Seeking creativity in its natural habitat

In Part 1 on the topic of creativity, I told you that I didn’t fit the creative mold. But I didn’t let that stop me from working to become more creative.
I shared with you how I look to the creative thinking of others for the tools and inspiration to grow in this area. (If you haven’t read Part 1, click here to learn more.)

But learning from others wasn’t enough. I have discovered that my usual environment and learning methods sometimes make it very hard to get into a creative frame of mind.

Forget waiting for creativity to find you.

You see, I’ve been described as a “high energy person.” I’m always on the lookout for new opportunities, and I really like being busy. I find great enjoyment in multitasking.

In the Fast Company interview that I referenced in the last post, Teresa Amabile said, “Time pressure stifles creativity because people can’t deeply engage with the problem. Creativity requires an incubation period; people need time to soak in a problem and let the ideas bubble up.”

That can be a problem for me: Lack of time. I’m capable of filling every hour with tasks and appointments. When that happens, creative thinking falls by the wayside.

To change this, I have to give creativity the time and attention it deserves.

The first thing I do is write thinking time onto my calendar like a regular appointment. And then I treat it like an appointment. I gather my legal pads, files and other resources, and I move from my normal work area and settle into a quiet, peaceful spot. There I narrow my focus.

Over time, I’ve developed the discipline to keep my mind from wandering off-topic. And carving out these distraction-free hours makes me quiet and still enough to let creative ideas “bubble up.”

When I was younger, my thinking spot was a rock on a hill. Later, I set up a “thinking chair” in my office, which I use solely for that purpose. These days, I also do some of my best thinking while swimming laps in the pool. It doesn’t replace the writing time that I still schedule. (I just haven’t found a waterproof legal pad yet…) But an hour of swimming laps back and forth, with its silence and rhythm, gives me just what I need to focus on one or two specific problems or ideas.

Maybe deep thinking and introspection comes more naturally for you. Even if it does, setting aside dedicated time for creative thinking will help you be intentional. No one can afford to go about their daily life waiting for the muse to strike. Instead, chase after and tackle her, doing so in a way that works for you.

No one person has a corner on all of the creativity.

If you want to do something creative, bring in others to help you. Now this comes easily for me. I love spending time with people. The synergy of a good conversation energizes me like nothing else.

And my favorite thing is to gather with people I respect for a shared creative meeting. In fact, I do this with just about everything I come up with. And I promise you, every idea I take into a collaborative environment comes out better than it was before.

Here’s a current example. My newest book, Put Your Dream to the Test, started out going in a completely different direction. Sitting with a “creative brain trust,” I shared an outline that I thought would be great for the new book. But as we batted it around, my writer, Charlie, zeroed in on a single chapter and its outline. He spoke up: “John, THIS is the book you need to write.” The energy in the room ignited. We all knew very quickly that he was right. And that single chapter outline bloomed into one for the entire book. I think it goes without saying that Put Your Dream to the Test is a much better book than that original outline would have produced.

Do you share your creative ideas with others? Or do you merely turn them over and over within your own mind? If so, you might be limiting your ideas, when including others in the process could take them to a level 10.

Pull together a team of people who can increase the creative energy in a room. Then toss your idea into the middle of the table and let them have at it.

Want to be more creative? Be proactive. Schedule it. Chase after it. Don’t wait for the muse to strike. Creative thoughts rarely come and find us. We have to be intentional about finding them.

John Maxwell's Put Your Dream to the Test

Put Your Dream to the Test is available online and in bookstores now.

Want to learn more? Read the entire first chapter here.

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