How to encourage creativity

How to encourage creativity

January 15, 2018

Creativity is such a buzz word these days, and as always, the internet is full of useful (ahem!) information. Advice is often directed to corporate workspaces and a manager’s responsibility to enable and encourage creativity among her staff. As an entrepreneur, that kind of advice doesn’t apply to my situation. Instead, I’m going to include some of the tips that work for me here.

There are many definitions of creativity. For the purposes of this article, I’m using the term creativity in a generic problem-solving sense. For me, that’s what creativity boils down to: solving problems by finding news ways to express or do something.

Just as art is in the eye of the beholder, the process of creativity itself can be pretty subjective. If you’re a creative person, you might find that getting out of your studio or workspace helps to get your juices flowing. Or you might find that burrowing into your studio and being hands-on in your materials and tools is the best way to come up with new ideas or solutions. The important thing to remember is to find what works for you.

And if you’d like to switch it up and read about how to destroy creativity, try this article here by ThoughtCo.

Keep It Simple

This one is probably the best advice for practically everything. Do you need to have everything “just so” in order to feel creative? Because sometimes that “just so” state just doesn’t come together. (Think young families, for one – good luck getting into your studio, let alone carve out a chunk of time to spend in it.) In this particular case, I’ll use an anecdote to illustrate.

A painter friend of mine has been a professional artist for some time. Recently, she had her first baby. For a while after the baby was born, the artist struggled to find time to invest in her studio the way she had before the baby arrived – and as most new mums know, your routine is completely up-ended After Baby.

She told me that she had to “dumb it down” (aka, keep it simple!) and make sure that she took at least one step every single day. Even if that step was microscopic by comparison to her pre-birth routine – sometimes, she said, she just went into her studio and picked up a paintbrush, then put it down – it helped her feel like she was making the effort and that, in turn, allowed her to feel like she was still in the game. As time went on and she adjusted to her new roles, she was able to devote more time in her studio and devise a new routine that works for both her and her growing family – which, a-ha, is a great example of creativity in itself.

Now, this anecdote obviously applies for a getting-back-to-work-after-baby scenario, but as an artist is by definition a creative person whose creativity is her work, it seems suitable to me.

Keep it Enjoyable

Can you work in a space you don’t like – or even hate? Or with tools that just tick you off – a crappy mouse, or a low-quality paintbrush, or a tippy easel? We can’t always change every aspect of our workspace to suit us, but there are certain things that can really hamper creativity. If nothing else, they can be a distraction – and if you’re distracted, you’re less likely to get into your zone of creativity. For example, I do a lot of my work on a computer. I always have a wireless mouse with me, as I can’t stand using the trackpad on my laptop. When my mouse battery runs down and I have no other option, it is completely frustrating and distracting.

There is an aspect of my own personality that can’t stand cookie-cutter anything, and often just in a knee-jerk way that has no rational explanation. Although I highly endorse looking at what works for other people and not entirely reinventing the wheel, I’m also a firm supporter of using things you like in your workspace or studio. So just because Jane Whatshername’s workspace looks like something out of Martha Stewart doesn’t mean I could work effectively – let alone creatively – in that space.

Like all of us, I have to work within a budget and I’m not about to start knocking down walls or punching new windows wherever I feel like it. But I can compromise by making my workspace as attractive to me as I can. I like to have at least a few oddball bits and pieces around, and I like certain wall colours and not too much stuff hanging on the walls. I also like to have things around me that I enjoy looking at and that help create a calm space within.

It’s also vital to enjoy your tools; if you hate your tools, you’re going to have a hard time freeing up enough head space to get creative with them. They don’t have to be brand new or top of the line, but it sure helps to be something you actually want to use!

Keep it Tidy

I know, I know, some people thrive in chaos. I’m somewhere in the middle – not a neat freak, but I can still find my way through my stuff without having to move other stuff out of the way first.

For myself, I try to keep my workspace and studio clear of most clutter (let’s be real, some clutter is absolutely necessary, and if I’m in the middle of a project tidiness goes straight out the window). However, keeping it tidy *most* of the time helps keep my head clear and in the game. Distractions while working from home are a genuine problem – and housekeeping can be a major distraction. Suddenly half your day is gone because you decided you couldn’t stand the dust bunnies any longer. Whoops!

