I believe that all human beings are creative, and that creative thinking is a central part of self-expression. Self-expression is a gift we give ourselves and the world. Creativity, therefore, is at the heart of being fully engaged in life and work. Creativity, like any other skill, can be fostered and developed. Under the right conditions, the muse (creative inspiration) will visit each and every one of us in its own unique way.
What is creativity? In Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (2015), she says, “Creativity is the relationship between a human being and the mysteries of inspiration.”
For some people, creativity is expressed through art making. For example, my husband Peter had an abiding interest in art all his life and his parents always referred to him as an artist, but it was a term he never used to describe himself. It wasn’t until he reached the age of 50 that his medium for creativity was found almost by accident, when he discovered carving in stone and remarkable sculptures were manifested.
Creativity in the workplace is also important. Ideally we highly value it there to support individuals, teams and organizations to be more innovative, resilient and high performing. In the workplace creative people are often the go-to people to help forge new directions in product development, productivity, efficiency and innovation. The late Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple Inc. and CEO of Pixar, described a creative person’s role as making new connections, offering something slightly different and putting together disparate elements into a fresh new perspective.
Here are 5 ways you can cultivate creativity in life and work:
1. Dedicate a creative space
Many workplaces have dedicated areas for brainstorming, designing, thinking and creating, to promote creativity among individuals and teams. It can be as simple as a couch and table in the staff room or an open area someplace where people can gather and engage in creative conversations. At home, a bench in the back of the garage may serve, or a big chair under an open window – wherever it is you choose take ownership and say out loud, “This is my creative space”.
Don’t postpone finding and declaring your creative space. The benefit of having a creative space, either at work or at home, says you are taking creativity seriously and making room (literally) for inspiration to flow.
2. Enter your creative space regularly
This is a very important point! I know many people and teams who have a creative space but they never go in it. By virtue of simply being in your declared creative space, at home or at work, creative energy and synergy will happen.
Somerset Maugham’s advice to young writers was to present oneself before the blank page at the same time every day and in the same place and if necessary, to simply write one’s name over and over again until the words flowed. And flow they will. It is an act of will (commitment) to show up in front of the blank page, the canvas, the new business plan, the pieces of a new invention, the mass of clay, or the not yet fully formed new idea. It is a simple creative truth: by putting yourself in your creative space regularly, creative thinking will naturally emerge and flow.
3. Take time for stillness
I know we all have busy lives. Taking time for stillness and silence can be a rare commodity for many people (which, in part, is the reason stress and stress-related illnesses are so prevalent in our modern culture – but I digress). I have friends who go on month-long silent meditation retreats to nourish their inner lives and creativity. For me, I am happy to get 5 minutes of quiet somewhere in my day to just sit and think! Why? Because the muse visits those who show up and listen within for new ideas, for creative impulses.
I love the quiet moments of the morning before my boys wake up, with the first cup of coffee and my journal; I can pen more ideas in these few minutes than in an entire day when distractions and multi-tasking are more present. Stillness and silence help to clear our minds, help us relax and slow down, thus opening up the inner space for creative ideas to arrive.
Stillness can become part of the culture of the workplace as well. Individuals, teams, managers and leaders can be encouraged to take moments away from their desk and computer, to pause, breath, be still and silent in order to clear the mental clutter so new ideas and creativity can emerge and be shared. When people can stop racing the clock for a moment and become still and quiet, productivity, innovation and creativity can actually flourish.
4. Engage in purposeful storytelling
We live our stories. Organizations have corporate stories and histories that shape current operations, employee engagement, workplace culture and more. Branding is all about storytelling – including what stories your clients and customers tell about you. Storytelling is a creative process that allows for learning, transformation and growth at both the individual and organizational levels.
Tell your story – why do you do what you do? How do you do what you do? Our stories show the narrative of our personal ways of being in the world and can highlight our strengths, interests, talents and learning moments. When told to a listener (a colleague, team, friend, etc.), we find new sources of inspiration that are unique to us, but at their core have universal meaning. What is your corporate story? Why does your organization do what it does? Purposeful storytelling can spark creativity in the workplace. Try it at your next staff meeting!
5. Foster curiosity
Creative cultures that foster learning, self-expression and growth share a common focus on generating greater curiosity within projects, problem-solving and leadership. Questions can be asked, mistakes can be made, new ways of doing things can be found, and more. The status quo can be challenged.
Great leaders recognize and model curiosity as a cornerstone to learning and growth. Organizations get curious about how to do things better, how to thrive during times of change. Individuals get inspired to think differently, to try to new things. Curiosity is the fuel of creative expression.
Pause and Reflect
The following questions make great journaling prompts. Or perhaps you want to make a mindmap of your answers, create a vision board, write a poem, or simply go for a walk in nature and mull over your responses and insights. The creative choice is yours…
- What is your unique form of self-expression or creativity?
- What does creativity mean to you?
- How does creativity show up in your work and life?
- If you were striving to become more creative, what actions would you take?
- Who is the most creative person you know? What about them makes them creative?
- What benefits would you like to experience from cultivating more creativity in your life?
- How might greater creative self-expression enhance your life and career?