Being Creative: Are You or Aren’t You?

Jade McCudden

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try” Dr Seuss.

Creativity: What is it? Who has it? Can you ‘get it’? And what does it mean for those in the world of communications?

Over the years there have been many past and modern figures who have offered insights into the concept of creativity. Although a difficult concept to pin a single definition to, Tim Bills and Chris Genasi in their book Creative Business (2003) sum it up well, stating creativity is:

“The capacity to challenge the existing order of things, by deliberately forcing ourselves out of our usual way of thinking, to see the status quo from a new and enlightened perspective, to form new ideas and find practical ways to implement change in light of fresh insights.”

With this in mind, when you hear the word creative, who do you think of: an artist, painter, graphic designer, architect, musician? The role of creativity, however, does not limit itself to those in the arts. Jan Phillips of The Huffington Post argues:

“The world is not divided into two groups of the creative and the uncreative. If there’s a distinction, it’s between those who are creatively productive and those with unexpressed potential…Each of us, to varying degrees, is intrinsically motivated to create, to be original and to solve challenging problems. The question to ask is not, ‘Am I creative?’ but rather, ‘What inspires me to create?‘” 

For those in the communications industry who work to deliver creative campaigns, the challenge is to deliver fresh, differentiating ideas that will ultimately meet and deliver on business objectives.

So what are some basic tips and tricks to open one’s mind and inspire creative thinking? We asked communications expert and global facilitator Andy Eklund (@andyeklund), author of blog Creative Streak, for his favourite ways to spark creativity.

1. Create light bulbs every day. Creativity isn’t a skill, it’s a behaviour. Hemingway demanded that writers write every day. Musicians of all sorts have spoken on how they force themselves to write music, every day. It’s not the outcome that’s important: it’s the practice and discipline. Start small. Keep a diary. Write a visual journal. Make an environment for yourself that encourages your creativity. Find a second – or third, or fourth – answer to any problem you face. Think of it as mental calisthenics.

2. Get a point. The key to creativity is clarity and authenticity. What is your goal (clarity), and why’s it important to you (authenticity)? Write down a problem statement about your creative challenge in the form a question. It begins with: “How can I …?” Once you have your first question, re-write 7-8 times until you find a question that’s provocative and stimulates your imagination.

3. Clear the trash out of your head.As much as 90% of your day is spent in the Closed Mind. Responding to the day’s tasks. Reacting to other’s requests.  Organising, sorting, prioritising and deciding. They’re all retroactive thinking, and worse, it fills your mind up with debris more relevant to the past than the future. Open Mind is forward thinking, pro-active and constructive. Call it daydreaming if you like, but considered, thoughtful and focused thinking on future problems is how creativity begins.

4. Stop talking to yourself. Self-talk – a powerful but not very objective voice in the back of your head – speaks to you all day long. On one hand, it gives you balance and context, but more often than not, it’s critical and deflective. At its worst, it tells you your ideas aren’t good enough, it assumes the pre-judgment of others, and destroys any idea before it has a chance for improvement. Remember: your negative voice is just one voice, not the voice.

5. Visit alien cultures. If you have a cat or dog, you know they’ll stop drinking from their water dish if the water gets too stagnant. Strange as it may sound, your brain easily turns into a stagnant pool of water. To be creative, it needs constant refreshment. Absorb as much as you can from the life that swirls around you. Act like an alien. Soak up anything foreign to you – fashion, sport, art, architecture, music, movies – particularly things or events which you’d not immediately respond to. You’ll never know when something might spark an idea.

6. Be a creative cheerleader. Sad but true, it’s unlikely that every single person will eventually turn into a creative zealot with ideas spewing out on a regular basis. But these people – which can be any of us, depending upon our mood – still have a creative duty. We must be creative cheerleaders. Champion ideas around you, at work and in your community. Recognize and allow others to run full-tilt with their ideas, even if it might not be immediately apparent, cost-effective or timely. Improve ideas without killing the passion. To suppress ideas in others is as bad as suppressing ideas in yourself.

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