Creativity is like a muscle. It must be stretched, challenged, and occasionally pushed past its comfort zone.
In a previous column, I shared nine ways you can become more creative in just 10 minutes. I’ve also shared four must-watch TED talks on creativity in business.
Now it’s time to stretch your creative muscles again.
Here are nine ways you can dramatically improve your creativity.
1. Learn Through Collaboration
Curiosity will lead you to creativity.
Andrew Ng, formerly of Google and now of Baidu, is one who doesn’t believe innovation is due to unpredictable flashes of genius. Rather, he said you can become more creative and innovative systematically.
“In my own life, I found that whenever I wasn’t sure what to do next, I would go and learn a lot, read a lot, talk to experts. I don’t know how the human brain works but it’s almost magical: when you read enough or talk to enough experts, when you have enough inputs, new ideas start appearing.”
Indeed, collaborating with and learning from others may be just what you need to give your creativity a boost.
2. Do Something You Love
Stuck for ideas? Not sure what to do? Your life needs some balance to ensure your creativity doesn’t suffer.
In a letter to his son, Albert Einstein provided a great bit of fatherly insight when addressing his son’s interest in playing the piano that is applicable to losing yourself in the creative process: do something that pleases you.
“That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes,” Einstein wrote. “I am sometimes so wrapped up in my work that I forget about the noon meal.”
Love and creativity are intertwined. A hobby, such as playing an instrument, running, or collecting memorabilia, can help you relax and fight stress while giving your creativity a boost.
3. Find Inspiration From Other Industries
Your next idea won’t come from copying what a competitor has already done. So look for innovation in different industries and niches.
Research what businesses are dominating. Why
What businesses are you most loyal to? Why?
How can you transfer what worked for businesses outside your industry to your own market? Maybe you can improve on these ideas.
Taking inspiration from other industries is a great way to boost your own creativity.
4. Unplug (Or Just Do Nothing)
As Alan Cohen once wrote, “There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.”
Sometimes your best ideas will come when you’re not wracking your brain trying to come up with the next great idea.
It could be while you’re sleeping. A good night of rest will help you be more productive and creative.
It could be while your mind wanders in the shower that you get a great idea.
Maybe your next innovative idea will come while you’re driving, exercising, hiking, shopping, sitting on an airplane, or watching the sunset.
If your creativity is lacking, unplug. Relax. And let your brain do its magic.
The average person sits between 7 and 15 hours every day.
That’s terrible for your health and your mood, which means it can be terrible for your creativity.
Stanford research has indicated that walking improves creative thinking. In a follow-up study, HBR found that people who take part in walking meetings are more creative and engaged.
Priceline Group CEO Darren Huston, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Western Union Co. CEO Hikmet Ersek, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, and scores of other business leaders and entrepreneurs regularly have walking meetings.
While walking during work won’t solve our national sitting crisis, it’s a step in the right direction.
6. Set the Right Mood
A lack of ideas or being unable to solve a problem can be extremely frustrating.
Unless you value complete silence, music can be the thing to give your mood, and your creativity, a boost.
Steve Jobs used music to change his moods and keep himself creative.
It could work for you, too.
7. Use the Six Thinking Hats Technique
Sometimes you just need to start over. Forget everything and begin anew with a blank slate — break it down using six different colored “thinking hats”.
Using this process could help you look at things in a different way. It gives you the option to look at things in a “just the facts” manner (white hat); where things could go wrong (black hat); and possibilities, alternatives, and new ideas (green hat), for example.
By looking at a problem from several unique perspectives may be just what you need to find a solution.
8. Ask For Advice or Feedback
Sometimes you’re too close to a problem to figure out a creative solution all by yourself.
Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. Ask for help and advice from friends, peers, and people from your personal network that you trust and respect. Every person has a unique skill set, experience, and knowledge.
A fresh outside perspective, or three, or five, may be just what you need.
Even if you don’t use their advice, it may spark some new, creative thinking that will get you where you need to go.
9. Pick a Terrible Idea
Step away from whatever idea you’re stuck on for a few minutes.
What’s the most useless idea you can imagine? Make a list of the worst ideas you can think up.
Now the real challenge to stretch your creativity: what are the best features of these terrible idea
Perhaps looking at these terrible ideas will spark something creative that you can transfer over to your excellent idea.
Bonus Ideas to Stimulate Your Creativity
Check out this infographic for some more ways to get your creative juices flowing.