Once upon a time, Einstein said that if you don't make a major discovery by age 30, then you wouldn't do any.
If you look at the 27 club, then his statement makes sense...
There are numerous popular musicians that have died at 27 years of age. And they produced their most creative works in their short lifespan.
Robert Frost wrote 42% of his poems after he was 50.
Tom Jacobs did an analysis of 221 painters from the 19th and 20th century. And he found that, on average, most painters produced their highest value work when they were 42 years old.
Why did I flutter with so much shit around the peak age for achieving creativity?
Well I wanted to show you that there are no rules around creativity.
Rockstars have been notorious for doing drugs and alcohol to create music and enhance their performances.
Forget artists, painters, poets and physicists...
You also have an inherent creative potential.
The sad part is that only 52% of Americans in an Adobe's survey believed that they were creative.
One major reason might be that most of the professionals are pressurised for being productive over being creative at their workplace.
Whether you're a student, an employee or an entrepreneur - unlocking your peak creativity is a valuable asset. It will help you in decision-making and problem solving.
80% of people feel that creativity is critical for economic growth.
So in this article, I want to help you tap into your creativity reservoir and actualize it.
Let's get started with understanding the mental state our brain needs to slip into for being creative.
The mysterious mental state that makes work EFFORTLESS...
Have you ever admired a music/artwork so much that you couldn't believe it was humanly possible to create such a masterpiece?
Or maybe your role model is an entrepreneur that saw a challenging consumer problem in a different light. And he went on to create a multi-billion dollar enterprise.
Such purposeful and creative thinking is probably not possible with the ordinary light bulb moments that an average Joe has every day. And I don't think it's sheer luck/talent inside the individual either.
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You need to inculcate domain specific skills and deeply focus on a challenge to achieve this optimal state.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the psychological concept of flow to describe this highly focused mental state.
It starts with the creator getting fully immersed in the task and outside distractions becoming futile. Then challenging problems are addressed with pure joy and sans critical judgement.
The state occurs when we activate too many neurological connections and our consciousness recedes....leading to simply doing.
Mihaly even argues that flow is the secret to happiness.
You might fail to enter this effortless state of creation if you're short of skills required to tackle the challenge at hand.
But a major reason why most people don't enter a state of flow is because they constantly haggle between creating and judging their work.
A classic example is writing words while editing them simultaneously to ensure everything fits perfectly. It's difficult to produce and analyse at the same time because it involves different parts of your brain.
Remember I told you about tapping into your inner creative potential?
Flow is the way to retrieve it and produce your highest quality of work. You get into a trance state with laser-like focus on the task at hand without a sense of self or time.
In a recent Australian study, a tricky brain problem couldn't get solved by 40 research subjects. But as soon as flow was introduced artificially:
23 subjects got the answer right in record time.
The benefits of flow aren't just limited to problem-solving. Data from more general research conducted by the Flow genome project (spanning subjects across entrepreneurs to writers to scientists) reported that flow gets them to be 700% more creative.
Do you want to get into this automatic zone of flow and experience pleasure while doing your tasks?
Then here are 5 ways to accomplish it.
Being in the state of flow can make you 700% more creative!
1. Let go of THIS enemy to become more efficient and creative...
Do you judge every idea that comes to your mind?
If you do, then it needs to get fixed.
Because becoming critical and setting prior expectations to have a certain kind of thought will only stress you out. And stress has been found to be detrimental to creativity.
Rather, let go and look at every idea with genuine curiosity. Allow your thoughts to take you to unexplored paths and.....
You might end up with a truly original idea.
Even if you don't come up with a revolutionary idea for your project at hand, it's not the end of the world. Exercising your brain and nurturing the habit of looking at your ideas with curiosity (rather than contempt) will go a long way.
Pro Tip: Exploring new ideas can get fuzzy when you're not structuring your thinking. So try restraining every such session to a set problem. If your mind wanders off to other events, then bring it back to this problem. Such carefully designed self-restraint will boost your creativity by getting you outside of your comfort zone.
The method is known as productive meditation (devised by Carl Newport). And it can incredibly improve the quality and effectiveness of your thinking sessions.
