Being creative and expressive is important to both professional and personal success. Mykel Dixon explains what you need to do if you’re struggling to find your creative side
In early January, just as the world first learned about COVID-19, LinkedIn released data from over 20 million job listings posted during the previous year, revealing the five most in-demand skills for 2020. For the second year in a row, creativity ranked number one. Even before the effects of a global pandemic, the value of employees who think and act differently was unparalleled.
But creativity isn’t just the most reliable driver of our professional success; it’s essential to our personal fulfilment. Expressing ourselves in our work allows us to connect more meaningfully with both the process and outcome of our effort.
In 2016, Adobe conducted a global study called ‘State of Create’ and found that those respondents who identified as ‘creative’ were both happier at work and earned more money (on average, creators make 13% more than non-creators). But igniting our creative spark has never been so complicated. PreCOVID, productivity and efficiency were seen as the main roadblocks to innovative thinking. Now, we’re seeing a new wave of distractions that are dulling our desire to think outside the square.
So, how do we supercharge our creativity when we’re stuck inside the same four walls 24 hours a day?
Diversify your stimuli
It was Steve Jobs who said, “Creativity is merely connecting the dots”, and while some might call that a gross oversimplification, leading neuroscientists agree. Our brains are hardwired to absorb, process and blend new information with old memories and experiences.
So, if creativity is a naturally occurring process of connecting dots, our primary job is to collect as many different dots as possible. To fill our lives with a rich palette of interesting influences, we must feed our minds a steady diet of new and novel inspiration, then let our subconscious do the heavy lifting. The more diverse the inputs, the more distinct the outputs.
To shake up your self-expression, be brave enough to break your own rules every now and then
Finding new sources of inspiration might feel harder when we’re locked in our homes, but it’s far from impossible. Here are a few simple ideas to get started.
1. Move it or lose it. Every new workday, try working from a different room in your house. Or if that’s not possible, a different position in your office. Move the furniture, build a stand-up desk or stretch out on the floor. A shift in space will often lead to a change in perspective.
2. Zoom for one more. Join a virtual meeting with a different team. Or a different company. Or better yet, curate a call with a diverse mix of people from multiple departments, with varying experience, who are different ages and have had various lengths of tenure at your company. Ask one simple question then sit back and listen.
3. Resist the algorithm. Don’t let Apple or Amazon or Facebook determine your online direction. You’ll keep getting more of what you already know. Push yourself to read books, watch films, listen to music and talk to people who exist outside of what is comfortable or convenient for you.
Kill your routine
Despite our best intentions, many of us have an unhealthy obsession with optimisation. We’re suffocating beneath the weight of our morning, evening, mindfulness and yoga routines. All in the name of better performance. But as Mark Twain famously said, “Everything in moderation, including moderation”. Or as Paulo Coelho, author of the international bestseller The Alchemist, noted, “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It’s lethal.”
To shake up your self-expression, be brave enough to break your own rules every now and then. I’m not saying you should sleep in, cancel all your meetings and bingewatch Netflix all day. But following what fascinates you for longer than you had originally planned invites the power and providence of serendipity. Creative collisions and spontaneous connections will become more frequent in your work and home life.
Finding it hard to kick the routine? Try these simple ideas to start with:
1. Take the scenic route. Lunchtime power walk, quick drive to the supermarket, left your phone in the bedroom? Try taking the long way home. Let the change in scenery work its magic on you.
2. Try an opposites day. Are you an early riser? Then stay up late. Like to run your meetings in the morning? Try them on a week night. Do you always follow the recipe? Then it’s time to go rogue. Put dark chocolate in the bolognese, people! Trust me!
3. Accept one invitation you shouldn’t. Resist the urge to always finish on time, to eat your greens and get enough sleep. Live a little. In the words of Mark Twain, “everything in moderation, including moderation”.
Go. Set. Ready. Any artist will tell you that 99% of the magic of creativity happens in practice. It’s in the process of making something that real insight and inspiration begin to emerge. We love the romantic notion that one day a breakthrough idea will descend upon us from the heavens. That once we finish this project, or that online program, or even reading this article, we’ll have the secret to unleashing more creativity in our personal and professional life. The brutal, beautiful truth is, you’ll learn more in five minutes of making than by reading 100 articles like this one. So, on that note, it’s probably best you stop reading and go make something. Anything. Just start.
Mykel Dixon is a musician by trade, gypsy by nature and a prolific anti-perfectionist moonlighting as an award-winning speaker, creative leadership adviser and event curator.