Many people think that creativity is like getting hit by a bolt of lightning.
They wait around for a flash of inspiration to come, and hope they are ready when it does. Then they are disappointed that no ideas came, and resign themselves to settling for the status quo.
No wonder they feel stuck in a doldrums!
There are two problems with this wait-and-see approach to creativity: 1) Your best ideas often come by working through the initial idea and testing it in the real world, and 2) unplanned inspiration does not allow you time to prepare or organize how you are going to capture the idea and put it into action.
Let’s take each of these problems in turn.
Working Toward Inspiration
I had a painting teacher once who taught us that creativity comes through daily work. Don’t wait, he said, to start the work until you feel inspired. Begin working and your process will generate inspiration and ideas.
I have found that to be true in every aspect of my life, whether teaching, writing, painting, playing music, preparing a speech, or coaching a business team. It’s even true of parenting. Often creative momentum doesn't come until after I have started the work.
Even in very Left Brained tasks, over time as I work on them I find ways to inject creativity into them. For example, over time I've been able to regroup and rename line items on my expense sheet to better reflect big picture priorities.
It doesn’t matter how uncreative the task or problem at hand seems, you can still find inspiration and creativity in it. But if you wait for an idea to come out of the blue, the odds are against you having any new ideas.
Being Prepared For Ideas
Unplanned inspiration catches us off guard. Have you ever had an idea come to you at 3 a.m. but were too tired to get up and write it down? I can’t remember those ideas either!
It may seem forced or mechanical, but we need structure for our creativity to come out and be captured in a way we can remember and communicate. Not having scheduled creativity time means we likely always be caught in that 3 a.m. moment. (Having a notepad and pencil right by your bed is a good way to capture those ideas. That’s an example of planned personal creativity.)
More Than A One-Off
Complex problems--such as how to fund something, where to focus your marketing, or what will happen when a manager leaves--need more than one meeting, more than one day, often more than one week to properly solve. It is therefore more realistic and more effective to plan several sessions with directed activity between, rather than try to cram it all into a single “brainstorming” session.
What this means is that you need to block out time specifically for the creative process, because when there is not enough time and forethought dedicated to working through a problem you will never arrive at your best ideas.
The point is that more time is needed to accommodate the creative process than we may at first think. We need to schedule that time or it will get crowded out by other things.
The more valuable and high-stakes the problem is, the more important it is to take enough time for this process.
So don’t wait for the lightning. Plan for creative action with time to work and time to mull, time to process as a team and time to strategically capture all the ideas that come out. When you give time to your team for Right Brain work, they will reward you with more effective solutions.
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