Learn creativity? Impossible, most would say. But I’ve found that it is possible and, with just a little effort and time, will yield big personal and professional rewards.
Two ways you can do this are first, by letting go of the notion that you aren’t creative because it’s a skill that can be learned, and second, be open enough to embrace the ideas suggested by these authors.
Limiting beliefs do not serve us well
Have you ever played Boggle and looked over at the timer’s sand quickly running out but you’re stuck finding new words? What if you simply spun the grid around and looked at it from a different angle?
So easy, right?
You can train yourself to be more creative. If you’re stuck in a rut and can’t get see your way out, these books will help you open your mind and free your thinking.
Failure is a sign that you’re trying
Even though I can’t draw or write music, I’ve always been a creative thinker.
In my corporate career, I was Vice President of New Product Development. I enjoy the creative process of thinking things through to solve problems in unique ways. The go-to phrase on my professional materials I use a lot is ‘first-ever’ because, well, I have many ‘first-evers’ on my resume.
To highlight just a few, these include creating the first-ever Small Business Services category in the Yellow Pages directory, I was on the team that created the first-ever Star Trek credit card, and I’ve worked with Fortune 100 companies to help them develop breakthrough new products and services.
However, we all get stuck sometimes and can use a little help. These four books have helped me and the techniques and practices in each of them will help you too.
The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharpe
Yes that Twyla Tharpe. The famed modern dance choreographer wrote this New York Times bestseller book dubbed a ‘practical guide’ to help us get organized so that we can free our minds to create. Here are some of her tips:
She says that to think outside the box, you first have to start with a box — the way she organizes projects is literally in file boxes. Every idea, inspiration, sticky note, etc. is put into that project’s box. When I read this, I could relate because my go-to method has always been a file folder. Yours may be an envelope or something else. The goal is to have a place to gather all the ideas you think of so you can sort through them and see how they all fit together to create something new. It’s also tactile and visual which helps to feed the creative process.
Because she is a dancer, she relies on her body to help her with her creativity. One physical technique she uses is an exercise she calls Egg. Here’s how it’s done: Make yourself as small as possible, and then stretch out in various ways. Watch your body make new shapes, and free itself. Clear your mind while doing this and feel the connection between your body and your mind. The physicality of moving helps our ideas flow through us so we become unstuck.
A Whack on The Side of The Head, by Roger von Oech, Ph.D.
Dr. von Oech is the Founder and President of Creative Think and he’s also a toymaker and in-demand speaker. This book’s tagline is How to Unlock Your Mind For Innovation. Written in 1983, it’s as relevant today as it was then.
Dr. von Oech’s book includes these tips to unlock the flow of ideas:
Unlearn what you know. By doing this, we’re no longer constrained by old ideas and can open up to conceive new ones. A recent innovation that comes to mind when I think of this concept is the Roomba vacuum. It’s round, first of all, it runs all by itself, it’s also cordless and rechargeable. That’s innovation at its core. To completely rethink how something is built and how it works.
Release the ‘one right answer’ concept. He argues that by the time we’ve finished college, we’ve become trained to find that ‘one right answer’ and are therefore closed to the possibility of there being several right answers and perspectives. Combining two or more approaches to solve big problems has many advantages for our society and the complex problems we’re facing.
How to Be Everything, by Emilie Wapnick
When I read this book, I felt as if it were written just for me. She shows us that we don’t have to limit ourselves to just one career. We can be anything and everything at the same time.
The tagline for this book is A guide for those who (still) don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. Professionally, I use her term Multipotentialite to describe my overlapping experiences in business and higher education.
How freeing this was for me
I’ve always been interested in many subjects and she shows us that much of innovation and creativity happens at the intersection of two diverse fields. This book aims to help those like us design a life that encompasses all of your pieces and parts to form a whole that is uniquely you.
The lessons she shares to create your ideal life are:
You don’t have to choose just one career to pursue, or just one major in college (now you tell me!) and can fit many of them together to form a unique puzzle that is tailored to you. She herself is an attorney and web designer and author and business owner. Recently I met a doctor who was also a concert pianist. I am a marketing professional and college professor and author. You can create a fulfilling life by doing more than just one thing.
She puts forth many ways for us to accomplish our intersecting interests to earn a living. Two of the more interesting ones are by melding them such as I’ve done by teaching marketing, or doing a ‘day job’ and then having a second career gig on the side.
The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron
This book changed my life in so many ways and I credit it with saving my soul. I’d been in a weird place of wanting to change my life yet being stuck as to how to do that.
As soon as I began her practice of writing morning pages, my thoughts became clearer. I could work things out on paper in private and go deep in a way I’d never done before.
This book’s tagline is A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity and it really is. She shows us how to tap into our higher powers to connect with the creative energies of the universe.
Called the seminal book on living an artist’s life, she has trained writers, painters, actors, business leaders, and others on how to clear a path for their creative ideas to flow through them.
The book lays out a 12-week process with weekly goals. Interestingly, each of her 12 chapters’ titles begins with the word ‘recovering’ because we’re all born with the tools we need to be creative, but our adult lives take over and we become rigid and closed and stressed.
For example, Week 1’s title is Recovering a Sense of Safety, and Week 12’s title is Recovering a Sense of Faith.
Here are her two overarching techniques to recover your creativity:
The morning pages routine is the most important tool we can tap into to access our spiritual creativity. Because there is a connection between writing by hand and creativity, (scientists say it’s because we better encode ideas this way), she advises using a journaling notebook and your favorite pen to write three pages of whatever is in your head. Can’t think of something? She advises writing “I can’t think of anything” over and over until you do. I thought this would be a problem for me, but it never has. I can easily fill three pages and it’s a nice way to start the day because my mind is clear and I don’t feel heavy carrying my thoughts around with me all day.
Set aside two hours each week to take yourself on a creative date. This could be whatever stokes your creative juices such as visiting a museum, painting, drawing, or watching a play. For me, it’s usually playing with one of my coloring books. Over time, I’ve amassed a collection of dozens of colored pencils and all kinds of adult coloring books. Time flies by when I do this and it’s often longer than two hours because I get into the flow of all the shapes and colors. Sometimes I look up and it’s gotten dark and I realize I forgot to eat!
- Be open to new and different ways of doing things
- It’s OK to fail because it means that you’re trying
- Put some organizational structure to your creativity
- Schedule creative time on your calendar
- Don’t feel constrained by rules — break them to your advantage
Do these resonate with you? If so, use them to get yourself unstuck and create the life you’ve always wanted. Unleash your creative spirit and watch what happens.