Instead, you need to find a new angle to approach your creative problem. Luckily, many creative thinkers have come up with simple prompts to help speed up the incubation process.
Ways to Increase Creativity
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Creativity is all about finding new ways of solving problems and approaching situations. This isn’t a skill restricted to artists, musicians or writers; it is a useful skill for people from all walks of life. If you’ve ever wanted to boost your creativity, these tips can help.
What Is Creativity?
What is creativity exactly?
Everyone has a different idea of what it means to be “Creative”. Maybe you associate creativity with painting pictures or writing poetry. Or maybe you see it as coming up with the next billion-dollar business idea. Maybe you even think creativity is just another form of problem-solving.
Something you’re born with: Research shows that both creativity and non-creativity are learned. This means that your ability to be creative doesn’t come down to some genetic lottery. But that how you act and treat creativity will impact how creative you are.
A lightning bolt of inspiration: Creative people love to think the “a-ha” moment of a new idea is out of their control. But the truth (as we’ll see) is that the true creative process involves everything leading up to, during, and after that moment of inspired thought.
The results of tortured time spent in isolation: Sure, the myth of the lone creative genius works well for movies and books. But in reality, creativity happens in groups where you can riff off each other’s ideas and create new connections. As Steve Jobs famously said, “creativity is just connecting things.”
There are many creativity definitions, but my favorite comes from psychologist and author of Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:
In short, Csikszentmihalyi is saying that creativity is transformation, either through creating something wholly new or innovating an existing space. But, and this is where it gets interesting, that creativity also depends on the transformation being used.
Going back to our example meeting where we needed a creative solution, no one is going to think you’re “creative” if you suggest throwing banana peels at the competition and hoping they slip. They’re just going to think you’re crazy.
For the purpose of creativity in the workplace, it all comes down to combining originality with functionality. When you put those two together, magic happens.
Ways to Be More Creative
You might think of creativity as something clever marketers or copywriters whip out when they need to come up with a compelling ad, or a personal trait only certain people, such as successful serial entrepreneurs or brilliant improv actors, naturally possess. But according to Keith Sawyer, research psychologist and author of "Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity," everyone can be more creative just by taking eight incremental steps, but not necessarily in linear order. His path to creativity is more back and forth, a process in which the steps to greater imagination and originality build on and feed off each other.
The book is a gem, chock full of fascinating findings from research studies and a deep well of tactics that will get you thinking differently. In fact, Sawyer advocates what is likely a radical shift in mindset for most people. Coming up with good ideas isn’t something we leave until there’s a pressing need. Rather, it’s is a skill that can be practiced daily to solve life’s problems as well as discover its opportunities.
Sawyer tells the stories of the beginnings of Starbucks and Instagram. Neither company would be what it is today if its founders had continued to try to solve the original questions they sought to answer. Instead of asking "How can I recreate the Italian espresso bar in the United States?" Howard Shultz eventually looked at what wasn’t working with that idea to instead ask "How can I create a comfortable, relaxing environment to enjoy great coffee?" And while Kevin Systrom originally pondered how he could create a great location-sharing app, a better question turned out to be "How can we create a simple photo-sharing app?"
- Quickly, without overthinking it, write 10 variations of the same question. For example, for the classic question "How can I build a better mousetrap," you might ask questions such as "How do I get the mice out of my house?" and "What does a mouse want?" or "How can I make my backyard more attractive to a mouse than my house?" One of your new questions will likely be a better one than your original.
- Debug your life. Brutally criticize an imperfect product or situation you come in contact with every day. Once you have a list, think of ways to eliminate the annoyances. This can amp creativity because little problems are often symptoms of bigger ones. Steve Jobs, a genius innovator, excelled at finding bugs that distracted from a user’s experience of a product.
- Make something then reinterpret it. Sometimes before you get at the right question, you have to make something. Once you do, think of your creation being used for purposes other than your original intent. This process throws away your first assumptions, forcing you to consider new perspectives.
If you’re trying to strengthen your creativity muscle…
Try something outside of your creativity comfort zone
If you’re already involved in creative pursuits but want to build your creativity muscle, step outside of your creativity comfort zone and try something completely new.
If you’re a designer, try writing a poem. If you’re a writer, try practicing a new instrument. The point is, there are a lot of different ways to be creative—and when you try something new, it can help your brain create new connections (hello again, salience network!) and inspire a new kind of creativity. Then, that new kind of creativity can help you be more creative in other areas of your life (so writing a poem can help inspire new ideas in your designs, or playing an instrument can help you become a better writer). Switching tasks has been shown to increase creativity—and when you’re switching between inherently creative tasks, it’s an even greater benefit.
Become an idea machine
When it comes to creativity, there are few people more well-versed on the topic that James Altucher. Altucher is a best-selling author, investor, podcast host and creativity powerhouse. And according to Altucher, the reason he’s been able to find such a diverse set of creative successes? His dedication to being an “idea machine.”
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Every morning, without fail, Altucher sits down and writes down 10 to 20 new ideas. They don’t have to be good. They don’t have to lead to any big business idea. The only criteria is that they be new and interesting.
Forcing yourself to write down new and interesting ideas on a daily basis engages all three of your creativity networks—the imagination network (since you’re thinking of completely new concepts), the executive attention network (since you need focus and attention to develop new ideas), and the salience network (since you’re looking for new connections between concepts you already know). This will help you develop new, creative ways of thinking—and see new connections you weren’t able to see before.
Use data to focus and move faster.
"In today’s world, there is now data to guide nearly every decision or creative process you’re likely to face. While some people might view this as something that limits creativity, I’ve found the exact opposite because the data helps me focus and move faster. Everyone knows that feeling of writer’s block that comes when you stare at a blank sheet or paper or screen. By using insights drawn from data, sort of like a writer’s prompt, I have a framework to operate within, which paradoxically lets my creativity flourish. For example, when I’m brainstorming a new campaign, it’s easy to get lost when faced with infinite possibilities. Looking at the data, however, I’ve learned things like campaigns that target senior IT leaders perform better on LinkedIn with imagery featuring people’s faces instead illustrations or product screenshots. Depending on my goals, it’s easy to use data like this to form a basic creative skeleton, which makes fleshing out the rest of the campaign way easier."
–Scott Holden, CMO at ThoughtSpot, a provider of search and AI-driven analytics helping enterprises access and utilize data, including three of the Fortune 5 and more than 10 percent of the Fortune 100