A great portion of senior managers considers innovation to be one of the key indicators of success. While innovation and creativity are somewhat distinct concepts, the main role of creativity is to promote ideation that could eventually lead to innovation. However, creativity is not only the cornerstone of innovation but is also vital to organizational wellbeing. In the workplace of today — where both innovation and wellbeing are recurring themes — creativity is crucial. This newfound appreciation of creativity beyond its role in innovation is reflected in research. The first creativity research article was published in 1981 and it revolved around the concepts of creativity, intelligence, and personality. In the 1990s, research around workplace creativity was sprouting. Recently, another step was taken and creativity is now explored in the context of workplace wellbeing. So, what is the research telling us?
First, there are three ways in which creativity regulates our emotions. Namely, we use creativity as a distraction tool to avoid stress, a contemplation tool to solve problems, and a self-development tool to build self-esteem. Studies also suggest that more creative individuals are able to generate alternative responses to stressful events, consequently boosting their stress-coping skills in the workplace, too!
But what about the research on how to cultivate a creative mind? Unfortunately, there is no simple recipe for honing one’s creativity, but there are a number of studies that can provide some solid advice.
If you are simply wishing to boost your creative thinking: Get out and moving
Be it a stroll along the beach or a lengthy hike, nature has the power to soothe both minds and bodies. Unsurprisingly, nature also has the potential to evoke a creative way of thinking. In particular, nature is valuable in two stages of creativity: preparation (when information is gathered) and incubation (when this information marinates in your mind). A possible explanation is that the sensory stimuli of nature — greenery, bird song, water sounds, and breeze — make us more open, aiding the preparation stage. Also, nature is not designed for any specific human behaviour in the way that the urban environment is. This means your thoughts are not explicitly directed but are encouraged to freely explore. This ability to branch out into new channels of thought could be beneficial for the incubation stage of creativity. In case you are an avid exerciser rather than a nature explorer, here is a piece of good news for you: Moderate aerobic exercise and walking have been found to stimulate creative potential. The reason is that such semi-automatic activities take up a certain part of attention but also leave some attention to roam free.
If you need a creative solution right here and right now: Generate questions and ideas
Keith Sawyer, an author of “Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity”, proposes that asking the right question helps foster creativity. For example, if the question “How to present this data?” is giving you a headache, rapidly create several variations of that one question such as “What does my audience care about?”, “What is a single message within this data?” and “What is the story I need to tell?” One of the alternative questions will likely be more helpful than the original one. Another technique would be to generate many more ideas than you actually need and then choose the best idea. To choose the best one, first consider several ideas that seem elegant and robust and then compare those ideas against each other. Being your own devil’s advocate or asking a trusted colleague for insight can be helpful, too.