How to be more Creative

Animated Book Review

Today, I’ll be reviewing Scott Berkun’s latest book, “The Dance of the Possible”, showing you how to foster your creativity, be more productive and inspire you to get up and make stuff.

I remember in a previous job when I was programming, I was writing some code to fix a bug, but whatever I tried, I could not resolve the issue. It was only that evening after work when I was going for a run that the solution popped into my mind. It felt like the idea had come out of nowhere but what had really happened was my subconscious mind had been working on the problem for me, making associations and connecting ideas to try and find a remedy.

Most of your creative power comes from your subconscious mind. Have you ever had a crazy idea in your sleep or dreamt about an incredible adventure or journey? That’s not simply happening to you, that’s your subconscious creating it. Similarly, ideas we come up with when we are awake utilise these same powers.

In prehistoric times, creativity was not of concern to anyone. People were too busy solving more pressing problems in the real world. There were three rules that our descendants abided by that still apply today:

  1. If there is something you want to do, you have to just go and do it
  2. To get better at something, do it more often
  3. To improve more quickly, ask for advice from someone who knows more than you.

In other words, reading a book will not directly improve your creative skills. Putting the book down and creating something will. Reading allows us to know something, creating allows us to do something.

It does not matter where creativity comes from. Creativity is often not efficient as it involves experimenting, taking chances and ultimately trying things that may work or may not. Therefore being more creative means trying things that you have not done before.

In order to become more creative, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • In what situations do I feel most creative?
  • How can I put aside time each day to work on a creative project?
  • What are the daily habits of creative people I admire?
  • What attitudes do I have that support or obstruct me?

In 1492, when Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, discovered land and went ashore, he had many options as to what to do first. Did he explore up the coast in one direction or the other? Did he travel inland? Did he stop and observe the indigenous people he encountered? Whichever option he would have taken would lead to further discovery.

When starting on creative work, the same theory applies. When doing something new with no roadmap, it doesn’t matter how you start. What matters is that you do start and what you discover or try along the way will guide you onto where to go from there, depending on whether it worked or not.

Creativity requires exploring. Like when Columbus came across violent natives, there will be situations that will not go as planned and circumstances where you will have to pivot, but these are not mistakes or failures. They are experiences.

Columbus kept a journal on his voyage to newly discovered lands, consisting of a diary and a logbook. To combat short attention spans and poor memory, writing down any ideas, experiences and observations in a similar journal is a valuable exercise. This will prevent you losing any useful thoughts, giving them a place to live and allowing you to return to them.

After jotting down random brainwaves for a while, you’ll start to notice patterns and when revisiting them begin to create simple outlines for the project you’re working on. Congratulations, you’re on your way.

So where do ideas come from? Sir Isaac Newton once said:

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

It means his discoveries were made by building on previous discoveries. In the same way, ideas are built on other ideas. Mark Zuckerberg did not invent social networking and Airbnb did not invent the idea of renting property. When we see an idea successfully implemented, we often don’t see the potentially hundreds of failed ideas that went before it. Creating an idea involves bringing existing ideas together: borrowing them, combining them and improving them.

So how do we find a “good” idea? There are many ways that could help you. Investigate how people have tried to solve a similar problem before by reading a biography or watching a video on experts in that field. You could combine, divide or reorder existing ideas to create a new creative proposal. Study your environment and consider changing it. For example, do ideas come to you in a loud environment like a pub or a quiet one like a bedroom? In the daytime or at night?

Finding good ideas is the first of two parts of what Scott Berkun calls the dance of possibilities in a creative act. After coming up with several interesting ideas to be considered, to complete a creative project you then need to make decisions to shrink the possibilities in order to finish the task. The time spent exploring ideas that don’t eventually get used is not efficient but is required to produce a creative achievement.

The next stage is turning your ideas into a concept. This is done by giving your idea substance perhaps by further research or a basic prototype of some sort. Of course, this further investigation may allow you to discover that the idea is not viable and discard it. That is part of the process.

When starting to work on an idea, effort will be required to deliver it to the world. This requires conventional, hard work rather than creative work and is the part that is often left out in Hollywood success stories.

