Creativity Requires Structure

Repeat that headline to an artist and they will laugh at you. But that’s OK. Art is just one product of creativity, remember? It is not creativity itself.

What the research shows is that if you set aside time, make room to repeatedly do it, you get better at it. Creativity is hard to quantify and measure, which means it is hard to set time aside for it.

But when you do, you get results…

When you first learn to play an instrument, it is extremely hard to get your hands to do different things in different rhythms. But over time, with lots of practice, eventually, you don’t have to think about it so hard. Your fingers make the right shapes, move to the right places. This then frees up brain space to allow you to think about other things… different intervals or rhythms in the changes… maybe even singing as well.

Practice is nothing but a structure, a framework in which you can improve a mechanical skill.

Creativity is not much different. The more you practice stretching your ideas and letting your imagination run wild, the better you’ll get at capturing the best ideas and the new perspectives, the more interesting those sessions will become. Because you WILL get better at it.

This is what is meant when people talk about a Culture of Innovation: they mean that innovation has a permanent focus. It isn’t just something we go off and brainstorm once a quarter. It is a repeating, scheduled occurrence within each working day.

So how do you do this?
1) Set a task
Creativity cannot occur in a vacuum. Set yourself a challenge: a problem to solve, a process to update, a product to improve
2) Pick a time
Make sure it’s a time that can be repeated… not one that often has meetings or other tasks scheduled
3) Take it easy
Don’t insist on a perfect answer. Make many, many potential answers and keep ALL of them. The point is not to solve the problem fast, but in an interesting way
4) Repeat
Leave time between sessions (a day, 3 days, a week) and return to your ideas and improve, add, or remove features, take a new angle. Nothing is holy.
5) Select positively
Don’t eliminate options negatively: in other words, don’t say what is bad, what can’t work, what is too expensive. Instead, choose the best, most likely to succeed options and finalise those.

This is a simple structure but one that works. Try it out and you will be amazed by the results.

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