Mark Zuckerberg has famously introduced the idea of 'moving fast and breaking things.' Even Steve Jobs believed in improving an existing idea when he was at the helm at Apple.
So when you let go of self-doubt, what's the worst that could happen?
Sure you could fail.
But in the process...
You learn, grow and become more resilient.
Once you're ready to be vulnerable, you'll experience more joy in your work from the newly acquired freedom for experimentation.
So repeat after Pablo Picasso:
Good artists copy, great artists steal.
2. Expand your skill-set deep and wide
Do you know a secret of the most successful entrepreneurs and creative problem-solvers?
They read voraciously.
Warren Buffet devotes 80% of his workday to reading. Bill Gates reads more than 50 books each year. Even Mark Zuckerberg took a challenge to read a book every 2 weeks throughout 2015.
If you look closely at their reading list, then you'll find that they read a wide variety of non-fiction. For instance, look at this list of 17 books that Bill Gates recommends everyone to read.
Information from various disciplines is helpful while pursuing challenging problems.
But how can this knowledge be useful unless we apply it?
Hugh MacLeod aptly describes the connection between knowledge and experience in the below manner.
The answer is making connections between what we know...
There's value not just in the content we grasp from books. But also in the content architecture we build.
As we already established in the previous point, nothing is purely original. In essence, creativity is making connections among the things that already exist.
Maria Popova is a huge advocate of this networked knowledge and combinatorial creativity idea.
Creativity is combinatorial, that nothing is entirely original, that everything builds on what came before, and that we create by taking existing pieces of inspiration, knowledge, skill and insight that we gather over the course of our lives and recombining them into incredible new creations.
So while you can use your current skill set to get in the door at a job you like....
Consistently keep expanding your knowledge and be open to wearing many hats at your job. Because the future isn't monolithic. In the globally open marketplace with access to affordable technology, you can become a physicist and a filmmaker simultaneously.
Derek Muller runs the popular physics channel Veritasium on YouTube. And he mentions how he merged his passion for filmmaking, acting, physics and theatre in the video below.
The book "Unlocking Innovation: How To Generate And Realize Great Ideas" by Smashing Magazine summaries creative ideas aptly below.
Groundbreaking ideas come from combining ideas from different industries, cultures, fields, and disciplines.
3. Don't spend your shower time alone
I am not talking about taking a person with you in there.
Just take a notebook for journaling your creative shower ideas. Assuming you don't have a waterproof smartphone, you'll need a waterproof notepad like Aqua Notes.
Indeed, the shower is just one place where you might get new ideas. The reason you experience creative bursts inside the shower is because of release of dopamine. Other such relaxing events include exercising and driving.
Outside of such relaxing events, it's possible to get creative ideas at random times - when you're having dinner, trying to sleep or while sipping tea.
So keep your smartphone and download an app (like Evernote) to store your creative ideas. Don't lie to yourself believing that you'll remember it all.
Even Richard Branson keeps a notebook with him everywhere he goes. In his book, The Virgin Way: Everything I know about leadership, he describes this notebook as one of the most powerful tools in his bag of business tricks.
Legendary Greek shipping magnate, Aristotle Onassis, also advises on carrying a notebook at all times.
Always carry a notebook. Write everything down. When you have an idea, write it down. When you meet someone new, write down everything you know about them. That way you will know how much time they are worth. When you hear something interesting, write it down. Writing it down will make you act upon it. If you don’t write it down you will forget it. THAT is a million dollar lesson they don’t teach you in business school!
And while we're on talking about people that treasure notepads and ideas, I would like you to meet James Altucher. He regards ideas as the currency of life. And believes that money as well as financial wealth are just a side-product of your idea muscle.
So how can you build this idea muscle?
James recommends buying a waiter's pad and writing 10 ideas every day in a list format.
Sometimes you might get stuck and feel stressed to get past the fifth idea. But that's when you need to sweat your brain and break through the temporary block.
Of course, it's easier said than done. But whenever you feel stressed to come up with more ideas during the exercise, you're committing the major mistake that we talked about earlier...
