Companies all over the world fight to be more creative than their competition due to the Fortnite-esque free for all today’s online market fosters.
Marketing teams everywhere are looking for creative people with great ideas to design content that will attract more prospective customers, better target a specific audience, and increase their reach to those they want to engage with before others in their industry.
Creativity has always been a vital aspect of business, but this change of landscape has made it a focal point of discussion. Business schools even offer classes dedicated to fostering outside perspectives and looking at products, services and operations at various angles.
There are countless ways to “increase creativity” and this isn’t to say that those don’t work, but there is a subset of those you may find through a Google search that actually do.
1. Accept Constraints
Disavowing constraints is an easy habit to fall into for a creative person. That being said, it’s a bad habit.
Everyone who has been tasked with coming up with a solution for something has uttered the phrase, “if only we didn’t have X, then Y would improve Z.”
Well, sure – of course it would be great if constraints didn’t exist. But then, the need for your potential creative solution wouldn’t be necessary as someone would’ve likely already come up with the innovation.
Constraints force you to be more imaginative with how you go about using the resources you have.
Take for example a small storage room filled with memories in the form of oddly shaped nicknacks, toys and furniture. They are all taking up space and there’s no way to walk in to find exactly what one may want to dig out.
The funds are not available for a larger unit, so optimized organization must be reached for a path in and out of the unit. Maybe you find space is being wasted with over-sized storage containers and shelves.
Take out that hindrance to make the most of what is already a constraint (the unit) and find out how to turn the problem (the stuff) into a solution (the space).
- Chairs become shelves
- Sofas are flipped on their side to fit into corners
- Pillows, bedding and cushions line the walls
- Entertainment centers become shelving units in their own right
- Photo albums and toys can be stacked and pushed together to fit Tetris-style
A silly example, yes, but by reimagining how the objects take up space and organize together, you take hold of the constraints provided, remove unnecessary hindrances and create a more neat and clean storage unit.
This analogy translates best to those working in design-related fields. The limited space on a flyer or digital ad can lead to creative image-based fonts (like Google Doodles, for example) or imaginative ways to list necessary information (black text bordering a poster with a colorful image meant to attract attention).
2. Reverse the Purpose
A good way to gain a new perspective on something is to look at it completely backwards. This is not to say you should reverse engineer something, but rather look at the entire thing in reverse.
Take a traditional process and consider what would come from rearranging the pieces. This way of thinking led to a number of innovations that completely changed the fabric of human existence.Take a traditional process and consider what would come from rearranging the pieces. This way of thinking led to a number of innovations that completely changed the fabric of human existence. Click To Tweet
An example of this working is the education system. Traditionally people attend school. What does that really mean? Someone gets up in the morning and commutes to a facility to learn more about their subject of choice – or more simply, people go to school to learn.
How can we reverse this major premise of education?
- People go to school to unlearn – Okay there’s a thought, but maybe…
- People don’t go to school to learn – Better.
- People learn to go to school – Okay, we’re starting to reverse the concept more.
- School learns people – That’s a serious concept. How can school learn more about the people going to it?
- School goes to people to learn – Diving deeper. The school asks people to tell it about themselves? That “school goes to people” line is important.
- People learn by having school come to them – There we go. That’s innovative.
Maybe some you got to the final bullet before I did. That’s great! What if school could go to people? How do you bring school to someone? Home schooling, online education, tutoring… the array of educational innovations is abundantly growing as time goes on.
3. Use Previous Experiences
This method is great for teams or individuals working to achieve a universally accepted goal or an optimized performance.
A good team is assembled with variety and integration in mind. Examples include:
- International research teams
- Creative agency start up founders
- The Justice League
- Humanitarian organizations
- Military forces
- Multidivisional corporations
Humanity has discovered that a group composed of individuals from different backgrounds will nearly always surpass those made up of like minded individuals in terms of output.
This brings to mind the argument of which are better, generalists or specialists. It’s a close subject, but not an exact 1-to1 comparison. As even a group of specialists will almost certainly have a diverse background.
The secret to this nearly universal truth is that knowledge is great to have, but experience will connect pieces of knowledge together making the benefit of the knowledge even greater.
If a team is made up of members who have previously achieved the team’s overall goal in different ways, they will have the chance to use their collective intelligence to come up with a combined solution that may prove better than anything they made individually in the past.
Different experiences create different toolkits to use in problem solving. When collaborating on a common goal, teams with varied backgrounds and skill sets will surely discover more innovative ways to tackle problems than those with similar histories.
Think of all the times that you were told to follow instructions to get a task completed. There are likely more than one or two scenarios where you felt yourself fighting against the format of how to accomplish your job.
