Every business needs creativity to thrive; without it, you’re simply stuck in the mud, waiting for a stampede to trample your company with innovative ideas you failed to think of. Some of the best companies, such as Google, 3M, Apple, Facebook, and Pixar, are renowned not just for the massive amounts of cash they make, but because of how they’ve mastered the ability to tap into their workforce’s creativity to come up with new ideas.
In his new book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works” Jonah Lehrer dives into the human brain to find out what makes creative types click , and discovers that creativity isn’t some god-given talent or special gene that some are blessed while others are left to wallow with bland thoughts. Creativity can be honed, and figuring out how to maximize the creativity of your company’s employees can give you a huge edge over competitors. After reading Lehrer’s book here are a few ways you can unleash your creative potential.
Give in for big wins
We’ve all seen it in the movies and on TV – a detective spends days obsessing over a big case, but it’s only when she takes a couple hours off to play with her nieces that the desired breakthrough occurs. Yes, it’s dramatic, but the set-up is also accurate.
“For so long we have been taught that when you hit a wall you need to push through it, but as far as creativity goes, when you hit a wall, you should step away from the problem and give your brain some time to relax,” Mr. Lehrer explains, emphasizing that a fifth cup of coffee and/or staring down your computer screen will rarely beget brilliance.
Mr. Lehrer references Bob Dylan who had quit music in frustration shortly before penning one of the greatest rock songs of all time: “He was fed up and had moved to a cabin in upstate New York to be an artist and novelist. After just a couple of days he started scribbling the lyrics to Like A Rolling Stone, probably because he was no longer feeling the pressure.”
Make time to waste time
Einstein said that creativity is the residue of time wasted, but with screens and gadgets to occupy our every waking second, the simple act of staring out into space has become a lost art. Over the last couple months at ClickPoint we’ve instituted “gym-time” as a way for employees to get away from their desks in the middle of the day. The opportunity to unplug from work and exercise gives our software engineers and customer support team valuable time to relax and gather new thoughts. While some might think it’s a waste of time, we’ve found that “gym-time” has led to a slew of creative ideas and increased productivity.
“Arthur Fry invented Post-it notes while daydreaming in church, and there are countless other examples of creativity that only happens when we let our mind start to wander,” Mr. Lehrer says, adding that most breakthroughs are simply the result of connecting two or more already known concepts in a new way. So imagine that the ideas are already floating around in your brain – your job is simply to give them a relaxed and comfortable environment to come together. Those who don’t unwind easily should take a hot shower – “a great way to get out of your own head,” says Mr. Lehrer.
Be a people person
Keep the creative juices from drying up by making sure to spend time with lots of people, particularly those with differing view points and professions from your own. “If you are, say, a writer, you might think that the most stimulating social interaction would be with other writers who share your interests and passion, but the opposite is actually true,” says Mr. Lehrer. You want to be pushed to see things from different vantage points, since this is how seemingly unconnected ideas and concepts come together.
On an even more basic level, casually interacting with as many people as possible will keep you creatively limber. Steve Jobs believed that the most important meetings happened by chance and outside of the boardroom. In the Pixar offices (designed by Mr. Jobs), meeting rooms and mailboxes were positioned in the building’s main atrium near the cafeteria, coffee bar and bathrooms to increase the chance of random interactions between employees who might not ever meet each other otherwise.
Get your dukes up
In the modern office environment, the first rule of brainstorming is that there is no such thing as a bad idea. This, says Mr. Lehrer, is not the case: “Positive brainstorming does make us feel good, but there is absolutely no evidence that a lack of criticism will encourage better ideas.” In fact, debate and dissent are positive tools in the quest for creative brilliance.
“Having an idea questioned causes the thinker to dig deeper and also to identify what does and doesn’t work,” he says. That said, nobody likes to get stomped on, especially in the work place – know the difference between healthy debate and public humiliation.