Creative problem solving is useful to everyone. It’s a top skill business leaders look for. In a time of crisis creativity will make all the difference. But unfortunately people don’t always feel that they are creative. As children we are all creative. We are all artists and story tellers. We are all free, it’s in our nature. For some reason we have that freedom trained out of us, unless we have some artistic aptitude or exceptionally stubborn will. Well, it’s time to tap into your creative self, because creativity can be learned.
Before we can get started on developing your creativity, we need to clear the path. You need to understand that you are creative. Failure is necessary and judging yourself will get you no where.
- Fear of failure Failure isn’t always bad. Making mistakes shouldn’t scare you. How many times did Edison fail before he made the lightbulb? 10,000. Failure is actually part of the process. You can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs.
- Thinking you are not creative This is a common problem. People align creativity and execution and imagine they can’t do it. Creativity is nothing more than idea generation. Steve Jobs didn’t physically build the iPhone himself, he had a creative idea. Everyone can have creative ideas. The more you practice, the better you get.
- Don’t judge yourself Being overly critical of your ideas hampers your creativity. Thinking an idea is stupid crushes potential before it has a chance to develop. So go easy on yourself.
Exercise Your Creativity
Time to flex those muscles. By taking some simple steps you can go a long way towards improving your ability to quickly develop unique, innovative solutions to complex problems. Let’s dive in.
- Develop an eye for quality In general you should train yourself to know whats good. You go to the gym to get physically fit right? So why not exercise your mental muscles too? Use books, social media, museums, nature. Find out whats popular and why. Then start developing your own palette.
- Frame the problem Always start with a problem to be solved. Henry Ford solved a transportation problem. If he had been trying to make a faster horse we might not have cars. Make sure you understand what your problem is, who you are solving it for and why. Just make sure it’s actually a problem to be solved and not a solution to be vetted.
- Creativity is a team sport Great ideas can come from anyone. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody. Build off the ideas of others and be supportive. Give good feedback, and receive it well. You can build off of ideas from people in the room, or from people you’ve never met. Without Galileo, there would be no Newton. Without Newton there would be no Einstein… you get the point.
- Don’t focus on negative opinions In a good early brainstorm there is no judgement. But if you are bouncing ideas off people and getting negative reactions, take it in and shake it off. Innovation never comes from a herd mentality. You need to be able to step out side your comfort zone. Newton, Picasso, Einstein… they did not follow the crowd. Listen to feedback, just don’t let it stop you.
- Be curious Inspiration can come from anywhere. Keep learning. Go to museums, read books, go to concerts, go to great restaurants, climb a mountain, think about why amazing things are amazing. Put in the work. Don’t expect inspiration to be a lightning bolt. Creativity is a process.
- Don’t Censor your ideas Go for volume at first, you never know if a branch of some idea you think is completely crazy will turn out to be a winner. So practice divergent thought at first, then go for convergent thought after a given period of time.
- Look for connections Find patterns. Find connections between disparate concepts. Connections like a camera and a phone seem universal now, but in 1999 most people couldn’t see the need to always have a camera on hand. The first camera phone was cordless not a cellular mobile phone, but who knew it would usher in the age of the selfie?
- Unplug Go for a walk. Meditate. Give your mind time to work. Seek out natural beauty. Let your mind do what it’s supposed to, away from the onslaught of technology and media. In the words of Stephen Gates, “Find time to be bored”.
- Live the problem Find empathy, make observations, find insight, explore solutions from the inside out. Learn more about Empathy here.
Creativity in a Crisis
We find ourselves in a difficult time, we have to adjust, adapt and keep moving forward. During a crisis creativity is very important. It can help you in several ways.
- Desire to help others It’s heart warming to hear all the stories of compassion and empathy out there today. Empathy is spurring creativity all around us. In Haddon Heights, NJ, a local Cub Master is organizing people to donate in a very creative way. He has organized a page where people can donate time and/or money to simultaneously help frontline medical workers and local restaurants. Donations support local businesses by purchasing meals, that are hand delivered to frontline medical workers at the local hospitals. This is a great example of creativity in a crisis. You can help the cause here.
- Revaluate your skill set In a crisis, people think about how their skills and resources could be applied to the problem. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit it’s peak there was a fear of a ventilator shortage for patients. Dyson, designer and manufacturer of vacuum cleaners answered the call. Within 10 days of the request from the British government, Dyson had designed and built the “CoVent”. They creatively applied their skills to attack a crisis head-on.
- Use creativity as a shield Fear can bring focus and energy, and creativity can be used as a defense against feelings of helplessness. This worldwide pandemic is certainly causing its share of fear, but the fear is being met with creativity. DIY face masks are all over the internet. Now people can focus their fear into making decorative masks to protect themselves, their family and frontline workers. Some are even using home 3D printers to make face shields. Creativity is literally shielding them from fear and a deadly virus.
- Sink or swim The mental barriers that prevent people from being creative disappear in a crisis. When forced into action, when our ways of doing things are disrupted, creativity comes shining through. A creative doctor from the University of Mississippi Medical Center, “…built an in-house ventilator as a potential last resort to treat COVID-19 patients, the ventilator is made from items commonly found at hardware stores like a garden hose and a lamp timer.” Simply amazing. That is true creativity in crisis.
- New problems, new solutions Sometimes a problem presents issues that have never been dealt with in the past. Our current situation finds us in such place. COVID-19 is creating workplace issues that endanger the safety of all employees. According to Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, regular testing for every industry is needed to “both help keep people safe and help get the economy back up and running”. So instead of waiting around, Amazon put together a team of employees from different units to create new tools to test for COVID-19. In the face of a new threat, they are working with Internal teams, innovating and trying to move forward.
Use a Framework
A blank canvas is a frustrating thing. I’m an artist and a designer and starting from scratch is never easy. How do you think outside the box when there is no box? There are tons of frameworks out there, some specific and some general. I like Design Thinking, it’s a methodology that can be applied to any kind of creative problem solving. Learn more about Design Thinking here. Hopefully you can use some of these ideas to help you the next time you’re stuck on a creative problem, or if you just want to be prepared for an impromptu brainstorm. Now you can go get your hands dirty and come up with some great ideas.
References, Links & Exercises
10 Exercises to Build Your Creative Confidence, By IDEO
10 Tips to Cultivate Your Creativity
By Margarita Tarakovsky, M.S., Associate Editor at Psych Central
3 Ways Boredom Can Unlock Your Creativity, By IDEO
Creativity is a Blue Collar Profession, By Stephen Gates
We are the company behind the world’s most beautiful awards, deal toys, mementos, and corporate gifts. For over 10 years, Buttonwood has designed iconic awards for the most storied names on Wall Street. Our custom deal toys and mementos are designed in our studio in New York and can be shipped anywhere in the world. We are a women owned business and we have been at this for a while.