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5 Steps That Helped Boost My Creativity

Let’s start with an idea: creativity is a skill.

If we accept that as fact we must also accept that creativity can be developed, taught and learned. Creativity can be used to solve a problem in the same sense that diplomacy can be used to settle a dispute or just as the skill of reading is used to decipher information.

Of course, there are people who pick things up more easily than others. Some people are dyslexic and have to find workarounds, but we don’t give up on dyslexic kids and we shouldn’t give up on kids who don’t immediately show creative leanings. If a child doesn’t show obvious signs of creativity that doesn’t mean they’ll never have a brilliant idea. Even people with aphantasia (who lack the ability to imagine visually) can be artists, designers or creative in some other field.

A common misconception is that the arts are the only use for creativity. Far from it. Creativity is the lifeblood of innovation and innovation drives economies. I would go as far as to say creativity is a survival skill. Just ask MacGyver.

All of us could benefit from a creative boost, but there is no one right way to enhance your creativity. These steps have made a difference for me. I hope they’re helpful for you.

Step 1: Believe

Truly believe you can be creative. Without that, there really is no hope. The understanding that we have the potential for creativity needs to be baked into our identity. This is an underlying belief about who you are and what role you play in this world. You could call it “Creative Confidence” which Tom and David Kelly of IDEO think is so important they named a book after it.

Many of us have a great deal of fear holding us back from realizing our creative potential. Overcoming fear is easier said than done, but first, we have to acknowledge that we have it. How we confront it depends on each situation, but I think only by forcing ourselves to create repeatedly can we break down the fear and make the act of creating feel normal.

Step 2: Pay Attention

Observe all the opportunities for creativity that you are presented with as you move through each day. Everything we do comes with the potential of creativity. We can decide to do things differently, from the clothes we put on to the breakfast we eat.

But it’s hard to be creative in every aspect of life. For instance, I dress very plainly. I’d rather not think about what I wear, with the distinct exception of footwear. But I’m aware that the potential is there to dress differently and that’s important.

We need to observe the world from a curator’s perspective. When I walk into a store and music is playing I unconsciously start to analyze it. In the back of my mind as I make my way through the store I’m thinking “How can I use this? How does this fit into my gallery of inspiration?” And I would suppose the same to be true of a dancer watching people walk down the street. They would notice subtle movements which would be lost on most of us. Even mundane things can spark big ideas.

We need to develop an inquisitive mindset that forms the lens through which we see the world. Be on the lookout for inspiration every waking moment.

Photo: Izzy Gerosa via Unsplash

Step 3: Capture

If you don’t get in the habit of somehow capturing your ideas, I guarantee you will forget most of them. The method you use will depend on what kind of idea it is, but I’m always reminded of the late architect Zaha Hadid who based ground-breaking designs off of sketches she made in her youth. You never know when the ideas we have will be useful. It’s best not to lose them.

Over the years I’ve used a lot of different methods, from sketchbooks to to-do apps like Things 3. For a long time, I used Evernote which is great because it can deal with just about anything you throw at it. These days I use Craft as a way to organize ideas because it works seamlessly on all my devices and is aesthetically stunning. I can also use it offline which is great on a long flight.

I also record audio on my iPhone with the built-in Voice Memos app. From there I can import those into an app like Craft, Notion or Evernote and write a note to myself about what project I was thinking about or any other thoughts I might have about the idea.

Save your ideas, for sure, but also capture your inspiration. Part of why I love Craft is for this, but it could also be something like Pinterest… or just keep a journal and write down what inspires you. Take pictures. Record sounds. Draw sketches. Whatever it takes, but get your inspiration together in an easily reference-able place and organize it (!) so that whenever you need to stimulate yourself, you’ll have a nicely curated archive of exactly what pushes your particular buttons cued up and ready to devour.

Step 4: Mix and match

The combination of more than one existing idea is the basis for most creativity, as Steve Jobs once said “Creativity is just connecting things.” Looking for ways to connect different ideas can be a great way to boost creativity. I do this as a composer by occasionally scanning through my voice memos to find fragments of melodies that could fit together. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all, but most of the time I find something that I can use.

Don’t shy away from contrast, even though sometimes two ideas seemingly do not belong together. It could be a related idea that will fit, or a re-imagining of the same idea will work. For instance, pickles and babysitters. A pickle that babysits? No. A babysitter who smells like pickles? No, thank you. But what about a babysitting service that will pick up your deli order… with extra pickles? Maybe.

Get in the habit of always looking for connections in what you love. Analyzing and deconstructing what inspires you can make it easier to see how connections work and make use of it in your own creations.

Step 5: Do the work

Like the painter, Chuck Close once said “Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.” I truly believe that creativity is something anyone can get good at. We just have to do it. If you see it as your purpose to create, if you see yourself as a curator of the ideas we are lucky enough to stumble upon, put in the work. Don’t assume the ideas will magically reveal themselves. Hunt them down.

But we procrastinate. Personally, I usually go through cycles where I’m a productivity maniac and get tons done and other times I don’t feel like doing anything. This can go on for months and typically takes a hard deadline to snap me out of it. However, I found a way to trick myself into doing the work consistently.

In fact, I used it while writing this piece. It’s the 5 Minute Rule which Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom made popular. Asking yourself to do something, anything for just 5 minutes takes the pressure off which allows you to get started on something that seems daunting. I’ve also heard that the Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti forces himself to write a few bars of music every day. But usually, a creative person can’t stop at a few bars, or after 5 minutes… and that’s the trick.

Photo: Roman Kraft via Unsplash

Conclusion: Yes, you can

As creatures with free will, we decide what we do next (or our spouse tells us). But seriously, we call the shots and creativity is primarily about making decisions. We were built for this.

Some of us have a hard time being decisive and this is in essence a kind of fear. We’re scared we’ll make the wrong decision; scared we’ll look stupid. But this fear is something we can overcome and on the other side awaits a more creative and more fulfilling existence.

There are many more approaches to creativity that you should explore. I recommend checking out the SCAMPER method, reading “The Creative Habit” by choreographer Twyla Tharp and “Creative Confidence” by Tom and David Kelly of IDEO.

This, my first writing for Medium, came from working on a book I’m writing for drummers. The more I got into it the more I realized, at its core, the concepts really apply to anything and anyone. Creativity is a universal thing. It doesn’t matter who we are or what we do, the potential is always there. We just might have to squint a bit to be able to see it.

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