Pump the Jam

Music is often linked with creativity. Recent studies by Forbes show that listening to music (specifically, “happy” music) can boost your creativity. Apparently, the divergent thinking that’s associated with creativity and problem-solving can be sparked by listening to happy music.

I would amend that finding to suggest that the “happy”ness of the music would be subject more to the listener’s reaction to the music than to the style of music per se. I myself have spent many wonderful hours lost in contemplative music that doesn’t sound particularly “happy”. My husband’s happy place is with loud rock music, the bangier the better. My “happy” music would make him positively cringe, and his own creativity come to a dead stop – and vice versa if I had to listen to his music for long.

And best of all, today’s technology involves bluetooth and earbuds so you can adequately respect your coworker (or husband’s) happy workspace, and you don’t even have to get cables tangled in your hands.

Take Control

It’s all up to you. Don’t let anyone micromanage, or your creativity will fizzle out like wet paper. There’s nothing worse than trying to come up with something new when someone else keeps trying to put boundaries on your creativity – or literally tells you how to do something. Regardless of their own knowledge, intentions or skills, my hackles go up if I feel like someone is pushing into my creative space. And as an innately perverse person, I’m very likely to disregard everything they say while in that space. The exception here is so-called brainstorming sessions – usually a group activity, and which I discuss further on.

Make the Time

If you don’t carve out time in your day for some free creative time, you may find your brain filling up with all the other tasks it needs to complete each day, until next thing you know you’re just going day after day with those basic tasks. As the ThoughtCo article about destroying creativity says:

It’s hard to imagine your doctor putting a notice on their surgery saying “I didn’t feel like dealing with ill people today, so I’m not working.”

Creativity is best considered a skill or muscle which requires practice. Just like physical exercise, some folks do best with scheduled creative time; others do their best thinking on their own or while doing another task. What works best for you? Figure out what that is, and then see the next tip.

Go Outside

Just do it. It’s crazy that I should even have to include a section about this. There are so many articles now (like this, or this) and they all conclude the same thing – GET OUT IN NATURE.

It’s ironic that these days we have to perform scientific studies to see the benefits of being outdoors, and yet folks still don’t always make the time to get out there. Educational development for young children includes a lot of pressure on institutions to create lots of natural play space for children, touting all kinds of emotional, physical and social development skills. Yet us grown-ups don’t seem to realize that it’s key to our own function as well. If you don’t have a dog or another excuse to force you outdoors, it doesn’t have to be complicated (keep it simple!) – a walk around the park, or a hike in the forest, or a walk on the beach can do just the trick.

For myself, some of my best free thinking comes when I’m out for a walk or run; the first 10-15 minutes are usually full of mundane tasks and thoughts, and then my brain starts to relax and come up with other things. As a self-employed mother of young kids, time is always lacking so this is like multi-tasking: exercising, being outside, AND coming up with new ideas. Even on really crazy days when the outing is just to the post office, it can help clear my head.

If you can, try to include the odd long weekend, unplugged and outdoors. There are references to recent studies showing the magic 3-day mark for being unplugged and outside, and the benefits to your brain – and creativity.

Brainstorming

I’m including this here only because many people say they benefit from it. In my opinion, this is hooey that uses the same party line as “role play” (groan). These things keep coming up on corporate task lists – and yes, I know there are studies that support it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for sharing and discussing ideas, and team meetings (especially if they involve walking, or coffee at a local shop, or anything out of the dedicated workspace) but otherwise I think that most employers struggle with employee motivation. If your employees don’t want to be there, orchestrating a “brainstorming session” can set you up for middling outcomes, if not failure.

What I DO think works is making sure you make time to meet with other people in your field of interest. Maybe those are coworkers, maybe not. When you have a group of individuals with similar interests and different knowledge/skillsets, some very interesting conversations can come about. However, I don’t think those conversations can be easily dictated or even scheduled.

So, unless you’re happily ensconced in your artist garret and don’t need outside contact with anyone or anything, do make time to meet with people and have an honest conversation with them. You never know what solutions they might have to your problem, or vice versa.

Need more? Here are some other resources for boosting creativity:

Affordable Ways to Create Creative Workspaces

Here’s one for you corporate creative types:
https://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2012/12/31/6-ideas-to-promote-innovation-in-your-workplace-this-year/#79073dc91fe4

This is a long list, but I think there are some interesting points:
https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/30-things-you-can-do-to-promote-creativity-in-your-classroom/

What brings out your creative juices? If you have some suggestions of your own, please share them in the comments.

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