Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

A Spark of Creativity

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

If you’ve ever watched fireworks, whether as a small child or as an adult, it’s likely you’ve experienced moments of awe at the grandiose pyrotechnics illuminating the night. What’s even more amazing is that all it takes is a relatively small, smoldering stick to spark the explosive array of color, sound and light overhead.

When it comes to creativity, it seems some are able to come up with innovative ideas comparable to a dazzling display, where others of us can’t even seem to get the match to light. And it’s true: some people are more creative than others. However, each of us have the ability to improve our creativity, and all it takes is a small spark to light things up.

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” –Peter F. Drucker

We often think of creative people as those who can draw, or paint, or pull off an amazing performance on stage. At the office, the creative gene may seem to be limited to those in leadership. Or maybe you see ingenuity as the role of those on the creative team in the marketing department. At home, it may be assumed that it’s your significant other’s role to keep things new and interesting. I like to think that creativity spans a broader demographic, and is a behavior which can be achieved by anyone who puts their mind (and effort!) to it. Consider creativity in a more comprehensive sense. For example, it could be as simple as being open to and actively pursuing novel ideas. It’s being willing to take on new approaches, and seek out fresh ideas from a variety of sources. It’s being able to consider new solutions to old ways of doing things, and being willing to ask questions which generate new ideas–and encouraging others to do the same.

Creativity can be about taking risks to test out a new idea to see if it’s a worthy one. It’s about being curious. People who are creative tend to be flexible and adaptable, and view ‘failure’ as feedback instead of a setback.

“If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong.” –Charles Kettering

Looking at it in this light, how creative are you? Here are some questions to ask yourself.  If you answer yes to any of the below, your creativity could probably use a spark:

  • Do you worry about impending yet necessary change in your personal or professional life?
  • Do you respond negatively to new situations?
  • Are you one to complain when changes occur?
  • Do you take an inflexible stance when new ideas are introduced?
  • Are you hesitant to take on new challenges?
  • Have you ever said, “That’s not the way we do things”?
  • Do you drag your feet toward change even when you recognize the ‘old ways’ aren’t working anymore?

If you have more yes’s than no’s, there’s no need to write yourself off as hopeless. Creativity and innovation are competencies of emotional intelligence, that ability to be aware of our own emotions and those of others, then manage our behaviors accordingly. And the good news about emotional intelligence is that it can be improved, with some effort.

But first, why develop your creativity? Research shows that increased creativity can:

  • lift us out of ruts
  • sparks new ideas
  • provide fresh perspectives
  • open up better ways of doing things
  • give us a positive outlook
  • connect us with others
  • create a sense of accomplishment

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”–Albert Einstein

Most of us who don’t think we’re creative allow ourselves to get stuck behind one or more of the following hurdles. Which one of these is preventing you from sparking something new?

1-Negative self-talk. “I’m just not creative,” you may tell yourself. And based upon what you’re thinking, it may seem as if it’s true. But in all verity, each of us can be creative in some shape or form. In his article, “Challenging Negative Self-Talk”, Ben Martin, Psy.D., suggests we start by testing the accuracy of our negative self-perceptions, by asking one or all of these four questions:

Just because someone has criticized you in the past doesn’t mean you have to wear their stamp of disapproval like a scarlet letter. Allow yourself to see yourself as imaginative despite the negativity of others.

2-I choose distractions. Would you rather mindlessly scroll on your phone or carve out time for innovative thinking? Here’s a quick test:  Yes or no – do you pick up your phone every time you have a free moment? If so, you may be limiting your ability–and time–to think creatively.  In an article entitled, “Why You Should Put Your Phone Down”, author Alexandra Hayes notes that “Allowing your mind to wander is a prerequisite for having a eureka moment, and when your gaze is perpetually glued to your phone, mind-wandering is nearly impossible.” []. Next time you pick up your phone, consider setting it back down and allowing your mind a little freedom to wander, and wonder.

3-I’m too busy. When my kids were little, they’d tire of a game or activity and whine, “I’m bored”.  Instead of fixing it for them by providing a new, engaging activity, I’d often respond with, “OK”.  It wasn’t long before they’d find something else to do, on their own. As adults, we tend to stay so busy that we never allow ourselves to feel bored. However, boredom can spark creative ideas. “Bored people feel that their actions are meaningless and so they are motivated to engage in meaningful behaviour,” concludes Wijnand van Tilburg, co-author of the paper, “Bored George Helps Others: A Pragmatic Meaning-Regulation Hypothesis on Boredom and Prosocial Behaviour.” [].

So consider freeing up your schedule for some ‘nothing time’, allow yourself to feel bored, and see what happens next.

4-Innovative ideas are not safe in this environment. Your surroundings may not feel like a safe place to exercise creativity. You may have a boss who disregarded an idea you had, or a significant other who laughed at your last novel suggestion for a fun, family activity. It makes sense why you may choose to shut down your creativity. In an article entitled, “Why A Culture of Innovation Doesn’t Work When People Are Afraid”, author Pere Rosales points out that when our work environment conditions us to keep quiet and do what we’re told, instead of exercising creativity, employees are concerned more with not coming across ignorant or incompetent. The result? “People keep everything—from big ideas to good questions—inside,” severely limiting new and innovative ideas for growth. [].

