At RevelX, we love the concept of creativity. The Oxford Dictionary describes creativity as “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness.” In other words, this is what we need to do every day because you have to be creative to innovate.

Creativity: A Short History

There have been theories about creativity for millennia. Thinkers of ancient Greece lacked the concept of creativity, seeing art as a form of discovery and not creation. Asked, “Will we say, of a painter, that he makes something?”, philosopher Plato answered, “Certainly not, he merely imitates.”

In Western culture, the concept of “creativity” originated in the Renaissance. For the first time in Christian Europe, the creative abilities of the individual were praised instead of giving all credit to “the divine spark.”

The study of creativity as a process is fairly new. In the late 19th century, scientists such as Henri Poincaré and Hermann von Helmholtz began to reflect on and publicly discuss their creative processes. This was the precursor of the fascinating field of neuroscience.

Creativity: What Neuroscience Teaches Us

Beginning in the 20th century, psychologists and neuroscientists did empirical studies of the processes through which creativity occurs. One conclusion may be a little disappointing for people who want to be more creative: many creative people like writers and painters are just born that way.

But, if you are no Shakespeare or Picasso, there is good news too. Scientists discovered some methods that stimulate creativity. Below are 4 of the most important:

Incubation: A temporary break from creative problem solving can result in insight. That’s why daydreaming helps the creative process. Now you know why Albert Einstein liked to take a walk.

Solitude: Working alone makes people more creative because their brains work better in tranquil circumstances. Like country singer Naomi Judd wrote pointedly in one of her books: “This is when my best ideas come to me. Solitude is creativity’s best friend.”

Trying new things: The drive for exploration is probably the single most important personal factor that is supportive of creative achievement. As psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman puts it, “This consists of lots of different facets, but they’re all related to each other: intellectual curiosity, thrill-seeking, openness to your emotions, openness to fantasy. The thing that brings them all together is a drive for cognitive and behavioral exploration of the world, your inner world, and your outer world.”

Switch off reasoning: Suppression of activity on the left side of the brain, the side that is associated with rationality, helps to override constraints in existing thinking already learned from experience. In a recent experiment, researchers used electrical currents to retard the parts of the brain involved in planning and reasoning. The result was amazing. Test subjects scored better at imaginative puzzle-solving than subjects that had completely functioning brains!

4 Tricks to Fire-Up Creativity

Combining these scientific insights with my personal experience in supporting companies, I want to give you some tricks that will kickstart your creative processes. This is not a strictly defined scenario to follow or use as a rulebook. See them rather as creative ideas that generate more creative ideas.

1. Incubation: Give the Mind’s Computer Some Time
As we saw above, creativity is enhanced when tasks can “incubate” for a while. You should create the circumstances in which this will be possible for your employees. Below, I give you some examples.

If you want to brainstorm new ideas, try splitting the topic into two shorter sections on two different days. When managing a creative team, make sure there are some moments to share work in progress. On the one hand, then you will know there will not be too much procrastination; on the other hand, the “internal computer” of your people is given enough time to come up with excellent iterations.

2. Solitude: Give Creativity a Chance
Silence and tranquility can help the creative process as some research proves. But other scientists show the importance of distraction and taking a walk. Practically speaking, what does this mean for your company?

Simple: you just need to give your employees a choice of how they want to work. They certainly should have a space in which to contemplate, i.e., a silent place in the office. But if strolling, table tennis, or working at night are your people’s preferred methods to get their creative spark fired-up, don’t put a damper on their activities! As a leader, you should give your employees the environment that works for them. After that, you can demand their loyalty and brilliant ideas!

3. Trying New Things: A Modern Workplace is Mandatory
The link between “creativity” and “trying new things” is not very hard to understand. But many managers want accountability of each and every minute of their workforce’s workday. This approach decreases employees’ enthusiasm and stifles creativity resulting in people who only do the most necessary tasks. In a modern, innovative company, you should (a) hire people who are creative and skilled, and (b) give them the trust they need to excel.

Some successful organizations have even chosen an all-out, flat management model where the independence of employees is almost 100%. Automattic, the company behind WordPress, is a flat organization where individuals can start initiatives on their own. Likewise, Google stimulates creativity by allowing employees to work on their own ideas. The internal innovation incubators in companies like 3M and Adobe have the same function.

New ideas cannot be centralized, so innovative organizations cannot be too hierarchical.

4. Switch Off Reasoning: Know How to Brainstorm
If shutting off the rational part of the mind helps test subjects in solving puzzles, what will be possible relating to business challenges?

Try a brainstorm session in which you really harness the power of irrationality. For example, what happens if you try to solve business problems when playing a ball game? Dancing (this already happens!) is another excellent method to shake your brains up. Or, go to the pub and have a brainstorm session with a nice pint. I am sure you will love this last advice!

Have I Stimulated Your Brain?

So, now you have read this blogpost, I bet your unconscious, creative mind has come up with some great ideas. Believe me, this is just the beginning if you really are plunging into the wonderful world of creativity. Have a nice and inspiring trip, and I hope I will meet you someday!

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