We’re all under increasing pressure at work – as our suffering health and mental well-being will testify. Today, I want to make mention of another of the chief casualties of mounting work-pressure: Creativity.
Creativity is perhaps not one of those elements most routinely mentioned when we think of the performant leader. And perhaps we wouldn’t say it sits that comfortably alongside other leadership capabilities like strategic thinking, decision-making and prioritisation skills.
But for me, creativity is a vitally important quality in the arsenal of any high-performing corporate professional. It’s one of the crucial ingredients that feeds into all those other key capabilities which stands us apart.
Are you receiving me, over?
We’re all naturally creative. Although we’re largely oblivious to it, our brains are constantly whirling away beneath the surface of our awareness: posing questions, tackling problems, spinning thoughts, streaming ideas. Even when “you” are feeling completely uninspired, your unconscious brain is being hugely creative.
The trick is to be able to tune into that creativity. To quieten our minds enough to catch the constant churn of ideas, theories and concepts. And then select those which are useful.
So how do we keep our creativity from being drowned-out by the pressure of work?
1. Set yourself the creativity challenge
The first thing to do is go looking for creativity in everything you do. Our brains love challenge: so challenge yourself. Where can I find the creativity in this task? How much more stretch can I add and have this still be doable? What would be a second right answer?
2. Schedule regular un-thinking breaks
How often have you hit a seeming dead-end on a problem, walked away from it – and then returned to have a great solution staring you in the face? Creativity flows when we move our conscious mind on to something else and return with some fresh perspective.
Schedule in short breaks throughout your day and avoid more than 90 minutes straight on a particular topic or in a particular meeting.
3. Remember your brain is analogue
Our brains are often compared to (digital) computers. But it’s more accurate to say it’s an analogue processor: our brains work by analogy and metaphor. (It’s why we love stories.)
So when you’re looking to get creative at work, try a metaphor, simile or comparison to help induce possible solutions. Look at the problem, define it, even name it. Say: “my problem is like a …” and see what thoughts pop up.
4. Find and thrive on novelty
Our brains thrive on novelty, generating new connections with just a touch of the new.
If you’re in need of creativity, a great thing to do is to step away. Get out of the box; change things up; do something different. A change of scenery or change of routine is usually enough. So take a walk around the floor.
Better still: take a walk around the block and get some fresh air. The gentle, non-taxing distraction of nature is great for stimulating the right-side of our prefrontal cortex, needed to process new ideas.
5. Get your unconscious on the case
Our unconscious brain has huge capacity compared to our conscious mind. And our chances of solving a problem with a creative solution are greatly enhanced if we put our unconscious to work on it.
But first you need to put the work in and supply your unconscious brain with the raw and relevant data to work on. So do your research – and cast your net wide. Clues to our most creative solutions lie in the most unlikely of places. And our best insights occur when we are thinking tangentially off-topic.
6. Leave time enough for play
Our brains benefit from rest and play in equal measure. If we can get the balance of work, rest and play right, we’re far more efficient and effective when it come to the work piece.
So if you find yourself lacking in creativity at work, take a look at what’s happening (or not) in life outside of work. Are you making time enough for new activities and experiences?
7. Capture the ideas that come with sleep
The very best brain state for creative thinking occurs just as we fall asleep: the “hypnagogic” state. Our brains don’t switch-off at once, but rather power-down one region at a time. This interim state is then a great catalyst for creative thought.
Put a pen and paper on your bedside table to capture thoughts that occur when you’re drifting off to sleep in the evenings; and after you’ve hit the snooze alarm, in the mornings.
Getting creative at work
In a corporate world set in its ways, creativity can be a quality to sets us apart. That ability to look at the same thing as everyone else, but to see something different.
We’re all innately creative. The ability to quieten our minds and tap into that creativity is a skill that can be learnt and enhanced, if we just take the time to exercise a few of these brain-friendly techniques.