Try these six strategies for finding your creative muse.
The idea that creative people all sit in coffeehouses somewhere drinking lattes and scribbling genius ideas on their napkins is a myth. We tell ourselves, as a society, that a creative thought is as unique as a shooting star or a winning lottery ticket. We add a layer of magic to creativity to relieve the pressure of having to chase inspiration while we also chase our children down the hall and meet deadlines and navigate traffic.
Putting the pressure on a person to hold the power of genius and creativity on his or her own is “like asking somebody to swallow the sun,” bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert said in her TED Talk. Saying out loud that we are actively trying to foster creative thinking is scary; it is like saying we believe in UFOs or still sleep with the light on. We fear creative thought because it doesn’t have limits or a clear definition.
Musician Tom Waits tells a story of hearing a part of a song in his head while driving on the freeway in Los Angeles. He couldn’t figure out how to get off the freeway to stop and write it down. In his frustration, he looked up to the sky, and said, “Can’t you see I’m driving here?”
When this happens to you, pull the car over if you can. Creative thinking should not be guilt-producing. It is not the practice of creating an action; it is the ability to see something in a new way. Allowing ourselves the freedom to foster creativity is risky, but it is worth it. Creative thinking improves physical health, enforces our long-term ability to process new information and promotes growth and innovation in society.
“Creative activity helps people stay healthy,” says University of Texas sociology professor John Mirowsky in EHS Today. “Creative activity is non-routine, enjoyable and provides opportunity for learning and for solving problems. People who do that kind of work, whether paid or not, feel healthier and have fewer physical problems.”
Pixar trains their employees in a place called Pixar University. The University’s crest features the Latin motto, “Alienus Non Diutius,” which means “Alone No Longer.” Pixar employees are given space and time to bounce ideas off of each other.
Pixar is not alone: Some of the most innovative companies in the world feature programs that give employees the time and space to think creatively—Google offers a 20% program, 3M has a 15% program, and Gore & Associates (Gore-Tex, etc.) features “dabble time.”
We are taught in school that our goal is to give the right answer. We are taught that daydreaming is counterproductive. The truth is: we usually have to try a lot of ideas that don’t work before we find one that does. If scientists can hypothesize and experiment, why can’t we venture a guess and try it out in other job fields?
On the surface, experimentation and brainstorming seem like the antithesis of “work,” but they are the key ingredients for the most desirable quality in a job candidate—the ability to solve problems creatively and quickly.
In a Wired Magazine interview published in February of 1996, Steve Jobs said, “A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”
Here are six ways to foster creativity in everyday life:
1. Ask “what if” questions: Stage hypothetical possibilities to encourage exploratory thinking.
2. Allow yourself to make mistakes: It took Thomas Edison 10,000 tries to invent the light bulb. He said he never failed; he just discovered 10,000 ways that did not work.
3. Reward your curiosity: Take a trip to the library and indulge yourself on a Google search or a StumbleUpon journey. Allow yourself the room to follow through on topics that interest you.
4. Enforce a creative routine: Read an inspiring quote, listen to talk radio, or put on some music that moves you at the start of your day.
5. Get feedback: Whether you are at work or at home, put your ideas into the world and listen to what others think about them.
6. Break the rules of culture and trend: Culture is “not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning,” American Anthropologist Clifford Geertz wrote in his 1973 book, The Interpretation of Cultures. The rules are guidelines for movement, not truths about movement. Forge your own path.