Today I’m sharing a guest blog by Larry Mager from ReadyBrain.net. Check it out below…
Americans tend to categorize themselves as “creative” or “not creative”. The truth is that anyone can be creative. By changing your perspective, working within your boundaries, and changing your surroundings, you can improve your creative output no matter who you are.
Have you ever struggled to understand a chart then turned it on its side? All of a sudden, a different perspective gives you the insight you need. In fact, psychologists have been testing this theory. An article in Scientific American describes how putting “spatial distance” between ourselves and a problem allows our brain to consider new options. For example, in one study, scientists asked subjects about a puzzle taking place in Greece, thousands of miles away. The second group had to solve the same problem, but for someone only a few miles away. The group who perceived the puzzle was a farther distance from themselves came up with more creative solutions. The lesson here is that adding distance between us and the problem, we give our brain space. Though the situation doesn’t change, we can think more clearly by changing our perspective.
In addition to changing perspective, it is helpful to give yourself some rules. Psychologist Barry Schwartz published a popular book called “The Paradox of Choice”. You can see him explain his thesis in this fantastic TED talk. If you don’t have 20 minutes to spare, I’ll give you a quick summary: more choices are making us unhappy, not happier. When faced with a large number of options, there are two potential outcomes. Some experience decision paralysis –which means the more choices we have, the harder it becomes to make a decision. If we are able to get past the paralysis and can make a decision, it’s likely we will be unhappy with our choice. His thesis is that fewer choices actually make it easier to make decisions, and these decisions are more likely to lead to satisfactory results.
Anyone who has stared at a blank page or blank screen knows the terror a blank page and its myriad possibilities presents. Starting a project with self-imposed rules can exponentially increase your creative output. This blog did a fantastic job of rounding up artists who worked within tight constraints to produce genius results. The good news is you don’t have to be an artist to use rules to your creative advantage. Rules can work well in a corporate setting too. For example, give yourself a rule such as a budget that is much tighter than you’re used to working with. Try a rule that challenges your brain – like making an effective Valentine’s Day promotion that doesn’t use the colors red or pink. Or try a rule that takes you outside of your usual role – ask the copywriters and designers to switch jobs for a pitch and see what happens.
In addition to stepping outside of your role, another way to shake up creativity is to change your surroundings. We are so used to our surroundings and daily work uniforms that we don’t think how much they can change our performance. In a famous experiment, scientists gave three groups of people an identical coat. The first group were instructed to wear the “Doctor’s coat”. The second group were instructed to wear the “Painter’s coat”. The third group wore no coat, but had a “Doctor’s coat” placed in the room with them. The subjects who wore the “Doctor’s coat” performed significantly better on a test than the other two groups, even though the coat was exactly the same. The scientist concluded that what the subjects wore had a “systematic influence” “on the wearer’s psychological processes.”
That doesn’t mean we should all start wearing lab coats to work (unless you are a doctor, of course). It does mean that what we wear and what we surround ourselves with directly impacts our creativity and performance.
You might apply this in life by dressing yourself, and your space, for success. If your company has a dress code, dress like the role or department you want to reach. If you work from home, please, I beg you, get out of your pajamas. Your space matters too: if you are in one of an endless line of cubicles, you can still find ways to be inspired. Try putting up quotes that get ideas flowing. I once worked with a designer who pinned paper and color samples on her cubicle wall. When she needed inspiration, she would take them down and rearrange them as she thought about the task at hand. If you work from home, consider changing the decor slightly each month or with a new season (or project). Change your surroundings. If you are writing a project plan for a new park, get out of your basement office and go to an empty boardroom filled with light, or better yet, go to a park to write.
By changing your perspective, imposing rules, and surrounding yourself with positive influence, you will see your creative juices start to flow more and more!