Many of us believe that only certain people can be creative or creativity happens serendipitously (i.e., it just happens). Yes, some people are more creative than others are, but everyone can be more creative. Creativity is a skill. Like any other skill (e.g., skiing, guitar playing, painting), the more you learn and practice, the better you will become. With the right tools, techniques, and regular practice anybody can become more creative and innovative.
Creativity is about gathering information, letting it incubate inside your brain, and then allowing the unrelated “dots” to connect. This process allows the raw pieces of information to reform into creative ideas. Creativity does not just happen. It is the result of multiple experiences and perspectives, and the long, hard effort of learning and understanding new topics.
Several myths often restrict people from developing new, productive and innovative ideas. Remember, creativity is a skill. Just like playing the piano, juggling, or riding a motorcycle, you get better through practice. Anyone can do it. Ignore the following myths.
The Eureka Myth states creativity happens by chance, serendipitously. Yes, a creative idea often “appears” when you are not thinking about it. This idea usually appears as the information regarding the problem “incubates.” As you avoid thinking about the problem, the various unconnected pieces of information develop into patterns, unconsciously. Then, “Eureka” a new idea pops into your mind; usually when you are not thinking about the problem (e.g., in the shower, while hiking).
The idea did not just happen. It happened due to the past research, study, and investigation; all the previous thinking you did on the subject (Kramer, 1987). It was your hard work and effort finally coming to fruition (and the series of “sparks” which slowly build upon each other) (Sawyer, 2007).
The Expert Myth is one of the most popular excuses for not being creative. The myth states only people with the “creative gene” are creative. This myth has been popularized by the assumption that “creative celebrities” such as Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk, are very different from most people. The problem with this myth is it ignores all the research, hard work, and practice each of these people did to achieve their famous innovations (and all the previous work from many individuals and groups) (Sawyer, 2007). Many leaders think only certain areas of the organization are creative.
Do not believe that the only creatives work in research and development (R&D) or marketing (i.e., typical “creative” departments). This narrow-mindedness results in missed opportunities in all departments and all levels of the organization. You can uncover new, valuable ideas in accounting, finance, logistics, information technology (IT), and other “non-creative” departments. Creative ideation only requires focus, an open-mind, and hard work (along with effective tools and techniques). Creative thinking must happen in all areas of the organization; continuously, every day.
Yes, some people are more creative than others. These “natural creatives” typically can “connect the dots” of unrelated items easier than most people or identify trends early. However, creativity is a skill, and you can get much better at it using a deliberate and systematic process, along with regular practice. Also, most ideas become valuable innovations through teams, not an individual. It is typically not just one person that creates innovative new products and solutions but a team.
The Reward Myth states the only way to develop good ideas is to incentivize people. Often leaders will challenge teams to innovate with extra vacation time, financial rewards, or job promotions. Yes, incentives could stimulate ideation, but the real influence is typically internal (i.e., inside of you). Incentives only work short term. For long-term creative projects, the inner drive, fortitude, and desire are what compels someone to work day and night, month after month, to create amazing new products or services, improve existing processes, make impactful decisions, or solve complex problems.
Similar to the Expert Myth, the Lone Wolf Myth wrongly assumes that one person, locked away in a laboratory, shed, or garage, develops innovative products or solutions. The truth is that teams develop the majority of great ideas, inventions, and innovations. Thomas Edison had a large team working on many different problems and developing multiple solutions simultaneously. Edison was a great showman, and most people thought he created everything himself; actually, Edison developed the first product incubator which had multiple teams working on various projects until the problems were solved (i.e., the original Silicon Valley; just located in New Jersey). Possibly Edison’s greatest achievement was designing work environments where teams could collaborate, fail, learn, and create amazing innovations (Johnson, 2014). The majority of great innovations are the result of collaboration, with multiple perspectives focused on the same goal. Remember, it was not one person who got the astronauts to the moon. Individuals often develop new ideas, but teams typically refine ideas into innovative solutions.
The Start-up Myth states that only small, flexible organizations can innovate. These agile organizations with few rules allow employees the freedom to develop creative ideas and build innovative new products. Too many people believe large, bureaucratic organizations cannot innovate. Do not believe the myth. Any organization, no matter the size can develop an army of creative innovators. All it takes is support from upper management, training, and an environment that focuses on managing risk, embracing failure, and continuously experimenting.
Apple, Ford, Microsoft, Proctor & Gamble, and other large organizations prove that it is not about the size, it is about leadership and organizational culture. Creativity is about thinking differently. A creative organization encourages people to think differently and continually improve (Zaltman, 2003). Ignore these myths.
Focus on learning and practicing the proven tools and techniques within this section. Develop new creative ideas and turn them into innovative solutions. Anyone can be more creative. Just like any skill, becoming more creative takes time, patience, and lots of hard work and failure. Never accept someone telling you something is impossible. The effort, desire, skill building, daily practice, and lifelong learning will allow you to do amazing things. You need to be committed.