PHOTOGRAPH: Weerapat Wattanapichayakul, 123rf.com
We tend to associate creativity with just a handful of professions, but it’s not just writers, artists, architects and designers who need to be creative in their work. All jobs require some level of creativity and we’ve all had moments – or even days – where we’ve had trouble coming up with an amazing idea or thinking of a better solution to a problem. Whatever your role, it’s likely that you would have experienced a creative block at some point. But these ruts are to be expected, and they happen to the best of us.
More than just innovation
US-based creativity expert Rob Levit says creativity is not just the ability to generate novel ideas and create new things, or about seeing the extraordinary in the obvious. It’s also about the value we provide.
“I often ask myself, ‘Okay, I’ve created something and it benefits me, but who else does it benefit? What value does it add to other people’s lives?’,” he says. “A sign of great creativity is that it doesn’t live in a bubble or a vacuum. A great way to add creativity to your life is to ask: ‘What can I provide that others can benefit from? What would that product, idea or service look like?’.”
And, more than that, creativity is about your outlook on life. According to Rob, it is an approach that says: “I can be flexible in any situation. I can see many perspectives, not just my own. And I can try new things and be okay with failure.”
Creativity is one of the most important qualities a person can possess in the workplace, more so than emotional intelligence and negotiation skills, says James Taylor, a global creativity expert based in London. That’s why you have to know how to harness it and learn how to develop it over time.
What affects our creativity?
We’re all creative in different ways, and some of us are more creative than others. But the good news is there’s always potential for the creativity we possess to grow. “It’s very much like a muscle or a learned skill,” James explains. “We’re all born with it, so it’s up to us to nurture it. The more we use it, the more powerful it becomes.”
The work environment tends to stifle the creativity of introverted people, James adds. “Most of us have attended brainstorm meetings, for instance, where the extroverts of the team take over and talk over everybody else. Those who are not ‘loud’ enough tend to get left out of the brainstorming process, and as a result, they see themselves as not having any good ideas. This can cause a creative ‘block’ on a subconscious level as they feel that they have nothing of value to contribute.”
But, creativity doesn’t depend on having an outgoing personality. “As a matter of fact, creative teams benefit from many different types of personalities,” says Rob.
Mental fatigue and stress can also have an impact on creativity. With so much on our plates at work, thinking outside of the box can feel like an insurmountable task at times. Our mind draws a blank and then the anxiety sets in. Just trying to come up with new ideas or solutions feels draining, and it’s tempting to want to throw in the towel.
Getting over that creative block
Creative blocks are often a result of having expectations that are out of alignment with your current skill level or motivation level. But Rob says that such blocks are completely normal.
“When you get this way, you need to get into your ‘creative zone of satisfaction’, as I call it,” Rob offers. “In this zone, you allow yourself to do the things that bring you deep joy. My creative zones of satisfaction are speaking and training, walking in nature, and listening to music. These activities put me in a happy, relaxed state, where the creative ideas and energy are more likely to emerge and flow.”
Here are few strategies you can employ to keep your creative juices flowing and prevent or get over a block.
Flex your creative muscle
Don’t just tap into your creativity when you’re at work, says James. Make a point to use it in every aspect of your life. For instance, if you’re faced with an issue in your personal or family life, try to think of new and different ways to approach it. Another great way to maintain creative energy is to try new things and keep a sense of curiosity and wonder about the world and others around you.
Find ways to relax
Fatigue can take a toll on your ability to think creatively, so engage in relaxing activities – such as yoga, meditation or light exercise – whenever you can, says James. When you’re relaxed, your mind is refreshed and you’re able to think more clearly.
Change your physical environment
If you’re faced with a creative block at work, take a time-out. Go for a walk around the block or take a coffee break. If your building has a garden or green space, spend a little time in it. Being surrounded by plants and trees has a relaxing effect, plus, James says that the colour green has been shown to increase creativity levels.
Recognise your creative “clock”
There’s no point in forcing yourself to come up with fresh, new ideas when you’re tired and uninspired. Figure out the times of the day when your mind is sharpest, and plan to do your creative tasks during those times, says James.
Unleash your anger
Surprisingly, anger can give you a creative boost, says James. “It’s not a pleasant feeling but it is energising. The ‘fire’ that it creates in us helps us solve problems more creatively and think in a more unstructured manner,” he adds.
But you don’t have to take your anger out on anybody. “A good way to channel this emotion: think of something that makes you angry and write it down in a journal. Keep writing until you feel yourself getting riled up, and then stop. This should leave you sufficiently motivated to tackle that creative task,” says James.
Don’t get too attached to a particular result
The less attached you are to a particular outcome, the more creative freedom you will have, says Rob. So try not to imagine an end-result and just allow your imagination to flow.
Have multiple projects in the pipeline
If you experience a block with one project, take a break and work on something else. “I don’t like forcing creativity,” says Rob. “I find that when I take a break and shift gears, the block that I was experiencing previously somehow vanishes on its own.”