Working up a creative sweat

Being a communications specialist demands a high level of creativity. We’re called upon to provide insightful analysis and fresh perspectives, to translate the complex into something more every day and to help organisations tell compelling stories. The creative process makes our work challenging but also extremely enjoyable.

But what happens when the creativity runs out? Not just among communications professionals, but a wholesale purging of creativity from life as we know it. Much has been written about the demise of creativity and how impersonal forms of education, standardised testing and societal pressures are driving creativity away.

Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson believes creativity is the crucial 21st Century skill we need to confront the problems associated with more people on the planet than ever before, more strains on limited resources, and rapidly advancing technologies that are transforming cultural values. According to Robinson, the biggest misconceptions are that only a few particularly talented people are creative, or that creativity is only about the arts, or that it’s some kind of crazy lack of self-control. His definition of creativity could not be more straightforward or inclusive: it is a process of having original ideas that have value and constantly looking for new ways of doing things.

Many studies show that children have high levels of creativity at a young age, but fall off the creativity cliff at about the age of nine – a time when kids become more aware of how they’re perceived by others, when they become more interested in conforming and when they develop a fear of failure. This is nothing new. Pablo Picasso famously said “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

The good news is that we can get our creativity back. According to Josh Linkner, New York Times bestselling author of Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity, creativity is like a muscle. We all have the capacity to build muscle mass if we exercise. If we don’t, our muscles atrophy. The same is true with creativity.

Just like going to the gym, we have to use our creativity muscle to improve it.  So here’s a little personal training session I have designed for me and my creativity. My workout might not solve any of the world’s pressing problems, but I think it’ll be fun and make me better at my job. Feel free to give it a go, but be careful, you may work up a creative sweat.

My creativity workout:

  • Allow time for completely random internet journeys that take me to new places to suck in new information just for the hell of it.
  • Meet new people from different walks of life and learn about what they do and their perspective. Uber drivers and sommeliers are a good start.
  • Actively seek divergent views or opinions on work I am doing by talking to people outside my normal peer group.
  • Draw more pictures and diagrams that explain problems and issues and use visuals to aid discussion and collaboration.
  • Create a time every day when I shut out the world. Sit quietly, declutter my head, turn off the phone, turn off the radio, don’t look at the newspaper, and just think about the problem I am trying to solve. Just think.
  • Workshop it with the kids. My kids have fantastic ideas – the last big one was how to build a trap for the tooth fairy. I need a bit of their magic dust in my thinking process. After all, it was Albert Einstein who said that to stimulate creativity, you need to develop a child-like inclination for play.

So give it a go – you never know what you might catch in your own creativity trap.