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If you think being creative doesn't apply to you, think again. Here's why.

Earlier in my career, I assumed that because I wasn’t in a specific type of role the idea of being “creative” wasn’t relevant to me. But, admittedly, I was wrong. In fact, today, everyone from financial analysts to engineers is being asked to think differently, try new things, and innovate. And, this starts with being more creative.

Innovation is the introduction of a new idea. But, where do those ideas come from? Creativity is about imagining those new and original ideas. Though different, they go hand-in-hand and both are critical to drive change and improved outcomes. A recent study reveals 82% of companies believe in the connection between creativity and business results. And, employees are picking up on this too - 72% of workers believe their success depends on how creative they are according to a #futureofwork survey.

For some people, it’s natural to think outside the box. There is research around how creative people’s brains might work and what traits they are more likely to have. And though some research indicates you may be more inclined (or not) to think creatively because of your genetic makeup, it is also a capability that can be learned. Many of us don’t realize this! And, even if you do, you may let things get in the way of your creativity, which, over time, may lessen your ability to be creative because you stop using that muscle.

The good news is that we can all learn to be more creative and build this muscle. Here are some simple ways to get started.

1) Explore the unfamiliar.

Practice being curious and challenge yourself to learn something new and different, even if it’s a little uncomfortable. Start small. Perhaps check out a new exhibit (what’s the intent? what do people think about it?), interview someone in a totally different field, try something new to you (e.g. taste a new kind of food, take a class (tons are available for free online), pick-up a new sport or gym class), or pause to ask yourself “what will I discover today” (and then follow-up at the end of the day).

2) Ask more questions.

Be inquisitive. This may sound silly, but start to ask ‘why’ more often. Prompt further explanation with phrases like ‘tell me more’ or ‘why do you think that is’. One strategy you could try is called The Five Whys. Often used for root cause analysis, it is a good exercise that suggests asking why five times to dig deep. You may be surprised what you discover!

3) Share your ideas.

Though it may seem like individuals come up with an invention or launch an innovative startup alone, it is often the result of sharing ideas and collaborating. Asking for others’ opinions or input can spark new ideas – even when yours are challenged. Some argue that the most powerful creativity comes from a greater collective effort. And, it’s a good reminder that creativity is a learning process. Consider ideas to be experiments that you continue to test and further explore and grow. Don’t keep them a secret and assume perfection!

4) Go someplace different.

If you’re going to change how you think, it’s important to consider where you think. Go for a walk outside, work from a different location (maybe a library or coffee shop), re-arrange your desk or home office, or even stand or sit on a different side of your desk. These are all easily accessible ways to change your perspective and prompt you to see something new or think about something in a different way.

5) Seek different perspectives.

It’s critical to engage with a variety of people – not just those that share the same perspective. Have you ever asked for people’s opinions only to conclude “They just don’t understand what I’m doing.”? Well, sometimes that might be the case, but there is still value in the process. Perhaps you realize another audience, explain things in a new way that triggers an idea, or… come up with something new altogether. Get input from colleagues in different functions and departments, invite “guests” from outside your company, department and/or team for a collaboration or sharing session, and consider team members with different backgrounds and experiences.

There is no magic formula or playbook to “become” creative. But, there are ways to approach your work that give you space to think differently and come up with new ideas. In some ways, it’s really about a mindset. Genuine curiosity can lead to exploration of new experiences, places and ideas. Sometimes it might seem like a waste of time, but learning is a journey and it’s all part of the process - even if it’s something you don’t think will add value… consider trying (testing) it!

Of course, it isn’t enough to just come up with a new idea - you need to know how to execute on it. And, there is sometimes a time and a place – both for leaders and employees. But, how can you do that if you don’t think you’re creative to begin with? So, start simple. And, learn how creative you can be.

First posted on LinkedIn September 2017.

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