You Dont Have To Be An Artist To Be Creative

Imagine that a block of ice has been set on your desk. Now describe it. Square, clear and cold, right! Next, consider it from different points of view: If you were trekking across Death Valley, that ice could quench your thirst; a doctor could use it to reduce a patient's fever; a madman could use it to crack a victim's skull; and an engineer could boil it to produce steam for a turbine.

What does an ice cube have to do with creativity? Just this: If you really think about it, you begin to see the ice in more than one context. You expand your initial perception of it from a cold, hard cube to a potential lifesaver, a weapon or energy producer. In short, you've sharpened your creative insight and started to become a more effective problem-solver.

In working with teams to generate breakthrough approaches to problems; with professionals to visualize critical issues in new ways; and with meeting leaders to ignite innovative discussion, I discovered that people who think and act creatively share these traits:

  • They prefer tackling problems that do not have precise answers, asking questions like, "How can we get our people on board with management's new initiative?
  • They don't worry about asking questions that might display their ignorance, realizing "dumb" questions often cut to the heart of the matter and open new paths of thinking.
  • They can easily drop an approach to a problem that isn't working, forcing their way out of habitual methods of thinking and doing.
  • They entertain offbeat ideas without automatically labeling them "crackpot". Some of the best ideas seem idiotic in the beginning.
  • They hold open discussions, in which they encourage disagreement, questioning, and fanciful ruminating. They imagine a number of scenarios and visualize all possible viewpoints.
  • But before you can tackle a problem creatively, you must first get rid of the blinders that inhibit creative insight. These blinders and ways to eliminate them are:

    Avoidance of Change.
    Break Your Routine. The more often you break your routine the more likely you are to have new ideas. Some suggestions: Sleep on a different side of your bed, take a new route to work, sit outside when trying to solve a problem, listen to different kinds of music, etc. Anything you do to make some part of today different from yesterday is a step in the right direction.

    Mindless conformity.
    Break Out of the Mold. To reduce your reliance on rules and policies learn to view them as flexible guidelines rather than iron-clad requirements. Try pretending for a day that all your rules have been put on hold. What would that mean for you or your team or your department? Be adventuresome and see what new ideas and actions come up.

    Fear of Criticism.
    Be a Maverick.If you are constantly worried about other people's perceptions of you, it's unlikely you'll let your creative juices start flowing. The best way to overcome fear of failure is to start taking little risks. When you see that you've survived and that nothing horrendous has befallen you, it will be easier to share bigger and riskier ideas with others.

    Over Reliance on Logic.
    Think Wildly. Whenever you find yourself bogged down with formal, technical solutions, pause for a little wild thinking. At meetings, encourage free-wheeling discussion, outrageous ideas, and answers outside normal channels. Get to the point where you can exclaim, "I'm never afraid to say anything because I know people won't think it's off the wall."

    Black-and-White Thinking.
    Evaluate Later, Not Sooner. Instead of focusing on the "tried-and-true" methods of the past, step back to view the full richness of a situation before making a decision. Force yourself to see two or more strikingly different solutions to every problem. Get input from others. Look for multiple possibilities. Only then, come to a well thought through conclusion.

    Finally, if there's any magic in these exercises, it lies in their results. With regular practice, they can transform you from a capable professional into a creative wizard.

    Marcia Zidle, the 'people smarts' coach, works with business leaders to quickly solve their people management headaches so they can concentrate on their #1 job ­ to grow and increase profits. She offers free help through Leadership Briefing, a weekly e-newsletter with practical tips on leadership style, employee motivation, recruitment and retention and relationship management. Subscribe by going to and get the bonus report "61 Leadership Time Savers and Life Savers". Marcia is the author of the What Really Works Handbooks ­ resources for managers on the front line and the Power-by-the-Hour programs ­ fast, convenient, real life, affordable courses for leadership and staff development. She is available for media interviews, conference presentations and panel discussions on the hottest issues affecting the workplace today. Contact Marcia at 800-971-7619.

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