For the second year in a row, creativity landed at the number one more valuable skill for 2020. But with more distractions than ever, igniting our creative spark can seem impossible at times. Here’s how to kick start the motor again.
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, which revealed 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 for our personal fulfillment. Expressing ourselves in our work allows us to connect more meaningfully with both the process and outcome of our effort.
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In 2016, Adobe conducted a global study called ‘State of Create’, and found that those of us 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. Pre-COVID, 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, the world’s 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, 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.
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 standup 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 that 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 Cohelo, 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 binge watch 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.
4. 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.
5. Try an opposite day
Are you an early riser? Then stay up late. Like to run your meetings in the morning? Try them on a weeknight. Do you always follow the recipe? Then it’s time to go rogue. Put dark chocolate in the bolognese people! Trust me!
6. 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’.
Any artist will tell you 99 percent 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.
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, nomad by nature and prolific anti-perfectionist moonlighting as an award-winning speaker, creative leadership advisor, and event curator. His latest book Everyday Creative: A Dangerous Guide To Making Magic At Work is now available.