Learning to be creative wasn’t a something I simply wanted to learn. I had become creative in order to save my job…
The Danger Of School Success
When I was in school success came easy. I listened to my teacher, did my homework and felt good inside when I saw my grades. Maybe you knew a kid like me in your school. Many kids resented my follow-the-rules and get good grades attitude, but if they knew where that attitude and behaviour would lead me, they would have pitied me instead.
My Struggles In The Real-World (not knowing how to be more creative)
Life couldn’t be more different from school. The office and the classroom are practically two different planets. And in preparing myself for the classroom, I wasn’t ready for the cubicle.
When I began working in an office, as a financial analyst (read glorified intern) for a small investment firm, I was out of my element. I would follow the company processes only to have my manager to tell me they were out of date. I would be attentive to prospective clients, only for them to not sign-up. The be good and follow the rules model from school wasn’t working. It was as if the rules had been flipped on their heads. In a sense, they were.
The Difference Between Classrooms And Careers
School is a controlled environment. The curriculum doesn’t change, and the teacher can teach what will be on the test. If you follow the rules, you win. It’s simple.
But in the real world, the environment is dynamic and constantly changing. What was true today, may not be true tomorrow. What worked yesterday, may not work today. The real-world is complex.
Straightforward analytical thinking is a sure path to success in school. Do the readings, follow the steps and you’re set. But that’s not what’s valued in the workforce. That’s not how winners are made.
Creativity Rescued Me
Thankfully, a mentor introduced me to the importance of applying creativity in the workforce. It turned my career around. At the end of my first six months, I was struggling. But by the end of 18 months, I had been promoted and landed three new clients (which came with a small bonus).
This post shares those insights my mentor taught me, so you can apply them in your own working lives. And if you’re still in school, you’ll know that following the rules isn’t the only skill you need to be learning.
But before we get to my creativity secrets, let’s first establish exactly what creativity is, and whether you can learn how to be more creative.
What Actually Is Creativity?
We all have an intuitive idea of creativity. We’re standing in our shower when all of a sudden an idea hits us. The light bulb goes off. We know how creativity feels, but what’s going on?
Essentially, creativity is when we take multiple things we understand and use our imagination to merge them in a new way. That’s inventiveness. That’s how new ideas are born.
Can Creativity Be Learned?
Absolutely. School and University were excellent at teaching me to be analytical. In part that was because my wiring was naturally suited to be that way. I have no doubt that at the end of my final semester at University I wasn’t the least bit creative. After all, I’d just graduated with a double degree in two very uncreative fields; economics and finance.
Yet by the end of 18 months in my first job, I was unquestionably creative. I was solving difficult problems that had no guidelines, like how to attract clients that were wealthy non-English speaking people who had recently moved to Australia. Trust me, there is no manual for that (I checked).
I discovered first hand that creativity can be learned. But this idea is reinforced by Tina Seelig, who is the director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. In Business News Daily she said, “Everyone can increase his or her creativity, just as everyone can increase his or her musical or athletic ability, with appropriate training and focused practice. We can all learn tools and techniques that enhance creativity, and build environments that foster innovation.”
My Secrets: How To Be More Creative
Becoming more creative doesn’t happen by accident, but there are three practices that help your build the skill of creativity:
1. Ask Questions
At the core of creativity, is seeing things with a different perspective. You don’t only want to see things as they are, you want to see them as they could be. Asking questions is the key to finding new perspectives.
When you ask yourself a question or have a mentor ask you questions, you retrieve relevant information from your memory. The information and ideas were already there, but it’s the question that brings it to your front of mind.
So whenever you want to think about a situation or problem with creativity, you want to bring different information to the top of your mind. And to do that, you need to ask yourself different questions.
Tim Ferriss has some questions that are great at evoking creative answers, which you can ask yourself to draw out your own creativity. Here are my five favorites:
1. If I could only work 2 hours per week on my business, what would I do?
2. What’s the least crowded channel?
3. What if I could only subtract to solve problems?
4. Am I hunting antelope or field mice?
5. What would it look like if it were easy?
2. Internalize Your Knowledge
To have a deep understanding of something, you can’t read about it once and be done. You must understand it from every possible angle—only then will you find yet another angle, a new idea.
Explaining concepts is an excellent way to practice this skill. When you read something, it’s passive, when you explain something, you’re actively engaging with the concept which helps you embed the understanding in your mind.
If you want to really understand this skill, read this post; The Ultimate Way to Learn Anything – Stop Passively Consuming Information!
3. Be Open
When you’re closed minded, you throw away new ideas before you fully understand or review them. Being more open is the practice of considering ideas you would usually ignore, questioning your common held beliefs, and exposing yourself to other people’s opinions and ideas—which is especially valuable if those people are very different from yourself.
Another way to practice being open is to try new things. The more things you try, the more ideas you are exposing yourself too. Some places to start are reading new books, picking up some new hobbies, and reading different blog posts.
25 Creativity Quotes To Get You Inspired
Now you know the importance of creativity, and you know how to build your creativity skills. Here’re some inspiring quotes to help push you into action:
1. “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club” — Jack London
2. “If you have ideas but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative.” — Unknown
3. “Creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality.” — Unknown
4. “Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” — Pablo Picasso
5. “If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” — Vincent Van Gogh
6. “Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.” — Salvador Dali
7. “Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.” — Leo Burnett
8. “Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last, you create what you will.” — George Bernard Shaw
9. “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” — Kurt Vonnegut
10. “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” ― Henry Thomas Buckle
11. “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” ― Albert Einstein
12. “I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.” ― Albert Einstein
13. “Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.” — Ray Bradbury
14. “To be creative means to be in love with life. You can be creative only if you love life enough that you want to enhance its beauty, you want to bring a little more music to it, a little more poetry to it, a little more dance to it.” ― Osho
15. “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not’?” –— George Bernard Shaw
16. “Creativity takes courage. ” ― Henri Matisse
17. “Creativity is contagious, pass it on.” – Albert Einstein
18. “Originality is nothing but judicious imitation.” — Voltaire
19. “An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.” ― Oscar Wilde
20. “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” ― Pablo Picasso
21. “The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.” ― Pablo Picasso
22. “You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created.” ― Albert Einstein
23. “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
24. “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche
25. “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, the just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.” – Steve Jobs
Creativity is an essential to succeeding in today’s business environment and in life. But since school doesn’t teach us the skill of creativity, we must ensure we’re building it ourselves.
That’s a good thing. When we lack something, it’s up to us to fix. There is no point lamenting on our past education or problems. We must focus on what we can control.
So ask questions, internalize your knowledge and expose yourself to new ideas and new experiences. Do that and you are well on your way to up-skilling your creativity and commanding a stronger presence in business and life.