If the idea is good and you put the hard work in, a further factor that is required to successfully execute is having the necessary skills to carry out the project to its completion. The way to develop any skill required is to work on it, a lot. Over time, what you produce will improve.

When your work is complete, you may believe that your work is not up to scratch and lacks quality. This is a subjective opinion of course and many famous artists and authors struggled with this too. Some believed their work was of a low quality, even if it was publicly successful. If you experience the same feeling, this is fine. It means you are still learning and learning never ends.

An important trait that many people who we’d describe as “geniuses” have is intense discipline. The footballer David Beckham is known as one of the best free-kick takers of the modern game, but that was due to hours spent practising on the training pitch after regular training had finished each day. Bruno Mars is known as a singer who can also play the guitar, piano, keyboard, drums and harmonica but what is less known is that he was performing on stage five nights a week from the age of four years old. Extraordinary talent is usually a result of discipline and good habits. It is important to work on your project and ideas everyday if you want to be creative and productive. The amount of time spent is not as important as sticking to the daily routine. Adhering to this habit will instil discipline.

I mentioned before that creative ideas often come from our subconscious mind, so we need to allow some time to be idle. Not idle in the sense of not doing anything, but idle in terms of stepping away from a project and doing something else, so our conscious mind is less active. For me it’s long distance running. For you it could be washing the car or people watching sat on a park bench.

Wilson Greatbatch is known as the man that invented the first practical pacemakers that were implanted into humans. His invention is used by over three million people in the world to control their heartbeat and help them lead normal, healthy lives. It is said that Greatbatch discovered his invention by accident while trying to record human heart beats, by using the wrong-sized resistor, causing the circuit to produce electrical pulses, not dissimilar to a heartbeat. However, it was no accident that Greatbatch was in a position to discover this medical advancement. He had a degree in electrical engineering. He was known for constantly tinkering and fiddling with objects. Over the course of his lifetime, he had over 350 patents for inventions. He said persistence was the secret to his success, claiming that 90% of what he tried didn’t work.

Creative ideas are not created by chance. There may be a flash of inspiration by what seemed like an accidental discovery, but there are often several elements in place enabling the occurrence to come about. The inventor may have done lots of work either before or after the breakthrough to work towards developing it into a useful invention. They may also have spent lots of time and money to achieve this. These are practices we can copy and imitate.

Do you have a favourite YouTube video? I can guarantee that if it has at least a few thousands views it will have some dislikes. Why is this? The more popular work becomes, the more people will dislike it too. This is inevitable with creative work, even for the most successful and most creative of us. It is important not to take this sort of rejection to heart and let it affect your creativity. Trying to cater for a large audience may in fact reduce how creative your work is, as it may have to become more generic.

If you’re creating things, there will be times when you don’t feel like working on them. Burnout can be reduced by training the mind to recover quickly from these states. Firstly, this can be done by working on your willpower. Whether this is through meditation or developing good habits, working on your concentration will provide you with the discipline required to finish your creative project.

Secondly, you need to train your mind in emotional awareness to discover why you’re lacking motivation. Why are you feeling the way you are? Can you use it as a motivator to work or do you need to deal with it away from your creative project? There are many ways to endure burning out. This could include sleeping, exercising, travelling or just having fun.

In order to stay motivated in the first place, Scott Berkun reveals seven ways to fuel your creativity:

  1. Anger — Convert your negative energy into something constructive
  2. Crazy necessity — Put yourself in a situation where there is only one way out, i.e. quitting your job or signing a contract to produce some work
  3. Pride — Show other people they’re wrong, prove that it can be done even if they don’t think it can
  4. Death — You only live a limited amount of time on this planet, so choose what you want to do wisely and go for it
  5. Fun — Follow what you like and enjoy, not what you’re supposed to like and enjoy
  6. The Crazy Friend — Seek out that person that always says “yes” who will understand and support you. In turn, you can be their crazy friend
  7. Courage — Battle through and put in the effort regardless and the motivation will surface as a result.

Push, fight, drive, get-up-and-go. Now create something great today.