Creativity and innovation are skills whose necessity is increasing by the day. This is because there are so many changes happening around us, and the rate at which these changes are coming is very high. It is therefore necessary for each of us to activate our brains for greater idea flow, aka creativity and innovation.
Without going into all the geeky science of neural pathways and how they can be activated for greater idea flow, here are some actionable strategies that you can put to use on a daily basis in order to boost the rate at which ideas (and innovative ideas at that) flow into your brain.
Become an Expert on a Subject
It isn’t easy to be innovative in an area where you are a complete novice. You first have to know the lay of the land, and then give it a creative or innovative twist.
This is the reason why you need to become an expert in your chosen field or fields. That deep knowledge you have in that industry or niche can then provide a springboard for your creative and innovative juices to flow.
For example, if you have an intimate grasp of how the current generation of smartphones work, you can easily identify gaps and think of ways to address those gaps. Subject matter expertise lays the foundation for creative thinking and innovation. In essence, you have to know the rules so you can break them!
This isn’t to say that only experts in a given field can bring creativity and innovation to it. But, a detailed understanding of a subject makes the task easier…a lot!
Always Be Curious
The saying “curiosity killed the cat” should forever be banished because it seems to suggest that curiosity is a bad thing. On the contrary, curiosity is a good thing because it not only puts you on a path to continuous learning but also sharpens your observation skills, which is a precursor to creativity and innovation.
A curious person always asks questions about everything around them. Think about a 3-year-old child and imagine all the questions they ask you in a single day you spend with them. That child is learning about everything around them, and some of the suggestions they make can be quite “out-of-the-box” or creative.
To build your creativity and innovative abilities, always ask what-if questions about everything you encounter or think about. For example, look at the smartphone in your hand and ask; what if I am to be stuck with this phone for the next 10 years, what would make it useful to me all through that time? What if I could improve it to make it even better, which features would I want it to have? How would I need to take care of it so it can last that long? Which parts would be the first to show signs of wear, and how can I avert or delay that wear and tear?
Always questioning everything around you can spark some creative insights which can be the bedrock of the innovative ideas or solutions that you come up with in your work and personal life.
Become Comfortable Taking Risks
We are trained from early in life to always go after success, and we tend to fear failure or fear to take risks. Creativity and innovation thrive when you are comfortable taking risks.
How many times did Thomas Edison fail before he came up with the light bulb? How many times was Colonel Sanders turned down before anyone could believe in, and back his idea of Kentucky fried chicken?
Accept that not everything new you try will work out. Take the fail as a learning opportunity and keep your ego out of the picture. Don’t take failure personally.
Becoming comfortable taking risks is something you have to gradually build into how you do things daily. For example, do you always take the same route when going to work? Try out new routes and consciously avoid doing things in exactly the same way as you have always done them in the past. Have you always held your toothbrush in the right hand while brushing? Switch things up and use the left! Have you always cooked your noodles a certain way? Look up new recipes and try them out!
Normalize taking risks and you will give your brain permission to freely generate creative and innovative ideas. Don’t be reckless while taking risks; take calculated risks.
Seek for a Variety of Solutions
Another way to flex and build your creativity/innovative muscles is by never settling for the first way out or solution that comes to mind when you are faced with a challenge.
Force yourself to come up with as many possible solutions as possible. For example, if you need to raise $10,000 to pay an outstanding debt, how many different ways can you come up with to raise that money? Brainstorm at least 20 different ways, and don’t give up until you have all the 20 approaches. Don’t worry about the quality of each solution; just explore as many solutions as possible. Hidden in there will be a creative approach that you may have never considered had you been content to take the first thought that came to mind.
As you focus attention on finding dozens of possible solutions to a problem, you will be growing your ability to think creatively and chances are that you will come up with some useful, novel approaches.
Always Question Your Assumptions
A fixed way of looking at issues is an enemy of creativity and innovation. You must therefore train yourself to always question your own assumptions and the assumptions of others. Must pizza always be round? Why is it then eaten in triangular-like slices? And why is the box in which it is packed square in shape?
“My boss doesn’t like me.” It is true he or she doesn’t like me? What facts support my assumption in this regard? What other ways can her/his attitude towards me be interpreted? What could I be doing that may be creating a distance between us, which I then interpret as my boss not liking me?
By questioning your assumptions, you create room in your mind to see things from different perspectives. Be logical and open to alternative viewpoints and your creative as well as innovative skills will grow.
If you want an acid test to confirm how logical or objective you are in assessing viewpoints different from your own, the next time you are in an argument with someone, don’t dismiss their perspective until you can argue their case better than they can. For example, if he thinks Arsenal FC is currently the best soccer team in the UK and you think Manchester United is the best, don’t dismiss their side of the story until you can come up with better reasons to support why someone would think Arsenal is the best club. That is the acid test of considering all perspectives before coming up with a position!
Thinking creatively and innovatively isn’t a switch that you just flip on when it is needed and turn off when not required. It is a way of approaching everything you do, and you have to put in the work to grow this muscle. Implementing the suggestions above will set you on your way to boosting your ability to think creatively and innovatively. For a deeper dive into this subject, Dr. Andrew Huberman recorded a podcast episode that is quite eye-opening on the topic. Take a listen and put the suggestions to work!