The Calculated Creative

Boosting Creativity by Flipping Failure on Its Head

It takes effort but the rewards of enhanced creativity are immense, both personally and on a wider level.

Creativity is often seen as an elusive, mystical force - something you either have or you don't.

A trait randomly bestowed upon the fortunate few.

But what if that's not true?

What if creativity is actually a skill that can be strengthened, something anyone can boost with the right mindset shifts and techniques?

Creativity is a Skill, Not an Innate Trait

The common societal and cultural view is that creativity is an innate trait - you're either born highly creative or you're not. It's something mysterious that can't be controlled or developed, a mark of natural genius. But research into the psychology and neuroscience of creativity shows that it actually operates much more like a muscle than an inborn trait. Just as you can strengthen a muscle with focused effort and training, you can also strengthen your creative capacity with practice and an open, determination. In studies, people tasked with coming up with creative solutions over time show significant improvements. Expert poets and visual artists never just stumbled into their creativity fully formed - they developed it through immense practice and iteration. All of this indicates that creativity is indeed a skill that can be enhanced, not something we have no control over. With concerted effort and an openness to building creative skills, anyone and everyone can become more creative.

Structure Hinders More Than It Helps When Seeking Creativity

Much of our education system and many workplaces are built upon rigid structures and directed thinking. The focus is on efficiency, teaching established information and processes in a strict linear way geared towards preset outcomes. This structure certainly helps in clearly directing efforts and maintaining order. But it also comes with a creativity cost - fixed rigid thinking pathways are unlikely to give rise to novel ideas. Truly creative thinking is more likely to arise from open-ended exploration and brainstorming, meandering without defined limits into uncharted directions. A complete lack of structure has its own problems in diffusing efforts. But purposefully carving out time and space for free-flowing, non-judgemental ideation can work wonders. Ditching some structures for this open pondering allows us to boost our likelihood of stumbling upon unexpected creative connections. Thinking "outside the box" can only happen by stepping away from rigid boxes/funnels from time to time.

Valuing Quantity Over Quality Leads to Creativity

When coming up with creative ideas or solutions, we often obsess over the quality and perfection of each one as we go. But the path towards truly original ideas is often littered with bad or mediocre ideas along the way. Echoing the idea of creativity as a muscle built up over time - genius is rarely achieved in a single perfect flash of inspiration. It compounds over many building block thoughts. Studies of creatives working show the path is messy; filled with dead ends, tangents and terrible ideas before landing on creativity. That's why for boosting creativity, the focus should be on rapidly churning out ideas without judging quality in the moment. Worry about evaluating and sharpening later, let the ideas flow fast and free first. Removing the inner critic to boost quantity, and giving space for messy imperfect brainstorming, unlocks more possibilities for combination and transformation into eventually brilliant ideas.

Deliberate Open-Ended Daydreaming Sparks Creativity

Letting our minds wander in seeming aimless daydreaming often feels frivolous, like wasted time we should avoid. With so much demanding our attention, drifting into reverie feels like an unproductive distraction. But research into creative cognition shows mind-wandering states are actually essential for boosting break-through creativity and solving complex problems. Insights arise through subconscious mental connections while not actively focused on a task. In study after study, activities like taking a shower, going for a walk, waking up, spacing out - basically any state of open mental meandering without defined direction - lead to experiential boosts in creative problem-solving. Making a conscious effort to build this type of undirected downtime into each day can work wonders. Allowing our thoughts to drift boosts the odds of surprising creative mental collisions while we’re tuned out. Embracing the importance of deliberate daydreaming, and learning to catch the insights it sparks, is a creativity game-changer.

Embracing Mistakes Unlocks Accidental Creativity

In general, we try hard to avoid mistakes and failures whenever possible. They feel like definitive setbacks signaling lack of skill or carelessness. But creativity often stems from the compounding and unintended effects of errors over time. Brilliant innovations through history arose because of accidental discoveries through trial and error, not perfectly efficient directed effort. Post-it notes, penicillin, corn flakes, safety glass - the list of accidentally revolutionary innovations goes on and on. Rather than diminishing capabilities, mistakes expose us to unexpected directions that can be harvested for creative advantage. Being open to accidental outcomes, side-effects or initial failures allows us ride their momentum rather than fighting against them. Resulting in cascading opportunities for further creative collisions down the line. By embracing and actively learning from the mistakes we make along the way, rather than avoiding them, we boost the chances of transforming them into a creative force of their own.


The Takeaway

Creativity is not some gift bestowed upon the fortunate few.

With an open, determined mindset along with some contrarian techniques, we can all strengthen our creative capacity.

It takes effort but the rewards of enhanced creativity are immense, both personally and on a wider level.

Make Your Work
Suck Less

Pulling back the curtain on the creative process to help make your work a little less terrible. A 3-minute read delivered each week on Monday morning.

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