Leaders know that creativity and innovation are the lifeblood of their organization. So, the mission of every leader should be to search continually for ideas and programs that are superior to the ones the organization is currently committed to.

The basic condition for a creative act is to combine known elements into new combinations or perspectives that have never before been considered. Creativity is much more likely to emerge when a person considers many options and invests the time and effort to keep searching rather than settling for mediocre solutions.

All it takes to make creativity a part of your life is the willingness to make it a habit. I’ve included some exercises that will help you tap into your creativity and put it to use at work or in your leisure time.

Choose daily rituals that can help you pursue your creative goals. Then think about your greatest fears about doing something outside of your regular routine, and how to conquer them.

Here are some common fears and how to overcome them:

1)      “People will laugh at me.” Not the people you respect; if they haven’t yet, they won’t start now.

2)      “Someone has done it before.” It’s all been done before; nothing is really original, so get over it.

3)      “I have nothing new to add.” We all have something to say, so say it!

4)      “I will upset someone if I do something different.” You never know how people will respond to your creative ideas, and the best you can do is to remind yourself that you are a good person with good intentions and think about the exciting, positive possibilities.

5)      “Once executed, the idea will never be as good as it is in my mind, so why bother?” Better an imperfect, completed idea, than an idea that remains in the clouds, that has never been executed—you’ll never know until you try.

Select an environment that works for you, along with a creative ritual that propels you forward every day. Once you have faced your fears, put your distractions in their proper place. You have cleared the first hurdle. You are prepared to be creative.

10 Creativity exercises

Try one or more of these exercises on a regular basis and you may find that you’re accessing your creativity more often and approaching your work differently.

1)      Face your fear

As mentioned above, it’s important to name your fears and how to overcome them before setting out on any creative endeavour. Fear of empty space affects everyone in a creative situation—where there was nothing, there will be something. Naming your fears helps cut them down to size. For example, when you sat in on that brainstorming session at work, why didn’t you speak up? Other fears that may exist for you include: I’m not sure how to do it, people may think less of me, it will cost money and it’s self-indulgent to do something new. If you examine your fears closely, you may be able to identify and break down the ones that are holding you back. Don’t run away from them and ignore them; write them down and save the page. There’s nothing wrong with fear, the only mistake is to let it stop you in your tracks.

2)      What’s your creative autobiography?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What’s the first creative moment that you remember?
  • Was anyone there to witness or appreciate it?
  • What’s the best idea you’ve ever had?
  • What made it great in your mind?
  • Does anyone in your life regularly inspire you?
  • What is your greatest dream for your life?

3)      Reading archaeologically

Conduct your own reading dig. Take an author or a subject and start with the most recent text, then work your way backwards to progressively older texts. If it’s a novelist’s body of work, you’ll learn just as much about the author’s recurring themes, philosophy or style, but you’ll also see them or the topic, from an entirely different point of view. It it’s a particular subject, go back to the writer’s original sources; the distance you’ve travelled with the writer and how the idea has changed will intrigue you, and you will begin to see the idea in its most precious and unadulterated form.

4)      Give yourself a challenge

George Harrison once decided, as a game, to write a song based on the first book he saw at his mother’s house. Picking one up at random, he opened it and saw the phrase “gently weeps,” whereupon he promptly wrote his first great song, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Give yourself a challenge, a handicap to overcome that will force you to think in a new and slightly different way.

5)      Pick a fight

Too much planning implies that you’ve got it all under control. That’s boring, unrealistic and dangerous. Creativity is an act of defiance, you’re challenging the status quo, and you’re questioning accepted truths and principles. You’re asking the universe three universal questions that mock conventional wisdom:

a) Why do I have to obey the rules?

b) Why can’t I be different?

c) Why can’t I do it my way?

Every act of creation is also an act of destruction or abandonment. Something has to be cast aside to make way for the new. This fighting mode is not for everyone, but there’s something to be said for getting into a warriors state of mind, especially when you’re troubled by some creative aspect of a project. Sometimes to force change, you have to be defiant. You won’t always win, but the exercise will be liberating.

6)      What’s your Metaphor Quotient (MQ)?

The process by which we transform the meaning of one thing into something else is an essential part of human intelligence. Everything you create is a representation of something else; in this sense, everything is drenched in metaphor. For example, do you ever find yourself behaving superstitiously in order to control your destiny? Focus on a superstition, like knocking on wood to bring yourself luck or tossing salt over your shoulder to fend off evil spirits—what images come to mind? Follow your thoughts wherever they may lead—this is metaphor as faith. Metaphor is all around you and it’s never too late to raise your MQ.

7)      How to be lucky

Be generous. Generosity is luck going in the opposite direction, away from you. If you are generous to someone, if you do something to help them out, you are in effect making them lucky. This is like inviting yourself into a community of good fortune. A generous spirit will contribute to your good luck. What are the luckiest people you know doing that singles them out? They are likely getting better every day, working on what they love, they’re alert, they involve their friends in their work and they tend to make others feel lucky and good around them.

8)      Package your time

Most creative endeavours don’t allow precise planning, but it’s still important to know how long something is going to take you. Think of all the things that you want to accomplish in the next three months. How much do they overlap? Do they conflict? You can maintain control of your projects by envisioning all projects as circles within circles on a piece of paper with deadlines scrawled within the borders of each. Each circle is self-contained, but each rubs up against one another and enfolds around circles too. Follow the circles and match them to your calendar and that progression makes more and more sense. The routine may bolster your confidence and faith in getting several things done at once—try it.

9)      Build your own validation squad

We all seek approval and validation for our efforts. In the beginning, we seek approval to ensure that we’re on the right path, and that we’re not wasting our time. Look around you, who’s the brightest, most talented person you know? Choose them and get them on board the next time you are working on something that is important to you. We all need people who care about us, and who have good judgment, to give us their opinion with no strings attached. All things being equal, the validation that matters most is the kind that comes with no agenda.

10)    Give yourself a second chance

No matter who you are, at some point you will create something and the world will find it wanting. The good news is that even if you fail, the world will give you a second chance to get it right. By building failure, or at least the prospect of failure in to the creative process, you give yourself a second chance. By acknowledging failure, you take the first step toward conquering it.

As president of Momentum Leadership, Kim Cochrane MA  spent 10 years as a manager in the financial services sector and 10 years as a change management and organizational development consultant in a variety of sectors. She is a certified executive coach, leadership development and learning consultant and an active member of the Toronto Chapter of the International Coach Federation and a member of the International Association of Coaches.

image: Lud?k Wellart (Creative Commons BY-NC-ND)