The reason being that upon getting your assignment or shortly thereafter, you realized you have done something similar in a different situation or instantly thought of a way to do it that makes sense to you.
In an interesting example, actors have long regarded Stanislavski’s method as one of the major strategies to pulling off realism in certain scenes.
The method revolves around using emotional memories and the associated physical sensations to portray certain feelings and scenarios more accurately than if they were to simply pretend or use practical effects.
A fascinating side point that the above example highlights well is that the experience and goal can conflict. If an actor has to cry tears of happiness, they may remember a sad memory.
This concept is likely the most familiar one on the list. Most of us have engaged in brainstorming activities as early as elementary school (or other equal levels of education).
There’s a reason we introduce it so early: It really does work… if done correctly.
Brainstorming quickly falls off the rails when people are self conscious. The first step is to suspend any judgements. The point of the exercise is to get as many ideas out there as possible.
The more you let yourself flow, the more ridiculous the ideas will become. Open the floodgates and start throwing out thoughts. Once everyone involved has their ideas out, share them.
Remember, no judgements. Something that’s totally logical to one person may be ridiculous to another, but that’s no reason to not share anything. Ideas are useless when they’re trapped inside your head.
When someone has an idea that resonates with you, add onto it. Change it up, alter the paradigm to create something entirely new. As mentioned earlier, the point of the exercise is to build a large list of possibilities. It doesn’t matter how impossible or laughable some of them are.
Once the ideas and alterations are done, start thinking with more structure. Figure out which of the countless ideas are the most feasible, plausible and potentially effective solutions to whatever situation you’re faced with.
5. Changes in Scenery
In itself, creativity is a change from the norm. Creativity switches up the status quo by introducing new ways to see sights, think thoughts and experience experiences.
If you’re constantly stuck in a position where you don’t have the opportunity to stretch your imagination, then that’s a huge hindrance to problem solving. This feeling has multiple names: block, rut, trench…. They’re all negative and it’s obvious why.
Time and time again, it’s been found that taking a moment to step away from work refreshens you and allows your brain a moment of relaxation. It’s been found that changing the normal location of work helps too.
The American Institute of Behavioral Research and Technology’s head researcher, Robert Epstein, has touched on location’s effect on creativity by saying, “You want your physical and social surroundings to change… If it’s the same old stuff on the walls and your desk – and the same people you’re talking to – that’s not necessarily good for creativity.”
There you have it – take your laptop away from your desk, cubicle or office. Post up on the roof, lay out a blanket in a park or try out a different coffee shop next time. The change in scenery should cause a change in mindset.
Sticking with the theme of changing locations, exercise has been shown to boost creative and cognitive skills. The saying, “get the blood pumping,” still holds strong here. So take a break from a menial or stressful situation where creativity may be needed.
Do some light exercise – nothing that will fatigue you – and get the creative juices flowing again.
Some of you may read this and wonder if age plays a role here. The answer, for the most part, appears to be no. According to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, research shows that exercise will increase high-arousal positive affect across all age groups.
What does “high-arousal positive affect” mean? Broken down, “high-arousal” describes when the brain is active, focused, and situationally aware, while “positive affect” refers to the amount that one subjectively experiences a positive mood.
Put together, the phrase essentially means the amount of positive mood caused from high levels of activity and awareness. It wouldn’t be too far off to compare an increase in high-arousal positive affect to an adrenaline rush.
In a similar notion, those who enjoy low-arousal experiences may feel positive affect from engaging in less strenuous activities. Taking a walk, doing squats, practicing yoga or even meditation.
The key takeaway here is that being physically active will help your outlook and mental activity, allowing you to be more thoughtful and creative when tackling assignments.
Diving into the Creative Process
As mentioned in the beginning of this article, there are so many ways to prime yourself or your team for whatever creative tasks your company needs handled. We’re not always mind wanderers who have these brilliant ideas just come to us as a gift from the universe.
A lot of times we need to stop worrying about constraints and think of them more as guidelines to follow. Other times, we need to let our mind flow in an opposite direction than what we consider the norm.
We can rely on what we know and what we have experience with to get a hold of that elusive creative thought. Or we can shun it all away to seek out a new perspective that may reveal something we were blocking ourselves from seeing the whole time.
The above exercises have worked for countless teams in the past and they will surely continue to do their magic for years to come. However, not all of them are slam dunks for every individual. Try them out and see which fit your personal, or team’s, style and move forward in your creative endeavors.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also wish to check out “Growth Hacking and How It Plays into Inbound Marketing” to discover creative ways companies have built their followings. If you’re looking for a bit of inspiration, check out “Free Stock Photo Resources for Small Businesses” and “How to Animate IMages to Create a GIF”!
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