An IBM study once found that CEOs worldwide believe creativity to be the number one attribute a leader must possess, above even integrity and vision. Outside the corporate world, this attribute is even more clearly a necessity: Creating or reinventing your business, your retirement, your relationships—your world—all require creativity, one of the essential attributes of a visionary.
As I discuss in another post, creativity is in all of us. We simply need to learn how to tap it and develop it. In that sense, creativity can be seen as a skill. So what can you do to start developing this skill? The ways to inspire your creative self, or kick start an idle creative process, are truly limited only by your imagination, but here are a few tried-and-true methods:
Follow your own interests, regardless of whether others tell you they are impractical, a waste of time, or irrelevant. Bridgette Shannon, of Corning, would have never helped develop the honeycomb material for catalytic converters that neutralizes toxic exhaust compounds if she had listened to others telling her not to bother with taking chemistry in school, a class she found to be an inspiring source of creativity. And if Steve Jobs hadn’t followed his interest in calligraphy, he never would have reimagined typefaces for the personal computer
Play. Make time in your life and in your work to simply play. Reshma Shetty, cofounder of Ginkgo BioWorks, and her colleagues have a Lego model of a DNA helix in their office. Throughout the day, they play with the model, which fuels their creativity in biological engineering, such as customizing genes in bacteria to create a fuel—or even to smell like a banana.
Redefine “creativity.” Debra Sandler, chief consumer officer of Mars, recalled, “When I was younger, I thought, I’m not an artist. I’m not creative. But I’ve discovered my creativity is that I can tell what might move consumers,” including the reimagining of Mars brands, such as the M&M’s pretzel chocolate candies that have boosted sales even in the midst of the Great Recession.
Reimagine past interests. Michelle Khine loved Shrinky Dinks as a child. In her research at the University of California, when they didn’t have the equipment to make tiny chips for experiments and medical diagnostics, she reached back into her childhood and reimagined her beloved toy, using Shrinky Dinks to create molds for the chips, a remarkably affordable solution to creating microdevices that became the basis for the company she cofounded, Shrink Nanotechnologies.
Seek out novelty. Even if you already have outlets for expressing and inspiring your creativity, you can boost your innovative thinking by trying new things, especially something you’d never ordinarily try. Similarly, seek out new groups of people to broaden your perspective and inspire new ways of thinking.
Feed your brain, body, and soul. Creativity requires fuel and raw materials to do its work. Read more, get out more, and get involved in the world around you, but also give your body and soul time to rest and reflect—go for a walk in nature, meditate, start a journal, do art, play music, dance . . . make more time to get together with friends for no purpose other than to talk or sit in silence together . . . or hang out with your kids or, like me, your grandkids, to re-engage with your childlike innocence, curiosity, joy, and creativity.
Perhaps most important, don’t just read about creativity and then do nothing to fuel that fire. Commit to trying at least one thing on this list today, and another tomorrow, and so on. The beauty of creativity is that it tends to take on a life of its own, fueling itself and leading you toward unexpected realizations and profound shifts in direction. All you need to do today is provide that first spark.
What will you commit to doing today to fuel your creativity?