Choosing creativity - designing your creative life.

How to become more creative? Is that even possible? These are two questions we hear regularly. It makes us wonder why people have such a hard time to accept that a) they indeed can be creative and b) that they can actively influence their creativity.

In this blog post we talk about a simple yet powerful way to unlock creativity by deciding to be creative. “What, seriously?” … we can hear you thinking as you read this. But stick with us, it might change some of your points of view.

In their book Creative Confidence, Tom and David Kelley, offer a quite pragmatic point of view. When they write about cultivating your creative spark, they mention several things. Their list, however, is spearheaded by “Choose Creativity”. It’s safe to say that the Kelley brothers are worth listening to when it comes to creativity, innovation and design. Among others they founded the top-notch design studio IDEO, initiated the Stanford and authored several books on those topics.

Digging deeper, academic research and findings back this statement, in particular the investment theory of creativity by world-class psychologists and creativity experts Robert Sternberg and Todd Lubart. They describe creative people being characterized by their ability and willingness to “buy low and sell high” in the realm of ideas.

“Buying low means pursuing ideas that are unknown or out of favour but that have growth potential. Often, when these ideas are first presented, they encounter resistance. The creative individual persists in the face of this resistance and eventually sells high …” - (Sternberg, 2006).

In order to cultivate your creativity, the psychologists add, the investment theory requires six distinct but interrelated components: intellectual abilities, knowledge, styles of thinking, personality, motivation, and environment. Think of it as necessary ingredients (but not a guarantee) for creativity.

So what if we not just read and acknowledge those factors and move on with whatever we were doing, but rather invest a few moments and deliberately design those areas in our personal lives deliberately? In this case by design we mean actively and consciously shaping our personal habits that support one of the components. Let us give you some examples:

  • Intellectual abilities: Invest more time in seeing the problem in new ways, e.g. asking why a lot. What if we force ourselves to explore a challenge or problem from the viewpoint of someone else (customer, colleague, competitor, …)?
  • Knowledge: Reserve time for knowledge generation and practice and avoid to act out of a knowledge vacuum. Knowledge is the building blocks for novel combinations. If you don’t know what is there already, how can you pioneer new areas? So why not deliberately spend some time upfront and prepare for the challenge or opportunity ahead?
  • Styles of thinking: Practice different thinking styles (convergent, divergent, emergent, …) and be clear about what thinking style helps you at your current project stage. How about journaling or keeping an idea diary? What about following a practice that let’s your subconsciousness work on ideas, e.g. taking walks or other ways for idea incubation?
  • Personality: Take a bit of a risk. One that is not too threatening yet sensible. For instance, we started our ‘gym’ by giving workshops for the community - out of the blue. Where we afraid? Hell yes. Did we have everything fleshed out in every detail? Surely not. Yet, deciding to take considered risks had very positive effects on our journey. Very often, the only risk is to expose your idea to others, not knowing how they react and fearing embarrassment. Social rejection is (too) often the only thing that holds people back.
  • Motivation: Think and find your drive. What creative work do you want to accomplish? Even more importantly: why? What fascinates you about that topic? Why is it that important to you? Too often we skip those questions thinking “I know why I do it anyway”. Do you? Eventually motivation will keep you going when you face the first obstacles on your (creative) path. Drive, your internal motivation, will keep you going. So you better know your why.
  • Environment: Where do you work and who surrounds you? Are novel ideas even appreciated? If not in your day job, try to flesh out a thought through concept of where, with whom and when you can follow your drive. Try to collaborate with a supportive network or tweak your working area to fit your needs.

The points above are just for inspiration. They are not meant as general advice, nor as only truth or as one of those “Do these 10 things to become a more creative person”. Instead, this view on creativity should highlight, that you indeed can deliberately decide on building your creative capacities. The investment theory offers some ideas for levers to adjust in your personal life. Every person needs a different mix and fine tuning all components still won’t guarantee creative flow.

The point is to understand that creativity is not an act of luck or a god-like epiphany. It is about actively designing your creative life.

We are curious to hear what you are doing to design your creative life. Let us know on Facebook or send us a mail to:

Stephan Kardos