Whether you’re a songwriter or a business executive, creativity goes a long way when it comes to success. On the flip side, creative slumps can be frustrating enough to make us give up on a task altogether.
Creativity, innovation and leadership expert Michael J. Gelb says that one of the biggest misconceptions people have is that they aren’t creativity. “We have to give up the idea that creativity is some sort of magic that some people have and others don’t,” he says.
According to Gelb, author of “Creativity on Demand,” scores on creativity tests go up 25 percent when people change their self-concept from “I’m not creative” to “I might be creative.”
Looking to get your creative juices flowing? Read on for some of Gelb’s top tips for nurturing your innovative side.
Generate first, organize later
In school, we’re typically taught to put all of our ideas into outlines. But Gelb says that outlining actually slows down creative thinking.
“You want to generate your ideas in a free-flowing, nonlinear, playful, exploratory way,” he says.
Gelb touts the benefits of a brainstorming approach called mind mapping, which uses lines, images, colors and symbols to help generate original ideas. Stream of consciousness writing is another tool for jumpstarting the creative process. The gist of this technique is to write as fast as you can without censoring or editing yourself in any way.
“Think of lots of ideas, and go for playful, absurd and ridiculous ideas,” Gelb says.
One of the most powerful things you can do to boost creativity is to make time for fun. “Play and humor liberate your creativity, and over-seriousness shuts it off,” says Gelb.
The idea isn’t exactly novel. (Experts have been exploring the positive effects of humor for years.) But that doesn’t make it any less effective. Laughter gets oxytocin rushing through your system, which supports relaxation and confidence. In other words, it sets the stage for more creative, out-of-the-box thinking.
“When you’re able to think of non-habitual ideas, you get your brain outside of habitual pathways – and that’s where creativity is going to come,” says Gelb.
There’s a growing body of research suggesting that the more you laugh, the more likely you are to experience those golden “aha” moments.
Take a break
Believe it or not, taking a break is a powerful step in the creative process. It makes sense given that our best ideas rarely come while sitting in our cubicles. Instead, Gelb encourages folks to incorporate breaks into their regular routines.
“Recognize that the break is as important as the concentrated work,” he says.
While brainstorming stimulates your mind outside of habitual pathways (which is definitely key), breakthroughs don’t typically come until you shift back into a more relaxed brainwave state. This is why some of our best ideas spark to life during mindless activities, like taking a shower or driving to the supermarket. According to a 2012 New York Times report, skipping breaks can also lead to stress and exhaustion.
“Work with great intensity and focus, and then make taking a break an integral part of your thinking, planning, and problem solving,” says Gelb.