Harnessing Creativity for Innovation
Patrick Nelson, November 26, 2018
Growing up, I never considered myself a creative person. I associated creativity with someone who was an artist or musician. My artistic and musical abilities were limited to rudimentary stick figures and learning how to play the recorder in 6th grade.
When I served in the Army, I learned that the ability to be creative was not exclusive to artists or musicians; it was vitally important to be able to influence outcomes and inspire others. We were taught that creativity was our ability to think differently and develop solutions that transformed traditional ideas. For example, when we lacked the necessary armor on our vehicles, we improvised by utilizing spare parts from our body armor to provide our vehicle with more protection.
In today’s business environment, creativity is more important than ever because businesses must be able to adapt to an ever-changing landscape that requires innovation and flexibility. The lifecycle of many products and services is much shorter than it used to be. Remember Blockbuster Video? Many of us have fond memories of renting movies there but their lack of creativity and innovation caused them to be left in the dust by the likes of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. Without creative leaders, businesses are destined for mediocrity at best and extinction at worst.
Just like you would practice your golf swing to become a better golfer, science has shown us the importance of exercising our brain to become more creative. A study on identical twins by George Land in 1968 found that as we get older, we learn noncreative behavior that decreases our creativity. To combat that, we need to actively exercise our creative brain.
Here are some things you can do to help spur your creative side:
- Get away from your desk. Go for a walk, ride a bike. Contrary to popular belief, studies have shown that we think more creatively when we are distracted, such as when exercising. This is due to increased dopamine levels in our brain and the distraction factor allow us to stop ruminating on ineffective solutions.
- Break your routine. Do you stop at the same coffee shop every morning or sit in the same seat on the metro every day? Changing your routine can help provide you with different perspectives and expose you to different people.
- Collaborate with others. Not only does this help bring more ideas to the table, but it also allows you the opportunity to inspire creative thoughts in others.
- Make some noise. In this article titled “Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition,” researchers discovered that mild levels of ambient noise led to more creativity in individuals by activating our abstract cognition.
- Play with toys. Believe it or not, many creative design companies encourage their employees to have toys at their desks. I found the value in this first-hand through experiencing the impact playing with playdough had on my creative process during a recent executive education course.
My artistic skills have not changed much from elementary school as I am still limited to stick figures, however, my capacity to think creatively has. As a leader, start thinking of ways you can be more creative in your role and try out some of the tips above.