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Thinking Outside of the Box: How to Foster Creativity

April 21, 2017

When I was younger, my art teacher assigned us a fish-drawing project. Naturally, I chose to draw a clownfish like everyone else, because everyone loved Disney Pixar’s Finding Nemo. After every student in the class had declared that they would draw a clownfish, our teacher looked at us at said, “Maybe try a different fish, or choose a clownfish and make it your own. All you need is a little creativity.”

 

While growing up, I have always been told to be more creative in order to be unique. I consistently tried to think of ideas no one had thought of, tried to perform tasks differently than others, and tried to come up with the most obscure essay topics no other student would write about. I think the feeling of wanting to be creative is commonly shared amongst individuals: As members of the new generation, we strive to think of new ideas that are unheard of; as students, we hope to stand out of the crowd; as consultants, we are constantly driven to think of the most innovative solutions to help our clients.

 

At the heart of these aspirations is the essence of creativity. According to Robert E. Franken, author of Human Motivation, creativity is defined as “the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others.” In our society, from young, we have been taught to “think outside of the box” and explore a new realm of thought. We want to be creative to innovate, create, and solve. I recently read Jonah Lehrer’s book, author of Imagine: How Creativity Works, and became interested in understanding how we can be more creative to arrive at more innovative solutions.

 

From my experience, there are three C’s to creativity: curiosity, communication, and calmness.

 

Curiosity. Creative people tend to ask more questions both internally and externally. They often reflect on core assumptions made, how concepts fit together in the larger picture, and analyze the motivations and consequence behind or as a result of certain ideas. Curiosity also entails asking questions to other peers. In Hilltop Consultants, we work with project teams to exchange ideas and ask questions regarding our thoughts on the project. Additionally, each project team has an opportunity to present to other teams who are not as familiar with the project as the team itself, which provides an opportunity for consultants to ask for new opinions and other thoughts. Starting discussions and asking questions helps promote curiosity because it ensures that ideas and statements are critically analyzed and reviewed from a variety of perspectives, which allows individuals to build or reform their ideas and take them to the next level.

 

Communication. Working in an open environment and articulating thoughts helps spark deliberation over ideas. Everyone has a unique identity and possesses different experiences. Strong communication can take multiple forms, including writing down thoughts, emailing peers, engaging in productive debates, asking questions, and sharing random thoughts. Communication allows others to contribute their views and share their diverse experiences, fostering “piggy-backing.” According to Jonah Lehrer, creative ideas come from stealing things we’ve seen and making new connections. Hearing from others and connecting their thoughts with one’s own promotes innovative thinking. Therefore, being engaged in a dialogue helps spark unique ideas.

 

Calmness. Sometimes we just need some peace and time to think. Some of our best ideas will come to us when we least expect it – at a time where we feel relaxed. Indeed, Jonah Lehrer argues that we discover our best ideas in the shower because we are at ease and have a clear state of mind. Staying healthy, resting appropriately, and reflecting often allows us to make connections and develop our ideas. In addition to trying to have moments of peace, individuals should work on being patient. The best ideas are not forced and we should not stress out to come up with the final thought. We must recognize that thinking is a process and our ideas can always be improved. Therefore, practicing peace and patience helps foster creativity.

 

As society progresses, we should recognize that strategic thinking is not distinct from creative thinking. Instead of thinking purely in a problem-solving fashion, we should try to attack problems from a variety of angles and draw upon “logic, imagination, intuition, and systemic reasoning.” Creativity plays an important role in our daily lives and in the workforce. We constantly face challenges and need to problem-solve. Through inquisition, discussion and reflection, we can begin to understand how different ideas contribute to a larger, overarching goal and can become innovative creators that can help society advance. All we need is a little creativity.  

 

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