I believe that you can’t give what you don’t have, an idea that extends to creativity. It’s tough for a team to be innovative if its leader isn’t a curious individual with a growth mindset, someone invested in transmitting those values to everyone else around them.
Fortunately, there is a way to become that sort of person, even if you feel that creativity and innovation aren’t your forte. There are plenty of protocols and routines you can implement that are likely to help you start, or advance, your personal and team’s creative transformation journey.
The practices I share in this article are ones I learned from impressive thought leaders like Andrew Huberman, Carol Dwek, Beau Lotto, David Eagleman, Rick Rubin, and John Hegarty. Follow them on your favorite platform; that would be a great fist step in your creative path.
Creativity and its process
Before getting to some tips and tricks, let’s review a couple of notions that may help you implement some new creativity-friendly behaviors more effectively. Creativity is a two-part concept and a two-part process.
The concept of creativity
Creativity is about producing something new, either by reconfiguring existing objects or ideas in novel ways or by generating a new object or idea. The second part of the concept, that sometimes we tend to forget, is that the novel object or idea needs to be appropriate.
In other words, creativity isn’t just about coming up with random ideas; the ideas need to make sense in a context that would dictate if they are correct, meaningful, attractive, insightful, or useful. An example is when someone under the effects of a drug (e.g., alcohol) writes or says something that seems insightful and different. However, the next day, upon sober analysis, we realize that it was, yes, original, but also complete nonsense.
The process of creativity
As a process, creativity has two phases: Divergent and convergent thinking.
The divergent part is what most people identify as creativity. It’s coming up with as many concepts as you can for a specific situation, with no constrains or limits. For example, someone shows you a rope and asks you to come up with as many uses as possible for it. The more uses you find, and the more random they are, the better your divergent thinking is. This phase is usually pleasant for most people due to the feelings of freedom and flow that it elicits.
Convergent thinking is the often-forgotten second part of the process. It consists of finding the right connections among the options generated in the divergent phase that will deliver the solution to the aesthetic, technical, logical, or other kind of problem you want to solve. An example of lack of convergent thinking is the common experience you may have had working with “idea people”—those who are good at coming up with all sorts of odd plans but are remarkably bad at execution.
Real creativity requires a lot of discipline and focus, which can be hard and stressful to maintain. This is the reason a lot of people may avoid it. Stress can be unpleasant, but it’s a good thing in this context, something that needs to be embraced as a source of energy and motivation.
Increase your creative output in L&D
Understanding the two distinct phases of creativity will allow you to select the best approaches to different situations. L&D offers plenty of challenges where you need to maximize your divergent thinking, for example when identifying the technologies and learning modalities you could use to deliver content. On the other hand, you also have plenty of cases where you need to focus on convergent thinking, like when you need to find specific ways to make the technology and modality you picked work within the constraints of your organization’s infrastructure and policies.
The following suggestions can help you and your L&D team boost their creative output.
Let people sleep on it
If you are looking for your team to generate interesting ideas, you want them to start brainstorming before the brainstorming session.
A good practice is writing a problem statement, sending it out to the participants one or two days before your event, and asking everyone to write down, independently, as many ideas or solutions as they can think of. Tell them not to limit themselves (every idea will be a good one)—to write down whatever comes to mind—and ask them to not talk with anybody else about it. The trick here is that you’ll get people thinking about the idea days in advance of your session. They will literally sleep on it, which is likely to improve the outcomes of your creativity event later.
Allow for frequent mind breaks
One of the tricks of successful creative problem-solving is working wisely with tension and relaxation tools. In both group and individual settings, do some bouts of intense thinking, 20 or 30 minutes at a time, to the point that you either find a solution or feel frustrated (frustration is a very good thing here). Then, take a 7-to-10-minute break where your mind is, at the conscious level, relaxing (rest assured that at the unconscious level, things continue to be busy).
Some activities you can do to relax your mind are:
- Look at an aquarium. Follow the fish swimming from place to place. Ideally you can do it with a real-life fish tank, but you can always use videos.
- Go outside, lie down, and look at the clouds. Try to see shapes, faces, or animals in them. This will trigger a bunch of processes in your brain that will help your idea generation activities. As the activity above, if you can’t have access to the outdoors, a video of the clouds will do.
- Complete an NSDR (Non-Sleep Deep Rest) protocol. This procedure is similar to a yoga nidra session. It consists of an environment and body scan, plus special breathing practices that help put your mind in a more receptive and energized state. It’s so effective that can even help replenish lost sleep. You can easily find 10- and 20-minute guided routines on YouTube, Spotify, and other platforms.
- Go for a walk. Take yourself or your team for a walk, preferably in an area with plants and trees, ideally a park or a ravine if you are fortunate enough to have one close to where you work or live.
- Do breathing exercises. At any point in your creative session, sync your breath with your entire team for five to 10 inhalations and exhalations. This will help strengthen the connection among everyone physically or virtually present.
- Do short meditations. Long, focused meditations aren’t for everyone, but doing nano exercises may be an option that everyone would be open to trying. Do 1-to-3-minute meditations, or simply ask people to sit there and do nothing for that time. It is a great way to get your divergent thinking going.
- Prepare your mind for bouts of intense focus. To prepare for the increased focus needed for the convergent phase of the creative process, you may use this simple tool: Looking at a black dot in white background placed on the surface that you’ll be working out of. This may it be a book, a piece of paper, a blackboard, a screen, etc. Focus on the dot for 60 seconds. You can do this as a team or individually, just before you need to do a bout of concentration where logical and linear thinking are required.
These are just some of many tools and protocols that I’ve used. I’ve found these practices powerful, and other researchers have shown them to be effective in increasing positive creativity outcomes. I hope you also find them useful and give them a shot—they have the potential to change the way you and your team work and create ideas and content.
If you feel uncomfortable putting these strategies into practice, that’s a fantastic indication that it’s the right thing to do. A critical part of creativity is being comfortable with being uncomfortable—constantly trying new things, pushing boundaries, and being willing to learn from failure.
Creativity is a process
Creativity isn’t a static skill that is just given to you or your team; it’s a collection of habits and routines, something you need to grow and reinforce every day. By changing one little behavior every day, you’ll see how your creativity builds over time.
Don’t underestimate the process: Real creativity isn’t just about fun and games. It requires risk-taking and putting yourself in stressful circumstances (if there is no stress at the right points in the process, chances are, you aren’t doing anything truly creative!).
Under the right mindset, stressful situations are energizing events where emotional grit on the path of discovery is part of the reward itself. It can be challenging at times—but also pleasurable. Actively developing your creativity will fill your work life with moments of joy, along with deep personal and team satisfaction.
Feed your creativity as you grow your network
The Learning Leaders Alliance is a vendor-neutral global community for learning leaders who want to stay ahead of the curve. Join us to meet fellow leaders and aspiring leaders, build your skill set, and delve into trends and topics affecting your work.
The Learning Guild’s Alliance Membership package includes access to exclusive digital events and content curated for today’s modern learning leader, as well as opportunities to attend in-person learning leadership events held around the globe. Join today and register for the summer Learning Leaders Online Forum to learn from the experts, network with peers, and explore emerging issues.