A Guide To Developing Your Creativity
Archetypes, Four Steps & A Challenge To You
Do you believe creativity is innate and only found in those who pursue creative professions, like artists, architects and admen? Having spent the last six months advising one of New Zealand’s leading creative services firms I have come to see creativity differently. Creativity is not a skill exclusive to people in traditionally creative professions. It is not something you either have or you do not, and it is not a homogenous skill. I believe that creativity is a muscle that can and should be trained, and that being able to apply a creative lens is a key success factor in all careers.
Which kind of creative are you?
The Oxford Dictionary describes creativity as “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness.” This is a pretty broad description. To me, there are three kinds of creativity: intellectual/ cerebral, kinetic/ tangible, and emotional/ interpersonal. I think of them as three creative archetypes — the scientist, the artist, and the catalyst.
Cerebral/ intellectual creatives are our theorists and thought leaders. They are typically drawn to professions where the ability to synthesise facts, recognise patterns and develop hypotheses is important. They are our scientists, economists, and historians, etc. Kinetic/ tangible creatives are closer to what we traditionally view as creative people: our artists and craftspeople. Their paintings, bagels, toy trucks, and tables leave physical impressions on our world. Emotional/ interpersonal creatives develop deep understanding of people and are talented at identifying, eliciting, and managing emotions. They may be drawn to leadership, people development, and marketing. They are our inspirational politicians, psychologists, and admen. In reality, this is an oversimplified model. We all have our own unique blends of the three archetypes.
Success in most professions requires competency in more than one kind of creativity. Architects are a great example. An architect specialising in the health sector must use their cerebral/ intellectual creativity to be at the forefront of the key areas of medical research and development. After all, there is not much point designing hospitals with large nursing stations if 80% of patient care will be provided by AI-powered robots in 10 years. In addition, she must bring emotional/ interpersonal creativity to bear as she works with a team of architects and sub-contractors to design and build medical and care facilities that are uplifting for all who work, visit and live in them. Her projects will often run for five or more years and require the successful navigation of many challenges and opportunities presented by numerous stakeholders. To top off, she has to be a strong kinetic/ tangible creative who can differentiate herself, her firm, and her projects based on her design capability. As you can see, I have huge respect for architects!
It is critical for your success to identify which kinds of creativity your professional requires and to hone these. In the next section I will share four activities of creative people and tips to help you develop your own creativity.
Four steps to develop your creativity
Creativity can be trained and developed like any skill. Even people who have won the talent lottery at birth can become better with practice. The most creative people I know are those who work diligently to build their creative capabilities. How do they do this? They practice four activities:
- Become comfortable with the creative process
- Develop creative routines and habits
- Embrace diversity
- Kill the noise
Here are practical tips on each to help you integrate these activities into your life.
Become comfortable with the creative process
To succeed as a creative professional you need to be comfortable with the creative process. Some might argue that “creative process” is an oxymoron, but I disagree. Creativity is invariably a process. It may be a very simple process — a start, a “eureka!”, and an end — but it is generally a process of refinement. This clicked into place for me when the Managing Partner of my creative services client described the creative process as beginning with divergence, then forced by a milestone to converge, followed by a second stage of divergence, forced again to converge, and so on until the team reaches a final design.
This process involves a high degree of change and uncertainty, you cannot know what your output will look like at the first milestone, let alone at the end! To cope with so much ambiguity, especially when combined with stress, you need to learn and become familiar with your creative process. Ultimately, great creatives learn to “trust the process.”
Develop creative routines and habits
Successful creatives know that developing routines can strengthen their creative skills. They use these habits to gain fresh perspectives, expand their knowledge, and generate insights. Essentially, these relevant habits expand your potential “scope of ideas” from the illustration of the creative process above. Relevant activities can differ depending on the type of creativity you seek to develop and the professional field you work in.
Here are a few activities I do regularly to expand my intellectual creativity. During the week, while commuting and exercising, I listen to podcasts on business, technology, and history. I reserve time on Sundays for reading non-fiction (at the moment, Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus and The Economist). These time efficient commitments arm me with a diverse, expanding, and contemporary knowledge base to draw on at work where I am part of a team resolving complex problems for clients, assessing innovations/ investments, and coming up with novel solutions. I keep a notebook handy for when my brain slips off into daydreaming and precious “Eureka!” moments strike. To develop my emotional and interpersonal creativity I meditate daily and aim to meet at least one interesting new person a week.
Embracing diversity is one of the most valuable things for aspiring creatives. You cannot just do more of the same thing day-in, day-out; leading creatives understand this. They create space for new ideas and connections flourish by pursuing hobbies that are not related to their profession because they recognise that fresh insights often come from interacting with diverse people and gaining an appreciation of wider perspectives. They spend time in different places and pursue new experiences. They challenge themselves to change the way they think.
Perhaps the most striking example of changing the way you think is Sylvester, a sixty year old American gentleman I met in Guatemala in 2015. Sylvester begun his career in military intelligence in Germany, eventually did a Masters degree and finally moved into finance, where he enjoyed incredible success. He attributed his wealth to “changing the way [his] brain works every ten years or so.” On one of his quests to change his brain, he spent a year studying with Shamans around North and South America. A year studying with Shamans! He spent time studying neurolinguistic-programming (NLP) and another year studying Spanish. He is, undoubtably, one of the most interesting people I have ever met.
Kill the noise
Is a significant portion of your day spent dealing with noise, that is, activities that are not core to what you are trying to achieve? For most of us, the answer is “yes.” Noise comes in many forms, from responding to “urgent” emails, to getting pulled into non-essential meetings, and being constantly pestered by social media notifications on your phone. To allow your creativity to emerge, you must kill as much of the sources of noise in your life.
How do you go about killing noise? There are four things I have observed successful creatives doing to allow for more time to be creative. They prioritise effectively, learn to say “no”, reserve time for creative work, and minimise electronic distractions.
Taken together, the four steps of becoming comfortable with the creative process, developing creative routines and habits, embracing diversity, and killing the noise are mutually reinforcing activities you can take to significantly lift your creative capabilities and capacity. You just need to commit to giving them a go…
30 days of creativity: a challenge to you
Whatever kind of creative you are or aspire to be, committing to developing your creativity is a “no-lose” situation. Now you have learnt about the types of creativity and how you can develop yours, I challenge you to make simple changes in your life for the next month to develop your creative muscles:
- Trial a new daily creative routine or hobby. It could be anything from knitting to reading historical literature to watching TED talks. It could require as little time as five minutes of photography to 30min of yoga to several hours’ binging on history textbooks (your nerdy author’s ideal Sunday…)
- Go outside your comfort zone at least once a week. Talk to strangers, join a local Toastmasters, go somewhere you’ve never been before, read a book that argues something you disagree with
- Give it a go for thirty days and then reflect on whether these two new activities have boosted your creativity
Make it fun and tag a friend or two as a challenge for them to lift their creative game. I will also be committing to the same challenge and will spend at least 30min a day learning the guitar.
Good luck on your creative journey!