Here’s what the research says about habits that build creativity …

Habit #1: Take delight in deep thinking

Creativity requires us to not accept things at face value. Like the child who becomes engrossed in watching an ant struggle against a bread-crumb five times its size, deep thinking allows us to ponder and observe rather than judge. By suspending judgment and allowing ourselves to become completely absorbed in our curious, to contemplate “what is?”, “what else?”, “what if?”, “what about?”, and “why not?”, we begin to see beyond the standard answer and open ourselves up to new possibilities.

Habit #2: Demand imperfection

Creativity is not simply a thought, but requires an action. The most imaginative visions are not creative until they are translated into being. However, particularly in Western cultures, there is an increasing emphasis on achieving individual perfection with little tolerance for getting it wrong. To foster creativity, we have to be willing to place a higher importance on immersing ourselves in the world, than we do on being perfect. Whatever we define as “perfect” is highly specific to cultural and historical contexts. Because perfection depends on the achievement of these arbitrarily constructed rules, and creativity depends on something beyond the rules, we can never be truly creative whilst in pursuit of the perfect. We tend to tolerate imperfection in others more readily than in ourselves and our children. Therefore, freeing ourselves from the chains of perfectionism requires, above all else, the cultivation of self-compassion, laughter, and a bit of perspective.

Habit #3: Get to know yourself

Our world is filled with barriers that limit our opportunity to cultivate our creativity. Social judgments and expectations, dogmatic rules and bureaucracies, and simply the need to curb our passion so that we can earn a dollar and put food on the table are all common creativity inhibitors. By far the most significant personal cost of “being creative” is the risk of become alienated from the community to which you belong. History is filled with creative geniuses who are pathologised as “eccentric”, “mad” or – as increasingly the case of highly creative children in schools today – a nuisance, a problem, oppositionally defiant, or learning disabled.

Practicing creativity therefore requires that we also cultivate our acceptance that – in working toward something new – we are likely to challenge the comfort zones and expectations of those around us. For most people, the practice of creativity as an all-or-nothing endeavor is profoundly costly in personal terms. To practice every-day creativity requires that we learn to discern when to push and when to pull back. Every person has different thresholds for alienation, isolation and criticism. Knowing ourselves and our limits allows us to take risks, but always ones that we can live with. Make your creativity energizing, sustainable and for the “long-haul”, rather than isolating yourself and making your creativity a source of misery.

Habit #4: Use your strengths

Creative people are usually interested in everything with a particular focus in one area. Discover a strength you have and immerse yourself in it. Explore it from every angle. Pull it apart. Put it back together. Contemplate, play and challenge everything you can about it. Be curious about everything, and consider in what ways and contexts your strengths could be applied and connected to other areas. Give yourself permission to change your mind. Discover every possible use for what you’ve got. Use it. Reflect on it. Use it some more.

Habit #5: Find a Creative Role Model

Creativity is one of the key learning strategies we have to survive our early childhood. The difference between someone who is creative, and someone who is not, is simply whether creativity has been allowed to flourish or wither beyond the early years. Instead of sitting back in the hope that creativity will discover us, we need to actively seek out sources of inspiration for creativity. Surrounding ourselves with people who navigate through their own lives with creativity provides valuable insight into the genuine nature and nuance of creativity (rather than the sanitized and contrived Hollywood version). Observing, discussing, and sharing stories with (or about) the people who inspire our passions can help to identify the core values and strategies that might be useful in our own creative development. (It also helps to strengthen and buffer us against the criticism that can sometimes be directed toward creative action).

Habit #6: Challenge the myth of independence

In a culture obsessed with “making” children independent from birth we do great damage to our creativity. Creativity is a collaborative process and everything that is created is simply a new version of what was before. The creation of a new person, for example, comes from the splicing and reconfiguration of its parents’ DNA. Likewise, to approach any problem creatively, we have to be able to connect all parts, to be able to discover unexpected interactions and inter-relationships that we might not otherwise have seen. People who are creative tend to have a tendency to see most things (including themselves) as one part of a bigger whole, where they can actively influence and shape the world they live in. In order to be creative we need to challenge ourselves to see interdependcies, rather than seeking to be alone and isolated in the world.

Habit #7: Maintain a strong Play-Ethic

A strong work-ethic is a highly valued quality by many. However, it is in play that all the parts and pieces flow into the totality of creativity. Businesses whose bottom-line depends on high levels of creativity – such as soft-ware developers and advertising agencies – understand this principle extremely well. These workplaces more closely resemble a child’s playground of color and freedom – rather than an office – where a genuine Play-Ethic and culture is actively fostered and encouraged.

Play (which is distinct from competition and sports) enables us to let go of pre-imposed dogma. In play we are free to move in multidimensional and illogical ways (mentally and physically), to try out different combinations and roles, to laugh at ourselves, to act without fear of failure, shame or measurement, and to be wholly led by our curiosity and our sense of discovery. In play, we can truly connect to each other, to the problem at hand, and to our hearts. Far from being limited to games and children, introducing a sense of play into any context that we want to change is the most direct way to be creative.

With the possibility that as adults we may re-learn to play creatively we have the greatest hope of solving the unsolvable and changing the world in the process.


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