Hacking Creativity: Start with Solitude
KARL R. LAPAN, PRESIDENT & CEO, THE NIIC
Picasso reminds us, “without great solitude no serious work can be done.”
Dr. Carl Simonton opined, “At age 5, a child is creative 98 times a day, and by age 44, adults are only creative two times a day.” Botton line – we have sucked all the creativity out of our adult veins, and we have to deliberately work the creativity muscles back into shape. “Creativity is the ability to look at the same thing as everyone else does but to see something different.
So some of what we are told about nurturing creativity may need to be reframed. Several of our fundamental assumptions and preconceptions may need to be challenged. These include – the best ideas come from group brainstorming, creativity is best nurtured by working in an open office, and there’s a gene for creativity, and you are either born with it or not. However, these myths may not reflect the reality. For instance, in office environments, noise and distractions hamper creativity. On average, workers get interrupted every 3 minutes, and it can take over 20 minutes to regain your stream of consciousness. The frequency of interruptions is likely higher in open offices and probably why most people wear earbuds to avoid lost productivity. Moreover, Kellogg professor and author Leigh Thompson observed, “Studies of brainstorming show 75% of a group’s ideas come in the first 50% of the time given allocated to them anyway. After that, they run out of steam.” Lastly, while genetics do play a role in shaping your creative gifts, much of it can still be learned (think Gladwell’s 10,000 hours!).
Looking back to the 1960s, Frank X. Barron studied a group of writers, architects, scientists, entrepreneurs, and mathematicians, to see if he could find common themes among these creatives regarding behavior. He concluded that these creative thinkers exhibited certain common traits. Among them was an openness to one’s inner life; a preference for ambiguity and complexity; unusually high tolerance for disorder and disarray, and the ability to extract order from chaos. I think the first one is rather insightful. The most creative people know how to sit with their emotions and ideas, no matter how crazy or uncomfortable. I think all of these attributes encompass a crucial dimension of who entrepreneurs are – they are contrarian thinkers.
However, is creativity a skill we can cultivate and nurture? For sure, “research suggests that it is possible to prime the mind for creative ideas to emerge.” In our hurried and noisy world, how can we train our minds to become more creative? Here are three practical and easy ways to prime the ‘creative muscle’ into our lives:
- Practice mindfulness. No longer a phrase only found in textbooks or uttered in yoga studios; mindfulness is something everyone can integrate into his or her lifestyle in a meaningful way. Increased creative thinking is a side effect of the calming of the inner mind during and after meditation.
- Schedule disruptions. Working non-stop in a compressed period of time isn’t good for our brains or productivity. So, get up a take that coffee break or midmorning stretch. Meditate or do yoga at lunch or walk the dog midday. Whatever you do, break up your workflow, so you do not become stagnant.
- Let your mind wander. You are probably familiar with the creative benefits of daydreaming, but one of the points often glossed over is the importance of uninhibited daydreaming. That means not letting your brain filter the thoughts coming into your head. This can be stifling to creativity – as Barron would argue, it is the full range of emotions that fuel our creativity. When we can quiet our minds, we become more open to exploring things outside of the here and now. Be sure to pause from time to time.
So, what steps can you take to become more comfortable with solitude and open yourself up for creativity, and where & when do you do your best thinking? Share your best ideas here!