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  • Writer's pictureBetsy Storm

Top 10 Creativity Tips

Updated: Apr 29, 2020

No matter what you’re trying to accomplish (writing, solving a financial problem, calming a wailing toddler), doing it creatively enlivens the task. When you conjure a creative mindset, you can often focus more clearly and thereby solve problems with fresh vision.

But we often become so wrapped up in our work that we don’t pause to sit back, put our feet up (at least mentally), scratch our heads and ask, “Hey, is there a better way to accomplish this goal?”

As a freelance writer, content marketer, and public relations professional, I'm always seeking to access as much creativity as I can. It's much like creating a new fitness plan from time to time to maximize the benefits and jumpstart my wellness goals.

Richard Restak, a Washington, D.C.-based neurologist, believes creativity is critical to solving problems in every aspect of life. The author of Think Smart says creativity helps us achieve our personal bests in everything from solving knotty work challenges to rearranging medicine cabinets. The good news is, contrary to what many people believe, one’s creativity quotient isn’t fixed; it can be strengthened like a muscle. Just as people learn techniques to improve their memories, they can master methods to become more creative.

Here are 10 tips to get you started:

1) Be curious about ... everything

Revive your sense of curiosity. Never stop the joy of discovery. Try new experiences — anything from an exotic cuisine to paddle boarding. Make it a point to meet new and different types of people. These activities all spark our creative souls. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. In other words, be like a child— fearless, in the moment, and free.

2) Embrace the great outdoors:

Says artist and teacher Tara Leaver: “Get outside into nature — balcony, garden, park, beach, garden center, anywhere that has some nature in it! Bonus points for being able to go barefoot and meander about allowing new ideas space to come in.”

Research validates Leaver’s urging. There’s abundant evidence that the human mind thrives when people make time to get away from it all. A 2012 research project conducted at the University of Kansas found that people from all walks of life show startling cognitive improvement — for instance, a 50 percent boost in creativity — after living for a few days steeped in nature.

Researcher Ruth Ann Atchley said the “soft fascination” of the natural world appears to refresh the human mind, offering refuge from the overstimulation of modern life.

3) Try the 30 Circles Test

Developed decades ago by Bob McKim, a Stanford creativity researcher, the Thirty Circles Test pushes people to test their creativity by turning circles into recognizable objects in a very short period of time.

Here’s how it works: Draw 30 circles on a piece of paper. Take one minute (Note: Some sources suggested three minutes, which seems more reasonable to me) to transform as many of these circles as possible into recognizable objects. For example, one circle could become a cookie, another a clock, another a pie. In this exercise, quantity is more important than quality. Its not about perfection, it’s about ideas and letting one’s imagination roam. Give yourself three minutes to complete the exercise. Thirty Circles is an effective tool for developing idea fluency and changing your point of view.

For more ideas and exercises to enhance creativity through playfulness, check out the TED talk by Tim Brown.

4. Welcome silence

From songwriter and entrepreneur Christine Kane: “Light a few candles after dark and just sit. Don’t meditate if you don’t want to. Just sit quietly and listen. Watch the candles. Allow for more silence in your life.

“We are a noisy people. I hear people say they can’t stand silence. But it is in silence where we can hear the voice of our creativity. Maybe not at first. But it will come. Drive with no music on. Make dinner in silence. Pay attention to your hands as you slice the veggies. Just be quiet.”

5. Think like a traveler

“Stop being oblivious to your surroundings and instead try to see things as if you’ve just landed in that spot and are seeing things for the first time,” advises a blog post from Quick Base, a company that manages data and automates process to enhance productivity.

Titled "Eight Way to Unleash Your Creativity and Find Innovative ideas," the post continues: “Expose yourself to new situations or information. Listen to a TED talk, read information from other industries, and try to experience new things that may spark an idea. For example, the head of a London hospital was so impressed with the precision of a Formula One pit crew he watched on television during a race that he asked them to help train hospital staff members to improve chaotic patient handoffs from surgery to the intensive care unit.”

6. Question assumptions about the nature of your work

Words of wisdom from Lauren Brandt Schloss, executive director of the Usdan Summer Camp for the Arts (as shared in this Forbes blog post): “If we feel stuck on something, we should ask ourselves, ‘What are our assumptions about the situation and does it really have to be that way?’ It’s often our assumptions about what must be standard that can be a barrier to creative problem-solving. We wouldn’t have industry disruptors like Uber or Netflix if we didn’t push back on the status quo. So if you’re looking to do something different, stop taking for granted the things that have to be true.”

“Everyone is creative,” says Schloss. “We’re all born creative, but sometimes certain conditions or experiences reduce our creativity over time. But I think it’s just lying dormant.”

7. Overcome fear of failure

This nugget from the Know Thyself blog is often repeated, no doubt because it’s so true: “In order to become more creative and innovative, you need to keep trying and

failing. Creativity is all about doing things wrong until you come across the right thing. If you fear failure, or if you fear taking risks, then you will always be stuck in your comfort zone and you will never become creative.”

8. Read poetry aloud

The sound of someone reading poetry is not only a thing of beauty. It can also introduce the listener to unexpected ideas, teach new vocabulary, and transport the listener to another place and time. With all its conciseness, poetry makes one's world a little bigger.

9. Role-play with abandon

“Role-playing can help you develop new solutions to existing problems by putting yourself in the shoes of a client or customer,” advises Larry Kim, CEO of Mobile Monkey.

“Even if you've already made efforts to enter the client's mindset, physically role-playing situations with co-workers can generate powerful generate powerful revelations and project solutions.,” says Kim. “As children, role-playing is how our imaginations thrived, from baking mud pies and playing house to fighting off baddies and exploring the jungles in our own backyards. It's time to bring back the power of play.”

10. Read a book

Creativity is a topic that is constantly being reinvented. Here are 10 favorite titles, according to Goodreads:

1. "The Artist's Way" (Julia Cameron)

2. "Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Optimal Experience" (Mihaly Csikszentmihaly)

3. "The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles"

(Stephen Pressfield)

4. "Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration" (Ed Catmull)

5. "The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life" (Twyla Tharp)

6. “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention” (Mihaly Csikszentmihaly)

7. “A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative” (Roger von Oech)

8. “On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft “(Stephen King)

9. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” (Daniel Kahneman)

10. “Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques” (Austin Kleon)

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