Creativity is something you have to work at. It’s like a muscle you have to train.
So how to be innovative and creative at work?
What Drives Creativity?
Before we look at some specific ideas that will set your creative juices flowing, let’s think briefly in general terms about what it is that drives creativity.
What is it that allows Steve Jobs and Elon Musks to innovate so consistently?
Creativity is about trying to see things from a different angle; it’s about trying to find a new perspective. It’s about trying to step outside of the mental constraints we impose upon ourselves to attempt to look at a problem in a new light.
Being creative is trying to understand what limitations we are unwittingly conforming to, and then breaking free of them. It is allowing yourself to do things, experience things or consider things in unfamiliar ways.
This is the essence of creativity and innovation, and shaking things up to free yourself from accepted ways of thinking is at the heart of being creative.
Above all, you need to fight against routine, mindlessness and apathy, the mortal enemies of the creative process.
13 Ways to Be Innovative and Creative at Work
1. Go Outside
If you are suffering from a creative block, one of the simplest and most powerful ways to remedy it is to leave the office and go for a walk. If your brain becomes stuck in a rut of routine and repetition, just seeing some unfamiliar sights can help you break free of your self-imposed mental prison.
When you do this, make sure you switch off your phone and give your mind space and time to relax. If you spend your walk staring at your screen, you might as well stay in the office – the idea is to let your mind wander. When you arrive back at the office, you will feel creatively invigorated.
You can make this a habit if your work allows it – but don’t turn it into a new routine. Make sure you vary your walks, pay attention to and take note of things you see. You will quickly realize how this can help fire up your creativity.
2. Don’t Fill “Dead Time” with Pointless Telephone Use
“Dead time” is moments like when you are on a train or having lunch alone. Your mind is inactive, and you are just waiting for the time to pass. Nowadays, many people have developed a reflex during moments like this to reach for their smartphone.
Some people mechanically check emails or messages, some open Twitter or Facebook, and others have a mindless game or two to occupy the time.
However, if you spend every spare minute of the day feeding information into your brain – often useless information – you are crowding out moments when your brain can be rearranging thoughts and brewing up new ideas.
You need to give your mind downtime to be creative and innovative. If you fill dead time by reading the news on your telephone or digging turnips from a virtual garden, you are effectively filling some of your brain’s most creative moments with white noise.
Celebrate dead time and let your brain wander.
3. Start Your Day with Creativity
Another bad habit so many of us now have that kills creativity is to fall into the rut of routine from the moment we open our eyes.
When the alarm sounds in the morning, before we even crawl out of bed, we reach for our telephone. For most of us, our telephone probably is our alarm. Before we know it, we’re checking our notifications and our mind is already fixed into the worn groove of our hyper-connected life.
Instead of this, why not start by giving your brain something different and stimulating when you first wake up? Leave your phone switched off for the first hour of the day and give your brain something else to do instead.
Listen to music, read a book, meditate, do yoga, make some unique drink or anything else you can think of. Give your mind some space to breathe and expand first thing in the morning – and then see how much more creative you become later in the day.
4. Set Aside “Creative Time” out of the Office
The routine of turning up for work and doing the same old thing in the same old place is deadly poison to creativity. You end up training your brain to think about things in the same way, and the day-to-day grind drives fills the space required for original thoughts.
An answer to this is to set aside “creative time” outside of the office. Allow yourself 45 minutes once or twice a week to sit in a coffee shop and just think.
You should find a place that is comfortable and quiet, somewhere you can simply sit and be alone with your drink. You shouldn’t have any particular goals and you certainly shouldn’t take work with you – but at the same time, this is “work time” and you should focus your thoughts on work.
The idea is to allow your mind to relax and simply wander. You will probably come up with some surprising new insights or ideas.
In keeping with the theme of mixing things up as much as possible, it might help you to change the location for this activity rather than going to the same place each time – but some people might also find the ritual of going to a familiar place helps put them in a calm and creative frame of mind.
5. Surround Yourself with Inspiration
Even if you can’t go for a walk, spend reflective time in a coffee shop or rearrange your office furniture, you can still surround yourself with inspirational material that will help keep your mind on its toes.
Always be on the lookout for new and stimulating material and adorn your workspace with whatever you find. It could be newspaper headlines, rousing quotations, objects, photos or anything else – it’s up to you.
Make sure you keep replacing everything too – it will keep your space fresh, and this, in turn, will keep your mind fresh. Above all, don’t let your environment become dull and boring or your mind will stagnate.
6. Pair Up
Creativity and innovation will be stunted if you work alone, so have someone to bounce ideas off of.
