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Creativity Unleashed

By Laura Sweeney

Those who say they "don't have a creative bone" in their bodies, listen up: It's not about being a creative-type; it's about applying creativity to what you do.

In a work environment in which creative problem solving and fresh ideas are at a premium, the ability to approach your job creatively--whether you're an entrepreneur or a garage attendant--is what counts.

Creativity is often attributed to a select few--the artist-types--while the rest of us flinch at the suggestion of thinking outside the box.

Those who say they "don't have a creative bone" in their bodies, listen up: It's not about being a creative-type; it's about applying creativity to what you do.

Creativity with a capital "C"
"Creativity isn't a skill that you do or don't inherit," explains Lindsay Collier, a creative thinking consultant and former creativity guru at Kodak. "Everyone starts off with full potential for creativity, but then the blocks are put in the way by parents, educators, and bosses. We are taught thinking rules that block our ability to think outside of those rules."

That's unfortunate, because in today's work environment creative problem solving and fresh ideas are at a premium. The ability to approach your job creatively--whether you're an entrepreneur or a garage attendant--is what counts.

Luckily, most experts say we can be taught to remove these blocks. Dr. Robert Allen Black, another creative thinking consultant, maintains that just as an entrepreneur can formulate a creative business idea, a programmer can write creative code, or a secretary can devise a creative filing system. "We don't have to talk about creativity with a capital 'C'," says Black.

"Sure, the ability to become a Mozart or a Van Gogh has some element of 'borness,' but the concept that you can think creatively is available to everybody," believes Black. He has defined 32 personality traits, including sensitive, energetic, sense of humor, imaginative, and having a sense of destiny, that are characteristic of creative thinkers. And he's never met anyone, he says, that can't describe themselves by at least five of these traits, suggesting to him that everyone has creative potential.

Breaking down the blocks
So how can you tap into your creative juices? By thinking about your thinking. Collier defines creativity (though he prefers not to) as "the act of thinking differently about what's possible or redefining what's possible." In order to think differently, you first must realize how you think.

Mind mapping, or creating a visual map of the associations that your brain makes, is one way to analyze, and draw from, your thought process. Every word you can think of has links attaching it to other ideas and concepts in your head. To make a mind map, write a main idea in the center of a page and then jot down all the words, images, or concepts that you can think of on the page around the main topic. Then write down all of the ideas that you associate with those words, no matter how unrelated or silly they may seem. You'll be surprised how many new ideas and potential solutions can come out of a mind-mapping session.

Collier's favorite method for inspiring creativity is "mental bungie jumping," which he describes as "expanding your thinking to craziness. Instead of brainstorming what's possible, brainstorm what's impossible." The theory is that it's easier to tame down an ambiguous or off-the-wall idea than it is to build up something with no substance. "And frankly, it's an awful lot of fun," he adds.

Turning your head on its head
Whatever the trick, the goal is to break through the thinking rules you've learned in the past. Don't demand of yourself that you be a creative person, just approach individual problems creatively. Here are more simple techniques you can use to shake up your thinking.

  • Avoid being too narrow in the way you define a problem or topic; broader definitions will yield more insights.
  • Look for novel associations where you would normally make assumptions or leaps in your logic.
  • Pause and analyze ideas that make you laugh the first time you hear them.
  • Recognize that your streams of thought and patterns of judgment are based primarily on experiences from your past. Try to break that pattern.
  • Remove yourself from your natural and comfortable thinking environment. Ponder a problem while strolling through the zoo, or as you browse through catalogs. Even getting up and walking away from your desk can break a mental block.
  • Pause and notice thing like advertisements, images, trees, conversations, or anything that captures your attention.

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