If you want to get anywhere in life creative thinking skills are essential. They’re not an optional extra.
Creativity drives all progress in the world.
Enjoying that iPhone in front of you?
That meal your friend cooked for you the other week?
That new class at your gym?
The half-hour you just spent on Tinder?
That new piece of software on your computer that makes the tasks you do every day so much easier?
Or the weekend of your life you just lost to Netflix?
Creativity is to thank for all of them.
Most of us tend to think of creative thinking skills purely as an attribute that’s useful for those creating great works of art or music and, therefore, unless we work in a specifically creative job, we tend to forget about them and dismiss them as unimportant to us.
I did, even though I worked in advertising for years.
I still very much remembered the importance of creativity in terms of ideas for ad campaigns, but since I wasn’t one of the people who actually thought up the ideas for the advertising campaigns I forgot that it was also important, in both my job and life, for me to practice and use creative thinking skills.
I slipped into the trap that most do of thinking creativity wasn’t relevant to me since I wasn’t trying to create great works of art, think of the ideas for ad campaigns or write music etc.
Those results of creativity weren’t relevant to my work or my life.
But what I overlooked is that creativity doesn’t only result in those things.
Creative thinking skills are the cause of anything and everything new and different in our lives.
They result in all the things in the first paragraph of this post and so many more.
The Oxford dictionary definition of creativity is:
“The use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.”
Note the use of “especially” rather than “only”. Creativity is not just reserved for the creation of artistic work. At its core, creativity is simply:
“The use of the imagination or original ideas.”
Couldn’t everything be improved by the use of imagination or original ideas? Wouldn’t more use of imagination and original ideas make both the work we do and our lives so much better and more interesting?
If, for example at work, you thought about ways a process could be improved to make it faster, instead of just following it, wouldn’t coming up with that idea make you better at your job and help your career?
As Brett Wilson, from Dragons’ Den in Canada, said:
“No matter what stage you’re at in your career or what industry you work in, everyone around you can benefit from new ideas. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box- just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be better.”
As horribly clichéd as the phrase “thinking outside the box” is in business it is incredibly important becuase what people mean when they say that is simply “be creative”.
Anyone can go into work and repeat tasks like a mindless robot. But having new ideas and solving problems is what will set you apart from the rest and make you invaluable and irreplaceable.
And this goes for our lives outside of work too. We can make everything we do better and more interesting if we just use a little more imagination as we go about our daily lives.
As Richard Findlay, Chair of Creative Scotland, put it:
“Being creative..changes us. It can inspire us to acquire new skills, to contribute to our society in new and different ways. It also helps us think differently, to be flexible, more imaginative; to problem solve and to bring creativity into our working as well as our personal lives. It helps to enrich the lives of others around us.”
It’s only in the last couple of years that I remembered the importance of creativity again and that it is actually what drives everything that’s interesting and of value in the world.
Going from a standing start of not having focused on being creative for years (or possibly since you were a child) to trying to build the natural inclination up in yourself again can be a daunting challenge so here are my top tips on how to do it. If you start these behaviours and keep going with them you’ll feel the creativity surging through you again within days.
And the great thing is the more you practice these behaviours the more curious they will make you about the world around you in general which will feed your creativity even more.
We are all creative. Some of us just temporarily forgot why and how to do be creative.
How To Improve Your Creative Thinking Skills
1. Ask “Why?” – And ask it constantly. Like children do.
Maybe don’t do this out loud all the time otherwise you’re likely to annoy people but the power of internally asking this question should not be underestimated. If you ask “why” about most things you do and see you’ll soon realise there isn’t always a good answer to why things are done a certain way a lot of the time, leading you to think of new and better ways of doing them.
N.B. It is good to ask this question out loud at times as well. This question shouldn’t just be reserved for your internal dialogue however I recommend caution in the frequency with which this is done lest you end up coming off sounding like a cantankerous arse (as anyone who overuses this question, over the age of 10, will).
2. Learn From Those Smarter Than You
Read and listen to things by people who are smarter than you. I read books, watch videos and listen to podcasts about anything and everything. They expand my thinking about the world and get my brain going. If you’re feeling at a loss for creative inspiration, read or listen to something by someone else on a topic that interests you. This will get your thoughts going.
