3 clever little techniques to unlock your creativity

As it turns out, creativity has much deeper dimensions than the mere right-left brain theory from yesteryear.

As it turns out, creativity has much deeper dimensions than the mere right-left brain theory from yesteryear.

A friend of mine is a gifted mechanic. He just has that touch to fix things. One day, while on our way to catch a train, we found an oddball, solitary parking spot in an otherwise crazily overcrowded lot. We soon learned why: The parking meter was broken. In that town, if you park in a spot with a busted meter, you can pretty much count on getting busted with a ticket.

A closer look revealed that someone had tried to cheat the meter—jamming some odd-shaped foreign coins in its slot, rendering the machine useless. And speaking of useless, I immediately gave up, B-lining it right back to the driver’s seat to hunt for another elusive parking space. But my mechanic friend wouldn’t have it.

A paper clip, a nickel, some gentle jolts and a wad of chewing gum later, and the meter was opened up and in perfect working order. It took him all of three minutes. We loaded up the meter with American currency, and off we went. Needless to say, I was impressed. I’d still be there looking for another parking space.

Now, my friend is someone who would not, under any circumstance, call himself creative. But, this “grease monkey,” as he would call himself, solved our problem in a way that was very MacGyver-esque. He accurately identified the problem and used resources he had on hand, in a unique way, to solve it.

After that day, I realized that many of us see creativity too narrowly. We align creativity only with artistic ability. Being artistic is a form of creativity, of course, but just as there are many different kinds of intelligence, there are all kinds of creativity, too.

The science backs me up on this. The old theory about the left side of the brain being analytical/verbal and the right being visual/creative just scratches the cortex’s surface. When the brain is engaged in solving a problem, all kinds of things are firing in your noggin. From a physiological standpoint, it’s incredibly complex—and we’re only just beginning to understand it.

Some recent articles I’ve read about creativity revealed some fascinating findings:

  • For some folks, creativity is a defining trait, for others, it depends on the context and situation.
  • Creativity extends beyond the mind or brain. It’s a complex, paradoxical cocktail of personality, social abilities, emotional traits and cognitive abilities.
  • Even though creative thinking is very complex, some scientists believe it is completely distinct from the “regular” thinking process.

There are, however, many traits highly creative people share, whether they’re scientists, musicians or teachers. And although innovative powerhouses like EinsteinNewton and DaVinci naturally possess these characteristics, they can also be adopted and practiced. Here are three easy ones you can start embracing today… and watch your creative powers leap in the process.

1. DEVELOP A NATURAL CURIOSITY.

Creative types don’t just want to know the what, but also the why and how of things and events. Every highly creative person I know is insatiably intrigued about the goings on around them, whether that’s world events, culture, or an industry. They also seek to constantly expand their experience and knowledge.

That curiosity has a purpose, though. It gives creative people a vast database of information to pull from and combine in unique ways. (More on that in a minute.)

TRY THIS: Make it a point, on a regular basis, to explore something unfamiliar to you. You could, for example, take in a TED Talk you normally wouldn’t watch, about a topic you know little to nothing about. After a few weeks, it’s interesting to see how all this added exposure and learning seeps into your thinking in other areas—which will only enrich your problem-solving superpowers.

2. WAKE UP AND OBSERVE THE WORLD.

Creative minds are also keenly observant. American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “A writer doesn’t have to be the smartest person in the room; only the most observant.” Being attentive like this provides your mind sustenance for other tasks… gives you a deeper understanding of situations and what’s around you… and helps you identify issues more quickly.

TRY THIS: I’m a musician, and my high-school music teacher taught me this valuable exercise on “observing” music and improving my ear. The next time you listen to your favorite music, try to follow what a single voice or instrument is doing for the duration of the song. Really take in the ebbs and flows, the choices that musician is making, how they contribute to the song, and what they’re changing as the song progresses. Next time, follow another instrument or voice, then another. In a short period of time, you’ll be amazed at the nuances and details you’ll discover in music you’ve been listening to for years.

3. CONNECT NEW DOTS.

Creativity, in essence, is combining elements in unique and different ways… like my friend with the gum, nickel and paperclip to fix the meter. Being observant and curious about the world around you keeps your muse well fed, and gives your creative powers more elements to work with. But the key is combining those elements in fresh ways.

TRY THIS: The next time you’re faced with a problem on the job, try looking to a completely different industry—or person—for the answer. For example, if you have a tradeshow coming up and you ache to do something different, think how a movie executive would handle it… or a politician… or someone in retail… or a 10-year-old kid. Sometimes, getting out of your own head, company and industry can help you connect the dots in whole, new, enchanting ways.

At the very least, practicing these three exercises will keep things fresh and interesting. (Something else creative people crave!) Best-case scenario: You’ll come up with some Earth-shatterers. Worst case: You’ll be better prepared when life throws a jammed parking meter at you.

– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group

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