This post’s title comes directly from the June/July Scientific American Mind print article of the same name. (The online version is named How to Unleash Your Creativity.) Mariette DiChristina interviews three artists to spearhead a discussion of how they get their creativity soaring. The artists are Julia Cameron, poet, playwright and filmmaker; Robert Epstein, author and visiting scholar; and John Houtz, psychologist, professor and author.
As stated by others, including Sir Ken Robinson, the consensus among these folks is that “creativity is shut down in most people by early socialization.” And like Robinson, they believe that risk taking and failure are important components of creativity. Indeed, “the creative individual thinks of failure as a new opportunity.”
While Cameron, Epstein, and Houtz do not all use the same vocabulary, they often describe similar activities for stimulating their creativity, which are…
Hold that thought! Write it down, record it, do whatever is needed so you don’t forget it. Ideas come to you during sleep? No problem, just keep a pad and pen nearby. Not enough, or too many ideas in your head? Allow whatever you are thinking to topple out, unedited. Julia Cameron writes her “morning pages” on a daily basis – “three pages of longhand writing about anything.” She notes that as she writes those pages, “new ideas began to walk in.”
Try something different! At least once a week, break your routine, feed your head visuals, sounds, and text that are not your standard fare. Give your brain ideas to ponder. Cameron teaches “the artist ‘date’ or ‘outing’ [which] is to take an adventure once a week.” According to Robert Epstein, “the more diverse your knowledge, the more interesting the interconnections – so you can boost your creativity simply by learning interesting new things.”
Make yourself think! Look for problems to solve, but not just any problems. Rather, challenge yourself to solve more complex or unusual problems. John Houtz reminds us that people “have to work at it; creativity isn’t necessarily going to come naturally.”
Get out and about! Epstein says “the more interesting and diverse the things and the people around you, the more interesting your own ideas become.” Cameron adds that simply taking a “walk out the door for 20 minutes or so” will have an impact on your thinking. “When people walk, they often begin to integrate the insights and intuitions that they have had through morning pages and outings.”
Ah yes, this has happened to me multiple times when I take walks by myself. My thoughts flow freely and it is not unusual, if there is an issue I am dealing with, for me to have a conversation out loud with myself. Indeed, this is an easy way to get “off the grid”.
Houtz talks about how our personalities can impact the manner in which we stimulate our creativity. Someone who is more introspective and less outgoing might prefer quiet reflection; a more extroverted person may benefit from the hubbub of other people.
These suggestions read like a “how to” manual for fostering creativity but before you say they are silly, give them a try and then let me know what you think.
[p.s. August 9, 2008 – I stumbled upon this related Encefalus post, How to Bolster your Creativity. The author hasn’t “written in english for a loooooong time”, which explains any quirks in the prose.]