Ways to Spark Creativity

Updated: Mar 7


Recently, I had one of those moments when I couldn’t think of someone’s name. It went like this…


“You know that guy. He wrote and acted in the movie Swingers? Not Vince Vaughn.”


My husband knew who I was talking about but couldn’t think of his name either. He proceeds to look it up on his phone, but I resist.


I know his name. I’ll think of it. Don’t tell me. He was in I Love You, Man, played the jerk husband. He was in Couples Retreat, he was the chef in Chef.”


I keep reciting all the movies and work this guy has done in hopes of jogging my memory. My husband playfully taunts me,


“Are you sure you don’t want me to tell you? I have it right here...”


I was determined to remember it on my own. I went to bed irritated that I still couldn’t think of his name. Worse, it wasn’t even on the tip of my tongue. Nowhere in my brain could I find that name.


Fast forward 8 hours and I’m out on a morning run not thinking about anything in particular. I turned a corner and remembered the previous night’s conversation. And then…


“JON FAVREAU! It’s Jon Favreau! I knew it.”


We have all had experiences like this, a time when we were stuck on something and then bam, we figure it out. It might be a simple recall of facts and in other cases a big idea that ignites our motivation and energy toward something new.


There is a reason for this. Cognitive science tells us that inward focused attention employs the imagination and creativity network of our brain. Externally focused attention, while important for in-the-moment problem-solving, actually shuts down our creativity network. It explains why we can’t think of something in the moment, despite a lot of effort, but it comes to us while in the shower, playing cards with a friend, or chopping vegetables for dinner.


Related to this, a client of mine introduced me to the term “brain breathing”. She used it to reference what it feels like when she takes time to reflect and think deeply about her work or recharge her energy.


This is exactly what it felt like to remember Favreau’s name. No matter how hard I tried to remember the night before, it wasn’t happening. But when I relaxed and went for a run it was as though my brain took a breath and opened.


Now, more than ever I think, we need the time and space to allow our brains to breathe. We need to slow down, create moments to let our minds wander and explore new ideas, insights, and perspectives. Not only will we benefit from this, but our work will likely improve too.


Destress, go outside

How creative are you when you have a lot of stress at work? Probably not very. How often do you go outside when you are stressed from work? A lot of people say not very often…because they are working!


Reducing stress and getting outside is not only a sure-fire way to spark new ideas, but it keeps us healthy. “Now we are seeing changes in the brain and changes in the body that suggest we are physically and mentally more healthy when we are interacting with nature.” (Researcher David Strayer, of the University of Utah).


If you want to spark creativity, destress, and feel better - go outside. Better yet, employ the 20-5-3 Rule.

  • 20 minutes a day/3 days per week in a neighborhood park.

  • 5 hours a month in semi-wild nature, like a forested state park.

  • 3 days a year off the grid -- e.g. in a cabin.

This is the “…recommended amount of time you should spend in nature to reduce stress and be healthier.” With less stress and better health, the new ideas will flow.


Seek out new experiences

We tend to strategize and solve problems in the same way over and over. It’s familiar, relatively easy and we may have had a lot of success with the approach. But if we continue doing the exact same thing, it will most certainly run us into a rut. New ideas are hard to find, motivation wanes, and we stall out. Creativity is squashed.


Planned Happenstance Theory is a favorite theory I reference often when working with people who feel stuck. The theory is an extension of career counseling that includes “…the creating and transforming of unplanned events into opportunities for learning.” It isn’t about sitting around and waiting for luck or fate. Rather, an intentional action is taken that creates an unexpected opportunity.


For example, two years ago a woman connected with me on LinkedIn inquiring about the work I did at a company for which she was interested in working. She requested an informational interview and I accepted. We talked and little did she know I was planning to leave that job the same year. Fast forward nine months and she is now employed in the job I used to have. This is Planned Happenstance.


It doesn’t only apply to careers, however. It applies to any experiences that incite learning and new ideas.


If you’re feeling in a rut, get out and experience something new. Reconnect with people you haven’t seen in a while or sign-up for an online class. It doesn’t matter what, just look for opportunities to take advantage of the unexpected.

Write

There is little that sparks more inward focused attention than writing. We rarely talk or converse while we write and can’t do much else either. To write is to slow down and center ourselves on the thoughts we are transposing to paper (or screen.)


This slow down means it is an excellent strategy for sparking creativity. Whether we write down the new ideas we got on a hike or review what was written last week, new ways of thinking almost always emerge from writing.


Many already know this because I hear frequently, “I really should journal.” The practice is less about writing and more about maintaining it. So, how does one start and keep it going? Here are a few tips:

  1. No rules or expectations. Just write. It’s for you and no one else.

  2. Avoid setting specific times. Rather, write when something meaningful happens and do it within 24hrs of it happening.

  3. Use paper. Our brain retains information better and longer when we hand write (pbs.org). Pen and paper also forces the slow down needed for that inward focused attention.

Now, more than ever, we need the time and space to think or let our brains breathe. Reducing stress, getting outside, experiencing something new, and writing are all ways to do it. Give them a try and see what happens. Odds are you’ll not only feel better, but you will create something new too.


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Until next time!

 

Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.


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