Suggestions to get you started:
- Books – have a look at my list of books worth checking out at the bottom of this page (if you would like more suggestions just post a comment and I will happily supply some). I also recommend a lot of books on writing here, if that’s what’s of interest to you.
- Videos – TED talks are great for creative inspiration and expanding your thinking. Go onto the website and just have a browse through until you see something that takes your fancy.
- Podcasts – I’d thoroughly recommend starting with the series by Tim Ferriss since he interviews experts from a huge range of fields to find out how they got to where they are in each episode leading to in-depth content on a really broad range of topics.
3. Listen To Your Internal Thoughts
Once you’ve done 1 and 2 you’ll find that you have so many more thoughts flying around your brain. We all have an internal dialogue when going about our daily lives and you’ll have just made yours much more interesting by following steps 1 and 2 so listen to what’s going on in it. And as the thoughts come and go, expand on the ones that you think are interesting and explore them.
“Creativity is just connecting things. Creative people … are able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”
You may find once you’ve done the above you do want to use this newfound creativity in the creation of artistic work, whether as a hobby or something more.
If that is the case, see below for some easy steps to follow to get the process started each time.
3 Easy Steps To Kick-Start The Creative Thinking Process
1. Create Everywhere
You don’t have to be sitting down focusing on the creation of the artistic thing you would like to produce to start creating it. As you carry out the third step of nurturing your creative thinking above (listening to your internal thoughts) you can start to create the artistic works you would like to produce at the same time.
If it’s writing you’re interested in, start writing the articles or books in your head as you go about your daily life. There’s a lot less pressure when you think out what you would like to say or create in your head first rather than committing it to paper straight away. If you do this consistently, you’ll get to the stage where when you sit down to write or paint the words or images will just come flooding out of you since you’ve already created them in your head*.
I wrote almost the whole of my first book in my head before typing any of it out. Sure I then had to do a lot of research and editing etc., that was by no means the end of it, but I’d completed most of the idea generation before I even sat down to write.
Find some music that inspires but doesn’t distract you. My favourite music to listen to when writing currently is from the bands Nightmares on Wax, Blue in Green and Klingande. These are my favourites as there aren’t too many words in the music to distract me but the melody keeps me going.
As I listen to this every time I write just putting it on now almost acts as a trigger in my brain to get my thoughts going and start me writing. When it comes to painting, whether there are a lot of words in the music is potentially less important so try to pick something that matches the mood of what you’re trying to create.
And finally, but most importantly,
3. Just Start
Whether it’s writing, painting or any other creative pursuit, just start and start now. The hardest part of creativity when you’re trying to use it to produce artist work is the blank space that’s sitting in front of you before you begin. So just begin. Get rid of that blank page or canvas. As soon as you start it will get so much easier, I promise you.
I do this when writing. I always just start rather than sitting there torturing myself over the blank page and how I will begin. I start writing whatever’s in my head, even if I think it’s rubbish to start with because when you write your thoughts clarify so I start writing and don’t stop until they do.
And then I go back and amend what I wrote at the start to ensure it’s not total gibberish (well, I make my best attempt at least).
If you don’t start you’ll never get anywhere.
As writer Melodie Ramone put it when talking about writing, but this advice would apply to any creative pursuit:
“Write it. Just write it. Write it on receipts in the car while you wait for your kid to finish their piano lessons, scribble on napkins at lunch with friends. Type on crappy typewriters or borrow computers if you have to. Fill notebooks with ink. Write inside your head while you’re in traffic and when you’re sitting in the doctor’s office. Be brave. Just write.”
If you have any additional tips on nurturing creativity or getting the process started for producing creative work, please leave them in the comments section below.
As Einstein said:
“Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.”
So please do pass along any tips you have too. We are all better and smarter when we learn from each other.
And, in case you ever find yourself forgetting the value of creative thinking skills just remember this Robin Williams quote which sums it up perfectly:
“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”
*As examples of “artistic work” I have specifically referred to writing and painting here since these are the areas I know the most about. There are huge reams of other types of “artistic work” too which this advice is equally applicable to, therefore, please don’t think this isn’t applicable to you if your interests lie outside of writing and painting.
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