All of a sudden, something pops into your mind that you hadn’t realized before. Boom! A unique idea, a groundbreaking thought, or a progressive innovation shows up. Maybe this is the most amazing characteristic of being human: our ability to envision something new. To go far beyond our comfort zones and explore, create, and invent. To me, this is magic.
In business, this is essential. In the West, the markets quickly become saturated, the products become uniform, and customers get bored easily. In order to survive as a business, you have to come up with something special. With a unique idea, a groundbreaking thought—an innovation.
Companies have grasped that by now. Furthermore, companies fathomed that there is no innovation without creativity. As a result, job descriptions stress the importance of creativity. But that’s mainly it.
You get the impression that creativity is genetic: either you have it or you don’t. If you don’t have it, then you’ve just got bad genes. Just kidding. You CAN learn how to be creative. I personally did and I’m continuously improving my creative thinking skills. If you’re reading this post, you’re probably interested in learning some tools.
How can you measure creativity?
In scientific literature, creativity is often operationalized by the “Torrance Test of Creative Thinking”. One interesting component of the test is the “Incomplete Figures” task. As shown below, you are given an abstract shape which you’re supposed to turn into a picture. Then, you have to think of a good title for your work.
The criteria on which the task is rated include originality, elaboration, as well as abstractness of the title. Based on these dimensions, you receive a high score on creativity if you create a rare and unique drawing with a high amount of detail and come up with an abstract caption.
With these goals in mind, why don’t you give the exercise a shot and complete these two incomplete figures?
The value and risk of curiosity
Creativity isn’t something you can easily switch on or off. Creativity is an attitude, a mindset you face your environment with. It’s all about being curious and exploring your surroundings with new eyes. It’s about investigating the reasons behind common incidents.
Of course, there is a certain amount of bravery involved in being curious. After graduating with an economics degree, I was faced with the task to elaborate on an investment decision in different countries. This exercise involved doing research on growth prospects of different nations. Most of my classmates decided to invest in the “established economies” of Germany, China and the US. However, I was on the total opposite side of the spectrum. When I said I was interested in investing in Poland and Vietnam, people started laughing.
Sometimes, being curious can really hurt. In my university class, people soon realized that my proposal had been based on reasonable evidence, however, in many cases you are not able to confirm your thoughts with hard facts. To quote Goethe, “Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” The same counts for creativity.
Feel safe to play.
Companies like Google or Facebook embrace an innovative corporate culture. If you scrutinize their efforts to develop such a culture, it becomes obvious that a playful and open-minded environment is one of the key aspects.
This is because inspiration seldom evolves out of itself. Most of the time, you need an external stimulus to come up with something ingenious. You need to be challenged, you need to be criticized. Friction is crucial, just like honest and confident feedback.
But as we’ve seen, if you display curiosity and start to think outside the box, you make yourself vulnerable. The solution is simple: grow in an environment you trust. Google and Facebook promote such an environment by open workspaces, shared meals and a wide array of teambuilding activities.
Trust crystallizes itself when it comes to criticism. In order to embrace critical feedback, you have to feel safe
enough to admit your mistakes as well as value the person and opinion of your counterpart. The most intriguing implementation of an open and trustful corporate culture seems to be found at Pixar: Here, failure is reframed as an indispensable tool to success. There is much wisdom in the words of co-founder Ed Catmull: “When you start something new, you will make mistakes, and if you don’t make mistakes you’re either copying yourself or copying someone else.”
But, let’s not just monitor other people. What’s coming up for you? Do you surround yourself with an environment you trust and in which you can give criticism without fearing bad consequences? If that’s not the case – how can you change that?
Change it up.
Outside my house, there is a little wall in the backyard. Especially in the evening, people find me sitting there, enjoying the last sunrays of the day. In the beginning, I didn’t realize it, but after a while I figured out that the best ideas came to me at this very spot. However, this isn’t because of magic bricks or gravity waves – it’s because I placed myself in a refreshing space.
Creativity needs space. If you don’t open your mind, nothing new can enter. Therefore, instead of putting yourself under pressure to come up with ideas or solutions, go for a walk. Find a bench. Visit a museum. Let things go and engage in new thinking patterns. Whatever you find that works for you—in the end, you’ll be rewarded.
As humans, we strive for familiarity and connection. From the perspective of our ancestors, this makes complete sense because any unfamiliar incident could have ended up between the teeth of a sabre-toothed tiger. However, times have changed. In order to broaden our mind and create a fertile ground for creativity, we should embrace the adventure and dive into the unconventional.
Realize that creativity is the key to your success.
Besides economics, I studied classical music. As you probably know, musicians spend several hours each day practicing. Since I was a busy student and really valued the little spare time that I had, I tried to figure out the most efficient ways to learn.
The most important lesson is to never repeat things the same way again and again. There is one valuable concept of the German cellist Gerhard Mantel which is called “rotating attention”: When playing a musical passage several times, you first focus on the movement of your right hand. The second time, you retrace the development of the sound. The third time, you monitor your breathing, and so on. Does this sound familiar to you? Again, it’s all about changing the perspective.
Furthermore, observing and paying attention are two indispensable capabilities, both for practicing an instrument and engaging in creative thought. Again, we come across a well-known characteristic: In order to observe and reflect on your environment or, maybe even more importantly, yourself, you have to take a step back and allow yourself some distance and space off the constant flow of action. In other words, breaks are a good thing, so take them!
When I practice playing the cello, those moments of discontinuing often lead to astounding progress. In the same way, giving yourself space to observe can lead to great discoveries.
It’s all about having the right mindset.
This blog post is about you. It’s about the environment you surround yourself with and the changes of perspective you implement in the right moments. It’s about how much attention you pay to external stimuli and whether you grant them the chance to resonate within yourself. It might be about learning from big companies. In any case, it’s about courage and about the constant challenge to find out more.
Creativity is a journey. You should make it part of your life and expand your mind on perhaps the most amazing characteristic of being human: our ability to envision something new.
About the Author
Jana is a German graduate and Fulbright scholar, interning at Innovazing. She studied communication, classical music, accounting, and marketing. Even though this is an unusual combination, she has the vague idea that someday, she’ll use all of these insights. She loves deep conversations and challenging others on the “why” behind everything they do in order to reach their core. When going back to her home university in Mainz, Jana will take up a PhD in Social Media Marketing. She is looking forward to this next chapter. Even though she’ll greatly miss Washington D.C., she knows that this won’t be her last time in the US.
P.S. Find out about Jana’s “complete figures” on Facebook and experience the difference between a high creativity score and a low one. Do you want to share your ideas? Join our Facebook group and find out about the manifold universe of our creativity…