Creativity at work is not exclusive to those engaged in the ‘creative’ industries (the arts, media, advertising, etc). In fact, whether accountant, lawyer, sales person or taxi driver, the more creative you are, the better you will do in pretty much any role.
How is that when your job mostly consists of fiddling around with spreadsheets or talking to Tesco about how to display your products? Because, in any context, creativity is the process of bringing something into being. At work, this means: connecting disparate information to find patterns, using these to come up with solutions and then making these solutions reality. It’s all about thinking then producing - this combination is a prized skill in every industry.
So how do you foster your creativity to make sure you get ahead?
1. Give yourself the opportunity to be creative by taking a risk
That means putting yourself forward for a challenge you’re not sure you can meet. Doing something new and hard tests your resources. Offer to give a presentation on a new project, even if you haven’t done one before. Apply to that top law firm, even if you’re worried it’s too competitive.
2. Allow yourself time to think
Don’t just jump straight in with the first and most obvious idea that comes to mind. Mull over the problem. Be prepared to criticise yourself. Whatever your first solution, step back and ask “what is wrong with this idea? What could I do better?” Be your biggest critic and generate more ideas off the back it. Sleep on it again and talk to colleagues about similar experiences. And be sure to track all your thoughts in a notebook.
3. Stop being a perfectionist
Creativity is about experimenting and exploring - trial and error. Your boss doesn’t want to see a whole list of random ideas, but he’ll be happy to see six or seven, some playing safe, some way outside of the box. Ultimately, it may be a modified version of the wildest which gets implemented in the end.
4. Look after yourself
Your brain can only work at its creative best if you treat it properly. That means getting enough sleep, not being horribly hungover, fuelling yourself with decent food rather than gallons of coffee, and - crucially - not being completely saturated with social and traditional media.
5. Welcome collaboration
There is a time and a place for solitary thought - often this stage comes first - and then for opening up the idea to the room. Talk to colleagues, friends, family about a challenge you’re tackling and how you want to solve it. Their thoughts will make you question your assumptions, either to strengthen them or to refine your idea.
6. Stay playful
Work can and should be fun. As children, we love solving problems. We choose to do jigsaws and scale unknown, complex climbing frames for fun. Fear of failure doesn’t even enter our minds. Approach your work in the same way. You’ll find that using your brain in an unexpected way can be fun too.
7. Make your idea a reality
Talk of new ideas is imaginative but it’s not creative. If you come up with a good idea at work, drive it through to completion - or be its champion at least whilst someone else takes up the baton. True creativity is seeing the idea grow wings and fly.
Now you know how to work on your creativity, but what about completing that dreaded task on internship and graduate scheme applications of “show us a time you used your creativity”? A few ideas …
8. Playing in a sports team
Sports strategy requires creativity when thinking about new ways for your team to play to its strengths and beat the opposition, especially if you’ve played (and lost) against them before.
9. Resolving a dispute
Anyone who has worked in or managed a team will tell you that conflict resolution requires a vast amount of creativity. You have to recognise the root of the problem (spotting patterns) and then come up with fresh approach for both parties.
10. Starting something
Book / film club; society at school; volunteering project in the community; small-scale startup - you’ve spotted a gap in the market, worked out how it could be filled, and got yourself organised to deliver the thing that fills it, engaging other people in the idea along the way.
When travelling alone or with friends, close to or far away from home, you’ll find yourself thrown into plenty of challenging situations. Your wallet was stolen, your accommodation fell through last minute, you ended up stranded on an island and the next ferry wasn’t until the next day. You assess the information you have, make a few mental connections and come up with a plan to make sure you and everyone else is alright. The very origins of the expression “having your wits about you” - just creativity in other words.
12. Improving a system
You might have worked part-time in a bar as a student and noticed that they stacked their fridges inefficiently. Spotting this, deciding on how to improve it and convincing the team of the merits of your approach is just yet another example of a creative process.
Remember, whatever you do with passion and commitment is highly likely to have some creativity involved.