You are far likelier to have a creative breakthrough cleaning your house than watching TV.
Journalist, Digital Media Consultant and Investor
5 min read
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Creativity is perhaps the most important attribute for successful entrepreneurs to possess and cultivate. After all, creativity powers innovation, establishes new perspectives and solutions to old problems, and empowers business leaders to craft a bold vision for their companies and pursue it vigilantly.
The funny thing about creativity is that the more you use it, the more you have. It’s not a finite resource that you run out of. Rather, it’s more like a muscle you need to exercise. And when you work that muscle regularly, it becomes stronger and more productive. Creativity is all about forming new, unique and useful connections, and the more you use, the more you have.
Yet it’s all too easy to slide into a creativity swamp of sorts, stagnant and sluggish. Creative power, as with any kind of intelligence or energy, will ebb and flow over time. When your creativity has apparently packed up and left on vacation, try the following exercises and approaches to light the fires and bring creative thinking back to your work.
1. Think analog.
Our modern devices can keep us entertained and diverted for hours. That sounds great until you realize that the very act of willingly handing over our undivided attention to those focus-pulling activities hampers creative thinking. Research shows that when we let ourselves engage in rote, routine tasks that require little executive function, the result is that our minds are free to wander and we end up increasing our creative thought processes.
Whenever you can, therefore, it’s a great idea to unplug from the electronics and go analog. Engage in household chores in a mindful manner. For example, doing dishes by hand, ironing, or anything that requires repetitive movements and little intellectual analysis can free your mind to take those flights of fancy that result in heightened creativity.
2. Use your hands.
Creative thinking takes place primarily in the brain. When you practice a skill that requires intense hand-eye coordination, it seems to help your neurological network stretch and re-energize.
Take up a visual art form, even if you think you’re terrible at it. Painting with watercolors, sketching, sculpting, pottery, knitting, even doodling — anything that uses your hands helps you create new neural connections and triggers more creative leaps will help you regain your own powers of innovation.
3. Appreciate creativity in others.
Fill the creative well by taking in other people’s creative works. Julia Cameron, the well-known creativity expert and author of The Artist’s Way, suggests doing this weekly and calls it the “Artist’s Date.” Go see a movie at an indie arthouse cinema you’d otherwise never see. Take in an exhibit at a museum you’ve never been to. Read a novel if you usually read nonfiction business titles (or vice-versa). Take a sketchbook and pencils to a park and draw what you see.
Another way to put this tip into practice is to make a point to look for other people’s creative decision-making skills. The way someone handles a problematic coworker in the office, for example, or a new business partnership announcement in your local newspaper that you’d never have predicted can give you lots of creative food for thought.
4. Meditate regularly.
Whether you practice formal meditation or simply routinely carve out “executive time” for yourself to brainstorm, think and dream, it’s important for busy entrepreneurs to power down on a consistent basis if you want to keep your powers of creativity in optimal form.
However, it’s also crucial to note that not every type of meditation is necessarily equal when it comes to stoking creative fires. Studies suggest that “open-monitoring” meditation, where you simply sit quietly and observe without judging whatever is going on around and within you, is far more effective in triggering creative thinking.
5. Keep a notebook to increase creativity.
From Leonardo da Vinci to Joan Didion, creative geniuses throughout the centuries have discovered a singular truth: Writing in a journal regularly helps settle your mind and sort through options and ideas for your business, from new service or product lines to outlining your long-term vision for your business.
Maintaining a notebook or journal helps you increase creativity in a few ways. First and foremost, it begins to cement the habit of collecting and preserving your creative ideas. Writing down all your thoughts and ideas can help you preserve them for further rumination and iterative work.
Additionally, keeping a notebook frees up mental space and energy for other tasks. Our short-term memory capacity is quite limited. Trying to retain your ideas in short-term memory isn’t effective. That type of memory is better suited for things like telephone numbers and dates, and only for as long as it takes us to write the information down.
Instead, buy a small pocket-size notebook and carry it with you everywhere. Jot down your ideas as soon as they occur to you. Then carve out time regularly to go through those ideas and give them some deeper creative thought. You’ll find yourself not only retaining your ideas longer but having more of them as well.