Don't let your brain trick you into judging your idea as embarrassing. Here's what James says on judging whether your idea is good or not:
"You won’t. You don’t. You can’t. You shouldn’t."
Here's the complete guide by James on becoming an idea machine.
Did you know that Richard Branson carries a notebook everywhere he goes?
4. When was the last time you travelled and explored other cultures?
In a survey by Skift:
42% of Americans said that they didn't take a single day off in 2014.
Obviously, taking time off helps in de-stressing yourself and improving your health. So once in a while, you've got to let go of meeting deadlines.
But there's another positive benefit that comes along with traveling...
Now you might already have heard of an anecdotal advice about the same along these lines:
- Traveling to new places will give you enriching stories to share with others.
- You'll learn about new cultures, traditions and explore life from a different perspective.
But psychologists and neuroscientists now have proof of the mental change that occurs with traveling....
Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School for instance has extensively studied the relation between international travel and creativity.
Here's what he has to say:
Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrity of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms.
But there's one major catch....
You can't expect to get a creativity boost from a one-week long spring vacation in a 5-star hotel.
The key is IMMERSION and ADAPTION of the local culture.
So you've to engage with the local environment if you want to REALLY boost your creative abilities.
Here's why world travel fosters creative thinking:
New sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations, and sights spark different synapses in the brain.
5. Protect this important asset...
I am sorry to break it to you but:
You can't be creative 100% of the time.
This recommendation goes especially for the A-type-ambitious-achievers that want to rock the world with their inquisitiveness. Sleeping and taking time off don't count as sexy. Hence such relaxing activities always take a backseat for the workaholics.
Here's the thing that science says about insomniacs:
"Sleep deprivation generally degrades mental agility and higher-order brain functions, so we would expect someone running short on sleep for an extended period to NOT be creative."
In a survey by the Better Sleep Council, 48% of Americans said that they don't get enough sleep. But less than half of them take any specific action to help them with better sleep.
Arianna Huffington has been a proponent of taking a good night's sleep. She describes its importance in helping you succeed in the TED talk below. She calls it the asset.
While you're going to sleep...
How about getting conscious about your dreams and tapping into your creative mind?
You won't be restrained by the laws of physics and the etiquettes of society. Rather, you'll be able to explore IMPOSSIBLE REALITIES.
If you like the idea (called lucid dreaming by the way) then:
You can start to train your brain using the Mnemonic Induction Technique (MILD) courtesy of psychologist Stephen LaBerge.
Besides having proper sleep, planning breaks/distractions in between your workflow has also been found to improve creativity. Such breaks allow people to work on the problem unconsciously and come up with the AHA Moment out of nowhere!
That's why Shelley H. Carson, Harvard psychologist and author of “Your Creative Brain", doesn't disregard distraction. Her research finds that an interruption can enforce an incubation period.
This is also one reason why after a long, hard and focused day at work, you get creative ideas when you jump in the shower or go for a walk.
Paradoxically, letting your mind wander contributes in coming up with more creative ideas.
In other words, a distraction may provide the break you need to disengage from a fixation on the ineffective solution.
Such sessions will also restore your awareness and focus.
The process is called incubation and calls for tasks that require low cognitive workloads (like playing a game or reading literature).
Half of Americans say that they don't get enough sleep.
A Stanford study found that walking can help creative thinking. In another research study, a noisy coffee shop ambience has been found to do the same. And counter-intuitively, even messy workplaces help in breaking the rules and thinking out of the box.
And all of those aspects aren't even mentioned in the article.
My point is you need to craft your own creativity framework that works for you:
Maybe it is writing a journal. Maybe it is taking a walk backwards. Maybe it is playing music. And even the 5 strategies I mentioned in the article that are good starting points for experimentation. Except there's no substitution for resting and taking time off. On their other side lies burnout.
J.K. Rowling did not know that Harry Potter would be such a massive success. Nor did Jimmy Hendrix know that his work would live on for over 30 years after his death.
So take the pressure off and start tapping into your creative potential. Elizabeth Gilbert introduces a great concept of dissociating your creative work from yourself to fight the fear of it being imperfect and unlikeable by your audience.