Creativity is the capacity to transform new and abstract ideas into reality. It is the ability to perceive the world differently from others and to identify unfamiliar patterns that connect unrelated topics, to produce solutions. But how can you improve creativity to get new ideas?
If you wish to solve an unknown problem, you need to become creative. But creativity is not a skill you learn at school, nor something you can learn in a seminary. Creativity is an ability intrinsic to humankind. Everybody owns it, but not anybody can apply it at its peak potential.
You can train it, you can improve it, but you can’t learn it, and you don’t have to. There is no degree for creatives. Still, they change our world daily.
Even if people are skeptical, creativity is not a distant star. Don’t assume you could never become creative and don’t surrender. That star is more reachable than you realize, so the first step to becoming a creative person is to understand how the creativity cycle works.
The Creativity Cycle
Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.— Mary Lou Cook
I’ve dealt with creativity for many years.
I started writing 7 years ago, but I wasn’t creative at all. The novel I was writing was a Star Wars story mixed up with some Harry Potter magic and Game of Thrones characters. It had nothing original; it was only a bunch of cliches that ended up in failure.
But practicing writing brought me new ideas every day. The more I was writing, the more I got new ideas.
After one year of practice, I remember filling up an agenda in a month or two. I had to switch to a digital diary to keep every idea organized and easy to find.
Still, creativity is not only about ideas. There is a propensity to misunderstand creativity for imagination, but they are not the same. Imagination helps with creating ideas, while creativity implies an action over those ideas.
It is possible to divide creativity into a three-step cycle. The first step of this cycle is the research, then it develops through ideation and inspiration.
Let’s analyze them further.
Research (Internet + Library + Experience)
The research is the part of the cycle in which you give your brain fresh information. You can read articles on Medium, or you could go to the library, for example. Still, reading is not everything. You can also watch films and series and absorb raw ideas from them.
Any perspective that contributes to an original view on a specific situation should be a gold mine for a creator. The more you know, the more you will generate unique patterns and connections in your mind. Those patterns will make your thought flexible, and therefore more receptive to new solutions.
Everything starts with research, but extra information is not the only goal of this step.
Research gives you the experience of seeking solutions. But by disciplining yourself to investigate information will also become an automatic response to external stimuli.
Ideation (Brainstorming + Sketches + Experience)
The ideation part involves speculating about an issue and trying to find a solution. This part of the cycle comprises brainstorming, sketches, and outlines for the project. It involves struggling to put on paper, or on a blackboard, what is in your mind, and concretize that vision.
Ideation is crucial because necessary to realize if an idea is doable or not. It provides the creator with the first blueprint of reality, separating the possible from the unachievable.
Moreover, ideation is also a professional step since it requires specific skills.
You can’t ideate something without the proper expertise to bring it into reality. Most of the time, you need to get new abilities to ideate something, which makes it a highly experience-based phase.
Inspiration (Environment + Thought Patterns + Experience)
Inspiration is the engine that allows you to look at old concepts in an unordinary fashion. It depends on your environment, and your thought process, which are both rules by experience.
You will get inspired by what you know, and how you think at the moment. Fresh ideas will have to query those axioms, but if you are open-minded will mix them into new concepts.
You want to change perspective at a high frequency, to make the cycle restart and feed itself. You want to create disruptive moments, and challenges, to make your mind struggle and create.
Struggling nourishes the research for alternative solutions so that the cycle can restart.
How to improve Creativity
Creativity involves breaking out of expected patterns in order to look at things in a different way.— Edward de Bono
As you can observe, each of the stages above requires one important thing: experience.
If you want to improve your creativity, you need to train your brain to get out of the comfort zone and experience new things at a high frequency. This way, you keep the creative cycle alive.
Put yourself in the need’s position for a change. Then embrace that change so you can get fresh perspectives from it.
Try new routines and new hobbies. Get interested in alternative forms of art compared to the usual. Discover extra points of view and digest them with your unique vision.
Here are some ways you can do that.
1 – Curiosity
Without curiosity, there’s no creativity.
To explore alternative universes, you need to be curious. Anything could create a link in your mind and crack the code of reality, and anything could inspire you.
Curiosity is the key to entering the vicious cycle of creativity and improving it. It will lead you to read about new arguments, to watch unfamiliar types of films or to do things you never thought of.
Curiosity is the start of the turbulent process that brings chaos and uncertainty into your daily life. It is the first step towards fresh pieces of information.
To keep fresh ideas coming in, I go to the library in a section I am not interested in, like economics, and start reading some pages of a random book. I try to extract useful views, and sometimes I even find useful ideas for potential articles. Mixing up different fields allows me to develop new concepts.
2 – Idea Journal
Keeping an idea journal is a must if you want to keep the creative cycle in motion. It is important to have a book of ideas, so you can read them from time to time and compare your current thoughts to those of the past.
The clash between present and past will origin the disruption you seek. You will make new connections between distant moments in your life, which may lead to new ideas.
As I told you before, I keep an idea journal on my phone, but this is not completely accurate.
I write any idea on a paper agenda, then I transcribe and categorize the good ones in a digital diary at the end of each week. Writing on paper makes the ideas tangible, helping me to link them to reality.
3 – Human connections
Gaining information from books or films is a possibility, but nothing can beat human interactions.
Getting to know people with unique experiences is a major source of inspiration. You need to mingle with unusual and unordinary contexts to enrich yourself with new circumstances and life lessons.
I am always in search of people with ideas that differ from mine, and I try to test them. I am a challenger, someone that puts in doubt everything. By discussing and understanding other points of view, I develop a mind open to anything. This way, I can improve my creativity faster thanks to other ideas from other people.
4 – Constant training
You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.– Maya Angelou
You should never stop being creative and resourceful. If you are creative, you remain creative. With experience and repetition, your brain understands how to work disorderly to find always unfamiliar patterns. But if you stop, it will be difficult to start again and reach the same ease with thinking out of the box.
I started writing 7 years ago, but, as I told you, I had no original ideas. They come later with constant training. I had to train thinking differently before developing interesting ideas.
A Creative Cocktail
Think about creativity as a complex personal cocktail: everyone has their preferences, but the ingredients are the same.
You need a lot of training before understanding the right proportions and reaching the perfect recipe that works for you.
You may need more research, more social interactions, or you can base it on curiosity. Still, the quintessence of the cocktail will always be the same: experience.
But experience is not an ingredient, it only results from the ingredients. The more experience you achieve from your cocktail, the more creative you will be.
This is how to improve your creativity.
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Article first published in The Ascent.