The Calculated Creative

Tips for Unlocking Your Inner Creativity

Creativity lies dormant within all of us, waiting to be nurtured without judgment.

Creativity is something we all want more of.

We idolize those creative geniuses like Steve Jobs and Mozart, thinking they must have some magical creative sauce we lack.

But what if unlocking your creative potential was simpler than you thought?

What if, instead of complex rules and techniques, you could access your inner creative genius just by getting out of your own way?

Here are three tips for supercharging your creativity:

Ditch the Brainstorming Sessions

Brainstorming sessions have become popular in workplaces and schools as a way to stimulate creative thinking. The idea is that by putting a bunch of people in a room together and having them shout out ideas in a freeflowing manner, the creative ideas will start bouncing off each other, combining into new and innovative concepts. However, research has consistently shown that individuals thinking alone actually generate many more unique ideas compared to traditional group brainstorming sessions.

This surprising finding contradicts the assumption that the more minds put together, the more creative the ideas generated will be. In fact, the face-paced noisy environment of group brainstorming creates too much cognitive load for people to think deeply or originally. People end up getting fixated on building off only the most obvious ideas in the room rather than exploring out-of-the-box concepts bubbling under the surface of their minds.

So instead of sitting in bland conference rooms with your colleagues, staring at post-it notes filled with boring ideas like "make the logo bigger" or "add more colors," give yourself space to think solo - whether it be alone on a walk, tinkering by yourself on a new project, or simply pondering ideas while zoning out in the shower. Turn off the brainstorming music and give yourself quiet moments to make unexpected connections. This is where the truly original ideas tend to reveal themselves, not under the florescent lights of a crowded conference room.

Stop Trying So Hard

Another common creativity myth is that it requires great mental effort to come up with innovative ideas. After all, the stereotype of the genius inventing new machines in a basement workshop or the passionate painter obsessively trying to capture an image implies that creativity takes immense focus, persistence, and work. However, major creative insights rarely emerge from such directed intense effort.

Instead, research shows that moments of idle daydreaming, mind-wandering, or detachment from conscious focus actually precede many of humanity's most important innovations. For example, Einstein first conceived the theory of relativity while daydreaming about riding on a beam of light. The double helix structure of DNA occurred to James Watson while playing with molecular models, not actively running experiments. Inventor Chester Carlson only conceived the idea of photocopying while distracted from his regular work projects and staring blankly out his New York City office window.

The pattern is clear - breakthrough ideas seem to sneak into our awareness precisely when we aren't grinding away at problems actively. It turns out that our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brains responsible for complex focus and analysis, actually constrains the potential of our more creative default mode network comprised of the frontal and posterior inferior cortices. By letting our minds relax and wander freely, we give the more innovative parts of the brain room for unexpected connections to occur naturally, without the control of our hyper-critical taskmaster regions shutting them down before they fully form.

So don't buy into the myth that creativity requires furious focus and hard work. Take breaks, go on walks, let your thoughts meander - this is the mental space where innovation truly happens.

Forget Perfection

Finally, perhaps the biggest barrier to unlocking our innate creativity is perfectionism - the tendency to judge our ideas too soon and hold ourselves to impossibly high standards out of fear of failure. However, the creative process itself is inherently messy, nonlinear, and filled with wrong turns that go nowhere. True innovation requires exploring the space of possibilities without certainty of success - trying out combinatorial experiments, building nonsensical prototypes, following threads that fizzle out. But rather than embracing this as the reality of the creative process, we criticize every one of our not-yet-fully-formed ideas before they have room to mature and distort themselves into something brilliant and beautiful.

Our inner critics are so harsh on those initial sparks of creativity, smothering them before they ignite into something incredible. But the flaws and imperfections are essential to the creative process! Every great innovator produces loads of mediocre ideas on their way to genius. For example, Thomas Edison tested 3,000 designs for the light bulb before landing on the one that worked. But rather than judging each failure as bad ideas, he viewed them as stepping stones ultimately leading him to success. Similarly, Pixar purposefully develops strange, dysfunctional story ideas during their creative process as practice to later turn them into polished films. Progress requires celebrating the imperfect experiments, not condemning them.

So silence those inner critics, get rid of judgment, and have fun freely tinkering with ideas without expectation for perfection. The more you generously explore concepts and follow creative whims without beating yourself up over missteps, the more you open yourself to breakthroughs waiting to emerge from the chaos. Remove all pressure for immediate success and let inspiration strike randomly as it may, no matter how silly it seems at first.


The Takeaway

Creativity lies dormant within all of us, waiting to be nurtured without judgment.

By fearlessly breaking assumed rules and letting your imagination run wildly in directions it finds delightful rather than strictly productive, you allow that inner genius the space to flourish in all its weird, quirky glory.

Give yourself that creative freedom and see what wonderfully bizarre ideas you uncover.

Who knows what masterpieces lie buried within.

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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