises to our pride and egos hurt just as much as bruises to our bodies. Therefore, we slowly decide not to venture outside of a narrow range of expertise, not to take a risk, and not to try new things. In doing so, we may not make mistakes, but we also do not achieve anything great. It is always enlightening to look at the mistakes and failures of individuals who are extremely successful. Whether we examine ace football players, brilliant musicians, or cutting-edge scientists, one thing becomes clear. Most of the world’s greatest accomplishments were produced only after innumerable mistakes. Of course, nobody is saying that we ought to make needless mistakes. We want to take the time to get as much information and as many insights as we possibly can. Then, if we do make a mistake, we can ask why things happened as they did, what we can learn, and how we can make things work.
Can you identify any mistakes you made along the way? When we make a mistake, it is often hard to recognise any good that will come from it. However, given time and a chance to let our emotions cool, we often discover positive effects. What did you learn from your mistakes? How did you correct them or change course? What happened then? Note two examples and their positive effects.
How can we be encouraged not to be afraid of making mistakes?
When we are not afraid to make mistakes and when we believe there is more than one right answer – that is when we begin to break the patterns in our lives. Patterns, systems – they are incredibly important. We cannot function without them. Nevertheless, we all know that if we let those patterns go too long unquestioned; they become our prisons. By definition, creativity demands that we break a pattern. In order to bring into existence something that has not existed before, we have to form our own mould rather than fit into an existing one.
One reason we do not break patterns is our fear of what others might say or think. How receptive is the environment in which you live or work for those who want to break the patterns? Ask yourself these questions. Are new ideas shot down at meetings? Are colleagues encouraged (even subtly) to think a certain way? Can the atmosphere be improved, if so, how?
By interacting with others, you often can find patterns or rules in your own life that you may be overlooking. Ask someone from another department or area to describe what he or she believes are your rules at work. While passion and inspiration, and heart and soul are critical, we cannot kid ourselves that they eliminate our need for a solid command of technique. Whatever our game is, we need to learn, know, and become so well versed in its fundamentals that they become second nature. Knowing and respecting our craft will help us bring our visions to life in ways that are clear and profound.
By training, honing, and refining our techniques, we can concentrate on our visions; all of the other tasks we have to do then become second nature. Then when an opportunity arises, we know we are ready to seize the moment. Can you recall a time that you were not prepared and, as a result, an opportunity slipped away? Maybe you went on a sales call without knowing much about the company you were about to visit. Perhaps you interviewed for another job without taking the time to figure out why you would be a good candidate. Train your technique. Describe the skill you will have to develop to solve this problem. Describe what you will have to learn to improve this skill. You have to really care. Why is solving this problem important to you? How will solving this problem help others?
If you nurture the attitudes recommended by Dewitt and adopted by other successful innovators you should be able to join their ranks.
Luis SR Vas has authored over a score of books during his decades’ long career in feature writing, publishing and corporate communications.
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