Did you ever notice that scientists, artists and writers often have trouble explaining their thought processes?

I think that’s a very interesting point here, consider some of the language of creative people

  • Struck by a thought
  • Hit by an idea
  • Visited by their muse
  • Inspired by

What these have in common is the idea of something coming from the outside, they emphasize the external orientation of creativity. The concept that the self merely channels ideas and energy from somewhere else.

Of course we are all influenced by external factors. So, to a certain extent these phrases are appropriate. But for a person in the middle of creating something, it can feel like the words, images, thoughts, forms, structures, relationships, notes or rhythms are coming from elsewhere. Unfortunately taking this apparently external concept too literally can be extremely detrimental to creativity.

When I first started writing I fell for this externally oriented language of creativity. I sat down in front of the computer and waited for the something to come to me, an idea to strike, or some other vaguely conceptualised kind of external inspiration.

It didn’t work, obviously. I just ended up in the gym to get away from the empty screen and the blinking cursor, still looking for my inspiration.

It’s the classic mistake. The truth is, there is no “something” nothing special that will hit you while you do nothing, there is no right frame of mind and there is no perfect moment. There is only now, here, right in front of you.

In some ways the inaccessibility of creativity can lead us to think the ideas must be coming from elsewhere. But I’d argue that this is really a by-product of a complicated process that we don’t fully understand yet. People can’t explain their creativity because they don’t understand it themselves, and neither does anyone else.

Nowadays my way of approaching creativity is not by waiting for inspiration to strike but simply by starting with whatever I’ve got right here, right now. For me creativity is all about action.

But let’s delve a little bit deeper into this thought about “creativity”

What methods do people use to encourage creativity? In the creative industries the usual method is money, or some other related incentive. So, can incentives encourage people to be creative?

According to research, they can, but crucially these incentives need to emphasise that creativity is the goal. Studies find that if people are given an incentive for just completing a task, it doesn’t increase their creativity. In fact, incentives linked to task completion (rather than creativity) can reduce creativity.

Another way of encouraging creativity is simply to be reminded that creativity is a goal. It seems too simple to be true, but research has found that just telling people to be creative increases their creativity.

The theory is that this works because people often don’t realize they’re supposed to be looking for creative solutions. We get so wrapped up in deadlines, clients, costs and all the rest that it’s easy to forget to search for creative solutions.

It propably relates to everyday life which encourages conformity and repeating the same things over and over again and doing something different needs a special effort.

Another insight comes from a new study on stimulating creativity. This suggests one solution may lie in using an unusual thinking style—unusual, that is, to you. What does that mean?

Simple.

When trying to solve problems that need creative solutions, people have been found to approach them in one of two ways

  1. Rationally
  2. Intuitively

The researchers wondered if people’s creativity could be increased by encouraging them to use the pattern of thinking that was most unusual to them. So, those people who naturally preferred to approach creative problems rationally, were asked to think intuitively. And the intuitive group was asked to think rationally for a change.

Participants were given a real-world problem to solve. The results were evaluated by managers from the company involved. When they looked at the results, the manipulation had worked.

One of the reasons this works is that consciously adopting a different strategy stops your mind going down the same well-travelled paths. We all have habitual ways of approaching problems and while habits are sometimes useful, they can also produce the same results over and over again.

A limitation of this study is that it only looked at the generation of new ideas. This tends to occur mostly at the start of the creative process. So once ideas have been generated and a more analytical mindset is required, these techniques may not work so well.

What else can you do to become more creative?

Meditate

Particular types of meditation can generate insight and new ideas.

An open monitoring style of meditation can promote divergent thinking, a crucial aspect of creativity.

Divergent thinking is the kind which is often used at the start of the creative process, in which new ideas are generated.

An open monitoring style of meditation is where you don’t focus on a particular object or sensation, such as your own breath; rather you pay attention to whatever thoughts or sensations you are experiencing at the time.

“Creativity comes from looking for the unexpected and stepping outside your own experience.” -Masaru Ibuka

As always thanks for reading and until next time.

P.S. If you liked this post then you’ll like my books as well. You can get them on Amazon.

References

Eisenberger & Shanock, 2003

Amabile et al., 1986

Chen et al., 2005

Dane et al., 2011

Colzato et al., 2012

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