Depending on your work situation, this could take different forms. One idea might be to organize dedicated brainstorming sessions with your business partner or another collaborator.
Another more original idea might be to pair people in the office for a certain amount of time as “creativity buddies”((The Muse: 10 Ways You Can Innovate at Work Every Single Day—No Matter How “Boring” Your Job Title)). For a set period, perhaps one month, you can set aside a time each week for the two to share ideas, brainstorm, chat, discuss and generally come up with new ideas.
After the allotted time is up, rotate the pairs to keep things fresh and help generate even more creativity. This way, you can have people with different expertise and outlooks teaming up; new ideas will quickly start flowing.
How you organize this in your particular work situation is up to you – be creative!
7. Move Your Desk
This works in a similar way to going for a walk. If you always sit at the same desk in the same place and do the same tasks, move your desk. When you find your creativity drying up, if it’s possible, try rearranging your office. Something as simple as sitting in a different location can have a big effect.((Inc.: How to Create a Workspace That Inspires Creativity))
Of course, this might not be possible for everything, but there are other things you can do. Go and sit at someone else’s desk for a while or swap desks with somebody. Sit on a sofa to reconsider a difficult problem.
It can be quite amazing how a simple change of position or scenery can help your creativity start flowing again.
8. Have a Diverse Team
If creativity is all about having different perspectives and viewpoints, then it must make sense to hire people from different backgrounds and with different experiences.
If you’re the boss, don’t simply hire people in your own image. If you populate your office with your clones and your company with like-minded people, creativity will suffer.
A much better hiring policy is to try to create a team as diverse as possible. When it comes to discussions and coming up with new ideas, you will reap the rewards.
9. Control and Manage Negativity
Another killer of creativity is negative emotion, so if you want to be at your most creative and innovative, don’t allow negativity to crowd it out.
Think about it – how can you be creative when your mind is filled with thoughts of traffic jams, IT fails and any number of other daily frustrations.
Of course, life always throws up new things that drive you mad – from a car that won’t start to a computer that won’t load. However, if you want to be creative, you need to manage these emotions.
Push the negativity to one side, compartmentalize it and try to put yourself in the kind of positive state that is so much more conducive to creativity.
10. Be Curious
Creativity at work is not limited only to what goes on in the workplace. If you want to be a creative and innovative individual, you need to broaden your horizons. Try to find ways to step outside of the world you are familiar with and learn about as many fields of knowledge as you can.
This is a trait that many of the most creative people have in common – they are all insatiably curious. If you have too narrow an outlook, you won’t be able to break out of your limited world view and make the connections you need to have original thoughts.
Read, learn, listen to podcasts, find out as much as you can about as many things as possible. We now live in a world where this is easier than it has ever been – so there are no excuses.
11. Encourage Crazy Ideas
There is a school of thought that says we are all born creative, but we lose it as we grow up. As children, we are full of crazy ideas but as we grow into adults, reality and our experiences temper our ability to think outside the box.
In order to allow creativity to thrive, encourage the craziest ideas without any thoughts for whether they are possible. Ask questions like “what would we do if there were no limits?” or “what would we do if we couldn’t fail?”.
The ideas you come up with might not necessarily be useful – but this kind of thinking will allow creativity to flourish.
12. Have Meetings Standing Up
If routine and boredom destroy creativity, it is easy to see why repetitive, tedious meetings end up being so unproductive.
A simple answer to shake things up a little is to have meetings standing up.((The Telegraph: Standing in meetings makes workers more creative)) You might try this once a week to begin with, but you will soon see how energy levels, productivity, participation and – above all – creativity all increase enormously. After trying it a few times, you’re sure to see the benefits.
13. Eat Creative Foods
We said that your creative mind is like a muscle that needs exercising – and if this is true, it also needs feeding.
As any dedicated gym-goer will tell you, exercise alone will not help you develop the biceps and six-pack of your dreams – you need the right nutrition too. And if you want to develop your creative muscle, you need to eat the right brain foods.
Some of the foods to prioritize include unprocessed foods, cold water fish, green vegetables, nuts, fresh fruit and veg and…coffee!
And another tip, don’t live the life of a monk, either. Allow yourself to indulge in a few treats like chocolate or a glass of wine from time to time. This will help you feel happy and positive – also essential for good creativity.
The Bottom Line
The key to releasing your creative power is to keep things always fresh. Fight against routine, boredom and negativity. Always strive to try new things and keep people on their toes.
Perhaps not all of these ideas will work for you – but they may give you new ideas of your own. And that, after all, is how creativity works!