Creativity is a widely valued skill. I call it a skill, not a trait, because it is something that you can work on. Something you can develop. Most people think about creativity and being creative is all about that one lightbulb moment. When it strikes you and you come up with the best idea. But the truth is, creativity doesn’t work like that. I would like to show you how creativity works, what a creative thinking process looks like and what can you do to boost your creative mind.

What Is Creativity?

In short, creativity is finding connections between different thoughts and concepts that may seem completely unrelated at a first glance. We can’t exactly tell how creativity happens and what makes some people more creative than others, but we do know that it’s a skill you can work on. While there are some people who have the advantage of being born with it, there’s a lot you can do to become more creative and come up with better ideas. Better yet, you can do it on cue. There’s no need for the “eureka!” moment, although those are very nice, too.

What Makes People Creative?

Researchers in a 2013 study by Jauk E., “[…] obtained evidence that once the intelligence threshold is met, personality factors become more predictive for creativity“. What does that mean? Well, it means that you can work on those “personality factors” and become more creative. One of the most important aspects is your approach. If you’re trying to be creative but are still set in your specific ways, that’s not going to work. People who have a growth mindset are more creative, because they know that they can improve their skills. This comes with a price, though. When you’re learning and improving, you often fail. Willingness to fall, be embarrassed and get back up is an element that’s crucial for creativity. Even if you have a growth mindset, when you’re afraid of failure there’s no chance you will go outside of your comfort zone. 

The Process Of Creative Thinking

In most theories regarding creative thinking, there’s either four or five steps. I will present you with the 5-step process and give you tips on how to make each stage more effective.

Stage 1: Preparation

Before our subconscious does the work and makes connections, we need to feed information into it. No data = no new ideas. Whether you’re working as a project manager or a marketer, it’s crucial that you surround yourself with lots of new information. Read project documentation, market research, industry reports, listen to podcasts, find books relevant to your topic. When you’re working to solve a problem, everything that’s even remotely related to it might come handy. 

Stage 2: Incubation

This one is tricky, because it all happens without you lifting a finger. Well, you need to lift a finger in the preparation stage, but then there’s the matter of your brain doing what it’s supposed to do: making connections. The same way you seem to see faces in wood or in your carpet, your brain will try to piece together everything you’re consuming during the preparation stage and make “faces” (ideas and concepts) out of it. Sometimes, this phase may take a few minutes or a few weeks. Unfortunately, there’s really no way of predicting when your brain will make conclusions and connect the dots. You can, however, train your brain and make sure it gets better and better at spotting those connections. There’s several apps available that offer daily games to train and challenge your thinking. Or, you can go the more traditional route of puzzles, math problems etc.

Stage 3: Insight

After you’ve fed your brain and it had it’s time to process the information, you will get a famous lightbulb moment. What you’ve been trying to solve will come to the front of your mind and present itself. Usually, those moments happen when you least expect them – when you’re falling asleep, going for a walk, washing the dishes. Anything that’s enabling your mind to wander off. You know that feeling when you know you’ve forgotten something but can’t figure out what? And then moments later, after you’ve stopped thinking about it, the thought magically comes to you? The same goes for insights. They come unexpectedly and it’s important to be able to notice them and write them down. For this very reason, many people have a notebook or just a piece of paper on their bedside table. When you get the “eureka!” moment in the middle of the night, you can write it down immediately, instead of telling yourself  you’ll do it in the morning (9/10 times you won’t do it in the morning).

Stage 4: Evaluation

Now you have a certain concept in your head. But is it good? Will it help to solve your problem? Will it better your business? Here’s where the growth mindset is crucial. Some people are afraid of criticism and being judged. But in order to produce great ideas, you need to be open to improving them. Nothing starts off just being great, it’s usually a long way to get there. Get your team or other coworkers or your friends to sit down with your and brainstorm on your idea. Ask them for feedback and then rethink your concept. Conduct qualitative research. This stage is crucial, because you probably work under time pressure and might have a lot of ideas. Self-criticism will help you choose the best idea and not waste time on other ones, that might not be revolutionary.

Stage 5: Elaboration

Most people think that creativity ends when you come up with a great idea. But ideas are nothing without execution. If something stays in your head and in your head only, then it’s not worth anything. This last stage is extremely important because it involves all the hard work. The late nights, tons of coffee, endless brainstorms and calls, user testing, implementation and more testing. Taking an idea out of your head and putting it into an actionable plan and then implementing it within your team or your company – that’s the essence of creativity and the whole point of being creative.

Follow these 5 steps again and again, and I can promise you results. With each issue and problem you face, it will get easier to throw yourself into the process. Training your brain to be creative is possible and proves to have great benefits for you both in your work and in your personal life. If you’re looking for tools that will be helpful during your journey to creativity – check out these tools to boost your creative thinking.

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