Creativity is a trait we all admire. Original thoughts and ideas are valued highly in the marketplace. But most people believe that creativity is an inborn trait and is beyond their reach. They’re right about the former, but wrong about the latter.
It goes without saying that some people are more naturally creative than others, but the same can be said of any human trait. A person with a high IQ might breeze through school with a “B” average, but a person with an average IQ can become an “A” student if he’s willing to invest enough time and effort in his studies.
The same is true of athletes. There are great athletes in every major sport who never rise above mediocrity, while guys like Larry Bird (who was slow and had almost no jumping ability) and Emmett Smith (who was small and not particularly fast) became legends.
And so it is with creativity. What it all gets down to is price paying. If you want to become more creative, you have to be willing to put forth the effort necessary to do the things that lead to increased creativity.
One of the most encouraging facts about the human brain that researchers have discovered is that intelligence is not a prerequisite to creativity. IQ tests focus on convergent thinking, which views a problem as having only one solution. There is no creativity involved in this process.
To be creative, you have to think divergently, which entails considering many solutions. And that, in turn, requires you to disregard conventional wisdom and consider far-ranging possibilities.
Studies have demonstrated that the left hemisphere of the brain is responsible for convergent thinking, while the right hemisphere is the home of divergent thinking. Thus, a person with severe left-brain damage can still be creative.
Anyone who has ever watched young children at play knows that they tend to be very creative. However, their creativity becomes suppressed by a school system that values conformity and specific answers to specific questions.
Further conformity is demanded, or at least encouraged, on job applications and in the workplace. The cerebral risk-taker who dares to go against conventional wisdom does so at his own peril. If his unconventional idea is adopted and proves to be a winner, he may very well be on his way to the presidency of the company. But if he’s wrong, he may be looking for a new job.
Of course, those who are self-employed don’t have to worry about getting fired, but they do have to worry about going broke. Thus, one of the prerequisites for creativity is having a well-endowed lower anatomy.
Knowledge is another factor that is critical to creative thinking, in at least two ways. First, because the left brain is the cerebral filing cabinet for specific knowledge, it keeps the creative right brain from running wild. We’ve all known people who come up with an idea a minute, but most of their ideas either fail or never get off the ground. Usually, it’s a result of their lacking enough specific knowledge in their brain to silence their creative right brain and tell it to move on to the next idea.
Second, and even more important, if your left brain is overflowing with knowledge, your right brain has access to the material it needs to be creative. Good ideas and concepts are only as good as the knowledge upon which they are based.
What comes into play here is the Schlock Blocker, which states: For every hour spent watching schlock TV, the left brain is deprived of an hour’s worth of valuable knowledge that could be gained by reading a serious book.
But it gets even trickier. There is convincing evidence that too much specialized knowledge can actually inhibit creativity. Viktor Frankl alluded to this problem when he described an expert as a person who no longer sees the forest of truth for the trees of facts.
When it comes to the arts, in particular, too much knowledge can be detrimental to creativity. Researchers have discovered that people who experience severe left-brain damage become less inhibited and more creative in such skills as drawing and painting.
This is because the left brain organizes our social skills and tends to repress “eccentricity” and nonconformity. There is a strong suspicion that Vincent van Gogh’s wackiness was a result of left-hemisphere brain damage, which in turn gave him the freedom to be totally uninhibited in his right-brain artwork.
Today, Hollywood is overflowing with artistically creative people who talk as though they’ve had group left-brain lobotomies. If one gives them the benefit of the doubt and assumes they are well-meaning, one is also forced to conclude that their incoherent babbling about such topics as politics, world peace, and the environment stems from a lack of knowledge. But this lack of knowledge does not get in the way of their artistic creativity.
Finally, it’s much easier to be creative when you’re not under pressure. That’s why it’s a good idea to get away from your office periodically and relax. Some of my best ideas have come to me while cruising at thirty-five thousand feet — no telephone, no e-mails, no projects piling up around me. Vacations, the theater, attending conferences, and just going for long walks all serve the same purpose.
Above all, develop the habit of grabbing hold of random, creative thoughts and quickly getting them down on paper. Nothing frustrates me more than realizing that a great idea I came up with yesterday is gone because I was so certain I’d remember it that I didn’t take the time to write it down.
To discourage this lazy habit, I keep pads and pens everywhere — throughout the house, in my car, and next to my bed. Be rigidly self-disciplined when it comes to writing down your ideas, especially those that are the most extreme or that you’re positive you’ll remember — because you probably won’t.
It’s also a good idea to always be ready to put your DVR into action, because you never know when some great tidbit is going to make its way in between the standard schlock programming and appear on your television screen — provided you watch the right channels, of course.
Lastly, and most important, I believe that creativity flows from action. Action stimulates your brain cells and gets your creative juices flowing. What happens when you take action is that the atoms in your brain increase the speed of their vibrations, which causes your “mental paradigm” to expand. And when that occurs, you begin to see new ideas, new concepts, and new possibilities that you may not have previously considered.
That’s why you can’t afford to wait until you become motivated to take action. Instead, you have to employ your free will and force yourself to take action. And when you do, motivation is almost sure to follow. In other words, don’t make the mistake of waiting for something to happen; make it happen!
Remember, to be successful in business, the three most important areas you have to focus on are strategizing, innovating, and marketing. And since all three require creative thinking, it’s imperative to your success that you constantly hone this remarkable human trait.