If you are in a situation such as this, it may be time to have a conversation with your manager or human resources professional, or, at home, with your significant other about how it is important for you to feel you have a say in helping to create new direction when needed. As well, be sure you are doing your part to create a safe environment for creativity, making sure not to criticize or ridicule new ways of doing things.

5-I don’t know where to start. Sometimes getting started is the biggest hurdle in sparking creativity. In Josh Spector’s article, “How to Start a Creative Project When You Don’t Know Where to Begin”, he speaks of the importance of recognizing there are two aspects to every creative project: ideas and execution. Sometimes we get overwhelmed by the actions we’d need to take that we shut down. Spending time on a simple brainstorming exercise can get the ideas flowing, thus helping us launch.

When you’re ready to ignite your creativity, here are a few prompts to journal about or discuss with a close friend or coach:

  • In which areas of your life are things feeling stale or stagnant? How does it make you feel?
  • What is one shift you foresee needs to be made in your workplace? At home?
    • What is your role in preventing necessary changes at work? At home?
  • If you were to make changes, who else would it involve and how would the changes potentially impact them?
  • What conversations do you need to have and with whom to initiate change?
  • What is one thing you can do today to start in a fresh direction?

Making the smallest of effort towards creativity may be just the spark you need to create your own fireworks display!

“There’s a way to do it better – find it.” –Thomas A. Edison

Innovation & Creativity: Two qualities you want to possess


Article Contributed by Amy Sargent


“I’m just not that creative.”

You’ve surely heard this phrase from team members who don’t think they are innovative. Or maybe you’ve said it yourself. There is a misnomer about imagination and inventiveness, that they are mysterious, hidden talents reserved only for the highly gifted and accomplished sculptors, musicians, painters, and designers of the world. The truth is, we all possess a degree of creativity, but we’ve buried it so deeply that it feels impossible to dredge up. Creativity and innovation are valuable competencies of social and emotional intelligence which can be of great benefit once developed.

How creative are you?  Take this fun, short quiz to find out: (created by Tanner Christensen).

I once had an art professor who fit the stereotype of ‘artist’ in every shape and form. She spoke in abstracts (as in, those of us who prided ourselves in our literal mindsets would look at each other and roll our eyes when she’d launch into one of her ‘way out there’ discourses). She wore whimsical, flowing skirts and scarves and her hair was rather unkempt. When she spoke, her eyes would drift off and out the window to who knows where, as if her body was present with us in the classroom but her mind was merrily wandering in a faraway land of enchantment. Being the analytical, stick-to-the-point kind of person that I am, I struggled to connect with her and stay engaged in the course. My low point was the day when she walked in and said, with a flamboyant wave of her hand, “Paint a tree.“

Paint a tree. That seemed simple enough. All the creatives in class immediately went to work, opening up their vials of linseed oil, mixing colors, and splashing paint on their canvases…and I just sat there. Paint a tree? I needed perimeters. Guidelines.  Lines to color in. I raised my brush to signal her to come over. I had a plethora of questions. What kind of tree? How large? In what season? How many branches? Should it have a landscape? How many details do we add? All of which of course she refused to answer. With each inquiry she pursed her lips tighter, smiled and shook her head (which needless to say didn’t help my already-struggling attitude toward the class).

After an excruciating 15 minutes of me stewing in a near-panic attack, our instructor finally broke her silence and stated, as if to the whole class (but I know it was directed to me as I was the only one sitting motionless), “Your tree can be absolutely anything you dream of.”  In other words, let go of my limiting analytical frameworks and just create.

Creativity is the ability to open up to new ideas, perspectives, and approaches and actually try them out. It’s thinking ‘out of the box’ and allowing yourself to pursue a new way of doing things. This quality is vital in the professional world where our clients are in constant demand for us to provide the best, the latest, the most up-to-date, and the most interesting. Without creativity we can get stuck doing things the way we always have, which in this fast-paced society, can quickly become antiquated and insignificant.

If you’re one who struggles with creative thinking, the good thing is that it can be learned. Consider these 6 L’s for starters:

  • Learn to brainstorm – when a solution is being asked for, write down your first thought—and then make yourself come up with at least five other solutions.
  • Lean in to your teammates – gathering ideas from others and adopting them as your own can help you begin to see unique alternatives.
  • Look for the surprises in the everyday. Tuning in to the ordinary with all of your senses can spark creative ideas.
  • Let yourself ask questions, especially exploring the ‘why’s’.
  • Lay out some space in your daily schedule to allow time to ponder, conceptualize and dream. We can’t be creative when we are worn out by too many demands.
  • Listen to your positive emotions.  Researcher say that positive emotions are more conducive to creativity than negative ones ( Allow these feelings to guide your though processes.

There are many exercises and activities you can do to increase your ability to think creatively. Working with a coach who has been trained in social and emotional intelligence can be a terrific asset to getting your creative juices flowing.

Somehow on that fateful day in art class I was able to complete the assignment and produced a scraggly, weather-twisted tree whose branches cast a sparse canopy for the wind-blown grasses I brushed in beneath. Though it definitely was not best-in-class, it actually resembled a tree and had a touch of original imagery. And now, some 20 years later, I rely on my creativity when tackling projects of all types. My ability to generate fresh ideas with a good degree of resourcefulness has become one of my strong points.

Just don’t ask me to paint another tree.