In a world of superheroes, creativity is a real human superpower. Everybody has it. It doesn’t just live within certain types of people within an agency. We all have creative potential. But as we get older, safer and more comfortable, we run the risk of losing that creative spark as life becomes associated with routine and order.
So is there a way to get back into your creative self? What methods from business, innovation or anywhere else are there to help you tap into that wellspring of positive ideas?
We sat down with Doctor Frederik Pferdt, Google’s Chief Innovation Evangelist, for the Google Partners Podcast episode 31, and he offered some fascinating insights (and tips) on how to answer some of those questions. During the discussion, he offers his thoughts on how adults can rekindle some of the creative fire they had as children, and other key takeaways to spark innovation at every level.
According to Doctor Pferdt it’s not only about ideas, but also about asking the right questions, finding good problems and therefore developing a healthy disregard for the impossible. Find a “what if” and a “why”.
As author and marketing guru, Simon Sinek recommends that you see if you can reframe the problem by getting to its roots. “Start with a Why.” Why do you normally approach a certain challenge from the angle you do, and why not step away from the issue and take a completely new perspective? Try something new. Get into a room, fill a wall or even two with post-it notes: what connections can you make and what new associations can you find, when you are free to consider them?
Every human being is looking for routines. They give us safety, security and save our brains energy. They make us feel good. That said, routines sometimes only help us to perform to our average level or below. Like putting your smartphone into ‘Low Power’ mode, some of the more complicated applications won’t work. To free us from the shackles of everyday thinking, it can be necessary to break those routines. Go and walk a mile, go check out a local gallery. Or even, as Jan Chozen Bay suggests in Mindfulness on the Go, pause and take a breath every time you walk through a door2. You can also make a list of your routines and they see if any of them are worth breaking (just as some will be worth holding onto).
Two modes for thinkers
As Doctor Pferdt mentions, it’s helpful to consider different approaches to thinking. According to him, there are two kinds of thinking: Divergent thinking powers the imagination, so it’s used for generating new possibilities and combining new thoughts. Convergent thinking powers your judgment, when you’re making decisions it’s how you evaluate and it’s the mode you use when you’re testing something or criticizing.
Allow yourself to recognize which of the two modes you are using. For example, try to think divergently when considering your methods or plans, so that you can embrace new possibilities. Give your ideas a chance to breathe before you start to criticize (and think convergently). One practical example writers use: if you have a speech or memo to deliver, try writing it out with a pen and paper before you type it out, and don’t stop to edit yourself. Let the words flow first and come back to edit later. You’ll find the shape of your ideas, which you can then come back to and refine with your critical eye later.
Why is it that way, why can’t it be different? New, radical solutions mostly emerge outside of our comfort zone. Constraints should be welcomed as an opportunity. Consider early users of Twitter. Writing a coherent message in just 140 characters (as it used to be) seemed a crazy challenge. But the constraint became creative fuel to millions of messages and new ways of communicating in shorthand. Just as the rigid structures of the meter, rhyme, and theatrical convention were subverted by William Shakespeare - even as he adhered to them.
From the Elizabethans to the present day, forms of convention and modes of communication move forward inexorably. The most successful thinkers and doers have to be ready to learn new ways and keep themselves learning, so they can stay in touch.
Build innovation into your daily routine
When you consider the pace of change in technology, it makes sense to include ‘innovator’ in your job description, in both your actions and attitude. What can you learn and take on in your thinking that will prepare you for the changes to come?
Doctor Pferdt recommends adopting what researcher Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset” (the idea that we can grow our brain's capacity to learn and to solve problems), which can start a virtuous cycle whereby believing you can improve, you actually improve. There is also a sense that having an open mind to new ways of working will not just be crucial in 2019 but might also be the key to agency success in the future. Scott Harrison, founder of The Boom! has this to say on learning at work and the importance of a certain kind of versatility.1
In the end, the challenge comes back to us all. How do you change your everyday approach to get creative?
Tune in to the Google Partners Podcast to find out more; and let us know your thoughts on Twitter.
1 Kapow! how you can hack, teach, make and steal your way to creativity in digital, Think With Google, June 2018
2 Hacking your innovation mindset, re:Work, June 2018