8 Ways to Unleash Your Creativity and Find Innovative Ideas

Jan 27, 2014
7 Min Read

Think back to when you were in kindergarten and you’ll probably agree you were a creative kid. Whether it was building a Batmobile from toilet paper rolls or performing a one-act play you wrote with your dog, you displayed creativity freely and abundantly.

But fast-forward to your professional life now, and you may no longer believe you are creative. For whatever reason, creativity didn’t stick with you.

That’s a crock, Tom Kelley says.

Kelley, along with his brother, David, are creativity experts. Their firm, IDEO, designed the first mouse for Apple along with the first laptop, and the company has won numerous innovation awards.

Tom Kelley says you don’t lose creativity, but you can become less confident about it. Instead of fostering and developing it, you focus on other abilities. Before long, you see yourself as someone who simply isn’t the creative type and you let others propose innovative ideas.

“People do have a fear of being judged,” he says.

After some 100 interviews for their book, “Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All,” Kelley says he and his brother firmly believe creativity resides in all of us.

He says if we want to remain competitive in business and excel in our careers, we need to rediscover it because “being creative helps you become more confident and more resilient,” he says. “You learn perseverance.”

Once we do tap into that creativity, then it’s time to learn to put those ideas into action, because “having the courage to do so is at least as important as the idea itself,” he says.

But how do we tap into that creativity within us? Here are some ideas they offer in cultivating a creative spark:

  1. Choose creativity. Stop squashing that little kid inside of you. Make a commitment to decide you want to revive your innovative voice.
  2. Think like a traveler. Stop being oblivious to your surroundings and instead try to see things as if you’ve just landed in that spot and are seeing things for the first time. Expose yourself to new situations or information. Listen to a TED talk, read information from other industries and try to experience new things that may spark an idea. For example, the head of a London hospital was so impressed with the precision of a Formula One pit crew he watched on television during a race that he asked them to help train hospital staff members to improve chaotic patient handoffs from surgery to the intensive care unit.
  3. Daydream. Stop feeling like you’re a slacker if you aren’t actively engaged in three things at one time. New findings in neuro-psychology find that flashes of insight often come when your mind is relaxed on completing a specific task. Kelley says one of the first steps is allowing yourself to step away from the computer or smartphone, to simply allow your mind to wander. He says he reaches a creative state upon waking and often has a pen and paper nearby to jot down his ideas when his brain is in a relaxed state.
  4. Be empathetic. Remove your own ego from the equation when it comes to generating new ideas by taking the time to observe the people who need the solutions. What are their needs?
  5. Be an anthropologist. Observing people in their “natural habitat” can help generate new ideas, even if you do think you’re the expert who knows best.
  6. Ask “why”? Anyone who has been around a young child knows that “why?” is asked about a million times a day. Children are endlessly curious and are persistent into getting to the heart of the matter. If you ask why someone uses a landline phone, for example, you may learn that the answer has less to do with practicality and more to do with psychology.
  7. Reframe challenges. Before you start searching for solutions to a problem, step back to make sure you’re asking the right questions. Try humanizing the problem as shown by GE’s Doug Dietz who went from just designing MRI machines to making it more about getting young patients safely and willingly through an MRI scan.
  8. Build a creative network. Creative whizzes often are seen as lone wolves, but some of the best ideas come from collaboration. Begin by acknowledging to yourself that you don’t have all the answers, and working with others can help relieve the pressure. Meet people after hours to sit around and talk about innovative ideas, or use creative digital communities.

“The best part about being creative for me is that it gives me a sense that I’m not just a pawn in the chess game of life,” Kelley says. “I’m an active player.”

What are some ways you spark your own creativity?



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