10 Habits for Cultivating Creativity

PhotoAren’t Feeling Particularly Creative These Days? You’re not alone. Many people admit to being so distracted by the avalanche of stimuli demanding their instant and constant attention that they have lost the ability to be creative. Here are ten tips to help get you back on a more creative track:

  1. Do a little something new every day. By challenging yourself to make even a small daily change to the status quo, you’ll unleash some pent-up creativity. Examples: Take a different route to the office or to the coffee shop. Or, order something you’ve never tried before at the cafeteria or lunch counter. Who knows? All this newness could become a creative habit.
  2. Talk to interesting people. Seek out people who challenge you to think about topics that are new to you. Everywhere you go, try to catch the eye of someone who looks interesting or different. Start the conversation yourself. You’ll both benefit.
  3. Take a walk. When in doubt, take a walk. (This one, I learned from my dog). Walking out-of-doors stimulates your brain cells. Just the act of moving around puts a creative new spin on things.
  4. Turn off the TV. As “creative” as some of those sitcoms may be, just sitting and staring at a screen is no exercise for your brain (right side or left).
  5. Listen to Bach. More than any other composer, J.S. Bach’s music is so orderly and exquisitely structured that, just by listening, we get the equivalent of “defragging” the hard drives in our minds. You’ll immediately feel less cluttered. Trust me: it works and you’ll enjoy yourself in the process.
  6. Get away from your computer. Many creative types claim they are creating at their computers. I disagree. I believe creativity happens when we disconnect from technology, at least temporarily. Our computers and accompanying software are simply tools for executing our creative ideas.
  7. Limit yourself. Yep, that’s right. Research shows that when you have too many options (the proverbial blank slate), you can actually hinder creativity. When you begin a creative project, allow yourself just a few tools and make up some ground rules. By boxing yourself in a bit, you’ll force yourself to be more resourceful and creative. Try it!
  8. Learn to tango. The true Argentine tango is the most improvisational of all dance styles. After only a couple of lessons with a good instructor, you’ll learn the few basic steps. Then, you and your dance partner can step out at a milonga and create your own dance according to the mood, the music and what you wish to communicate to each other. Argentine tango may be the only dance form that allows for unlimited creativity. There are no wrong moves in tango.
  9. Fall in love. (Note: Can be combined with #8.) According to a study at the University of Amsterdam and recounted in Scientific American, thinking about love triggers global processing, which in turn, promotes creative thinking. According to the researchers, romantic love induces a long-term perspective and allows the mind to make remote and uncommon associations. I’m convinced!
  10. Travel. Akin to the global processing theory of #9, traveling spurs creativity in most of us. Getting away, near or far, stimulates our minds and clears out past clutter. In particular, travel to unusual locales opens up our minds to new ways of looking at things. Supposedly, even just thinking about traveling can get those creative juices flowing. (And, yes, you have my permission to book that trip to Buenos Aires to learn the tango right away!)

Let me know your thoughts. How do you get creative?

by Rebecca Cochran

The Art of Empathy

If you’re a creative person, empathy can be your most powerful weapon. Why? Because practicing the art of empathy can enable you to solve real problems for your customers.

Yes, empathy is an art. And, like any other of the arts, empathy needs to be practiced regularly in order to excel at it.

ArtEmpathy

Photo by Ryan McGuire

So, how do you practice empathy? Start by sharpening your senses.

Listen: Practice really listening to your customer. Listen when he/she makes a big, bold statement. Often, that big, bold statement is a clue to what he’s most concerned about, i.e., what he may consider his biggest challenge. Listen for words or phrases he uses over and over. They could provide clues to what’s most important to him. Listen, also, for silence. Depending on your customer’s communication style, he may suddenly become silent when quizzed about a particularly problematic area of his business. This could be a signal that he feels he has an “unsolvable” problem.

Ask: Ask your customer, “Why?” and “How?” about everything. Ask even the obvious questions. Don’t assume you know the answers. You might be surprised at some of his answers. Asking those questions several times again in different ways will help you get to the real answers.

Look: Watch your customer when he/she speaks to you. Body language can be telling. A sudden animated gesture may point to what he currently considers his most pressing problem. If he shrugs his shoulders in resignation, it may indicate that he has all but given up on finding an answer to a particular problem.

Feel: Consciously think about how you feel when using your customer’s product or service. Give yourself this feel test and be sure to take notes: Document how you feel just before using the product or service. Next, document how you feel as you’re using the product/service. Then, describe and document your feelings after using the product or service. Be specific. Don’t leave anything out. Small things can turn out to be important things.

Touch/Taste: Put yourself in the shoes of your customer’s customer. Walk the aisles of his store. Touch his products. Put together that toy or shelf with your own two hands. Dine in his restaurant. Taste his food. Drink his coffee. Experience the buying process from start to finish.

Observe: Take time to observe your customer’s customers as they interact with his products or services. Not everyone will interact with them the same way you do.

Combine: Combine your senses to become a better observer. Watch and listen for inconsistencies in what your customer says and does. If he says one thing and does something else, this may alert you to a problem in need of solving.

Practice: Practice these empathy exercises to learn more about your customers and their customers. Take notes. Organize your thoughts. Share your ideas with others on your team. Draw conclusions together.

Empathy is an art…and there’s no such thing as too much art.

by Rebecca Cochran

5 Innovation Quotes Worth Remembering

RocksWe’re bombarded with quotes around the topic of innovation every day. Thanks to social media and today’s sharing society, quotes by well-known (and unknown) figures are jockeyed about ad nauseam.

As we begin a new year, I’ve winnowed a list of 5 innovation quotes I feel are worth remembering. I’m happy to share them with you here.

“It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.” — Georgia O’Keeffe

“Your best plan is a plan to improvise.” — author unknown

“If I had an hour to save the world, I’d spend 59 minutes defining the problem and 1 minute finding solutions.” — Albert Einstein

“It ain’t innovation unless something moves.” — Bob Allen, IDEAS

“Get the customer first, then solve the problem.” — author unknown

What would you add to this list? Please share your comments via the “Leave a Reply” feature below.

by Rebecca Cochran