Embracing Creativity at Work

Written By Emily Hinz
Posted on

Creativity has a “branding problem.” When we think of creativity, our minds often turn to artists, poets, or musicians. But the truth is we all have the capacity to be creative. Just because your drawings might look less like van Gogh’s and more like the scribbles of a four-year-old (like mine do) doesn’t mean you can’t be a creative person. Creativity isn’t about making art. It’s about living a creative life.

. . . We are all, in some way, wired to create and . . . everyday life presents myriad opportunities to exercise and express that creativity . . . We all have the capacity to dream, explore, discover, build, ask questions, and seek answers—in other words, to be creators.

Scott Barry Kaufman & Carolyn Gregoire

No matter what industry you work in, you have opportunities to express your creativity. You’re probably already creating on a daily basis. When you problem solve, brainstorm new ideas, try out different methods, or form your own opinions, you are expressing your creative side.

During recent months, I have felt drained of my creativity. In trying to get out of this rut, I recently read Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire. This book outlines ten things highly creative people do differently. While I was reading, I realized many of the authors’ main points about creativity could be applied to the workplace. As authors Kaufman and Gregoire explain, “we can approach any situation in life with a creative spirit” and that includes our work. Whether you are a programmer, team manager, marketing consultant, or anything in between, you can approach your job with originality and imagination. Creativity is for everyone.

Let’s take a look at a few ways we can encourage creativity in the workplace.

Embrace the mess

Highly creative people follow messy processes. For these people, the road to innovation is not normally a straight path. It can seem chaotic. Rather than following an organized step-by-step plan, the creative process can involve spontaneous decisions and rapid direction changes.

As an example, Kaufman and Gregoire describe Pablo Picasso’s process for working on Guernica, one of his most famous murals. Picasso didn’t follow a set plan to create this masterpiece. He sketched and re-sketched, painted over his previous work, and abandoned numerous concepts. His blind experimentation seemed to show that he “did not quite know where he was going, creatively, until he arrived there.” His progress on the painting often didn’t look much like progress at all. It was messy. He improvised, revised, backtracked, and discarded many ideas.

As you work on your next project, try to embrace your inner Picasso and let your process be messy. Allow yourself the freedom to change your mind. Experiment with new ideas and be willing to let them fail. You just might discover something truly brilliant along the way.

When we embrace our own messiness . . . [we] help create a world that is more welcoming of the creative spirit and, it is hoped, make it possible to find a greater connection with ourselves and others in the process.

Scott Barry Kaufman & Carolyn Gregoire

Try something new

New experiences are a great creativity booster. Kaufman and Gregoire state that openness to experience is “the single strongest and most consistent personality trait that predicts creative achievement.” When we get stuck in our daily routines, it prevents us from using flexible and inventive thinking. We get accustomed to doing and seeing things a certain way that we have trouble breaking out of our normal habits.

This is where trying new things can help. Any life event that expands our experiences and disrupts our routines can help increase our creativity. It gets us to see our surroundings in a new light and we make connections we might not have otherwise. It makes us more likely to reject linear ways of thinking and pursue unconventional ideas instead. We “need new and unusual experiences to think differently.”

While big life events can certainly help with this, there are other ways we can break out of our habits on a smaller scale too. Try working from a different room, taking a new route when going for a walk, ordering food from a different restaurant, or listening to a different genre of music. Even small routine changes like these can spark new creative thoughts. Try one or two new things each week and see what kind of impact it has on your mind.

. . . We need new and unusual experiences to think differently . . . [Cultivating] a mindset that is open and explorative might be the best thing we can do for our creative work.

Scott Barry Kaufman & Carolyn Gregoire

Give yourself downtime

Have you noticed that your best ideas seem to come at the most random times? Maybe they come to you while in the shower, commuting to work, or on a walk. There’s a reason for that. These activities provide a temporary distraction from our immediate tasks. They give us a change of scenery and a mental break. A study by Kaufman found that 72% of people experience new ideas while in the shower. He also learned people are more likely to get fresh insights in the shower than at work. Kaufman and Gregoire call this “creative incubation” and it’s important for our creative thinking.

If you sit behind a desk most days, this may not come as a surprise to you. Your best ideas probably don’t happen when you’ve been staring at your computer screen for hours trying to figure out an approach to a problem you need to solve. But if you step away from your desk to take a quick walk or wash the dishes, it’s likely your thoughts will start flowing much easier.

If we’re going to allow our creativity to surface, we need to give it space to do so. We need margin in our lives to get away from the busy-ness of everyday tasks and to-do lists. That solitary downtime allows us to reflect, process, form connections, and make sense of our thoughts. Letting our minds wander in those moments helps us understand what we think and feel. Highly creative people often brainstorm new ideas alone, then team up with others to solidify their ideas and push them forward.

The next time you’re feeling stuck on a big project, take a break. Spend five to ten minutes on a mindless activity, like walking, folding your laundry, or doodling. Let yourself daydream during that time, then see how you feel when you get back to your desk. I tried this out the other week when I had writer’s block. I stepped away for a moment to make my bed and during the few minutes I let my mind wander, I figured out what I had previously been missing. When I got back to my desk, I knew what I needed to do and felt more energetic about working on it.

Some degree of isolation is required in order to do creative work, because the artist is constantly working through ideas or projects in his mind—and these ideas need space to be developed.

Scott Barry Kaufman & Carolyn Gregoire

Enjoy the process, not just the result

When we enjoy the process of creating, our mindset changes. By focusing more on the process instead of the final product, we feel less pressure to reach the finish line. Kaufman and Gregoire explain “those who derive enjoyment from the act of creating and feel in control of their creative process tend to show greater creativity than those who are focused exclusively on the outcome of their work.” As we concentrate on the process, we relax into the steps we take along the way and it helps increase our creativity.

Enjoying the process means we are more likely to take risks and experiment with new methods. It may involve more ups and downs, but we learn more than we probably would have otherwise. We don’t lose hope when we run into a roadblock or a mistake. We can take setbacks in stride, regroup and learn from them, and keep moving forward.

Having appreciation for the process also means we don’t get bored by the mundane, everyday tasks that are necessary to reach the final result. Instead, we approach our work with playfulness. “Playing with work gives us a certain lightness and flexibility when generating new ideas and also helps motivate us to continue to work long hours without becoming too stressed or depleted,” Kaufman and Gregoire state. A playful attitude helps us maintain an adaptable and positive mindset toward our work. It makes us happier and more productive.

To nourish and sustain motivation toward a creative goal, we must not only fall in love with a dream of our future self . . . but also love the process of becoming that person—including all the unglamorous, everyday hard work.

Scott Barry Kaufman & Carolyn Gregoire

How do you approach creativity in your job? What inspires your creativity and what stifles it? Share your thoughts with us @zaengle.