We would all like to be creative. Perhaps it is not so hard.

“Curiosity about life in all its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people,” noted the late Leo Burnett, outstanding advertising executive and founder of the firm that bears his name. If so, then by encouraging our own curiosity, we can become more creative.

Former journalist Harry W. Hoover’s recent little book Born Creative maintains that we all are born creative, but some of us don’t believe we are, and so we don’t exercise that skill.

 
 

Hoover cites a Harvard Business Review (HBR) study that found that those who think they are not creative, are not, and those who think they are creative, are. Inventor Henry Ford is credited with saying, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”

Perhaps your opinion correctly summarizes past experience, but Ford’s implied urging toward positive thinking supports Hoover’s view that however much we are innately creative, we can all do better.

Creative Mindset Test

Hoover offers HBR’s five-question test to gauge our “creative mindset.” It asks yes/no questions about:

Associational Thinking: Do you solve problems by drawing on diverse ideas or knowledge?

Questioning: Do you often ask questions that challenge assumptions?

Observing: Do you get innovative ideas by watching how people behave?

Idea Networking: Do you frequently interact with a diverse set of people?

Experimenting: Do you try to create new methods?

HBR would rate you as “creative” if you answered “yes” to a majority of these questions, but even if you did not, Hoover proposes some approaches to exercise and improve your creative muscle. Hoover reports that a study found that the average adult thinks up two or three alternatives for “any given situation,” but the average child thinks of 60. No wonder kids find so many ways to get into trouble!

Embrace Change

A comment by David Norris helped Hoover realize that his time was more precious than his income, especially when he was spending a couple of hours a day commuting. He altered his career trajectory and now works from home.

Generate an “I Am” List

Hoover recommends this clever exercise: Leaving the first entry blank, write down 30 things you are good at. When all done, put as #1 “I am really creative.” Re-read it frequently, as auto-suggestion, or self-hypnosis.

Don’t Be Like this Big Fish

Scientists ran an experiment with a big fish, Hoover relates, a fish that was initially given all the minnows it could eat, while it swam in its aquarium. Next, they encased minnows individually in strong, transparent containers, where they could swim, but the big fish could not get at them.

Soon, the big fish gave up trying. Next, they released the minnows from the containers, but the big fish did not try to eat them, having “learned” it couldn’t. This did not end well.

Make Creative Weather: Brainstorm

You are probably familiar with brainstorming, which Hoover praises. In an informal meeting, solicit ideas, and keep pushing for more ideas, while shielding each participant from criticism. Crucial elements are: proper preparation, a skilled facilitator, generating without denigrating, suspending judgment, quantity not quality to start, going “beyond reason” and piggybacking one idea on another. Capture the ideas in writing.

Use SCAMMPERR for Creativity

To come up with novelty, Hoover uses SCAMMPERR to suggest the following approaches: Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Magnify, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, Rearrange, Reverse.

Steve Jobs has been quoted as saying that creativity is often the joining of disparate elements to make something new.

Psychologist Edward de Bono, author of multiple books on creative thinking, emphasized the value of comparing and contrasting dissimilar items to generate new ideas. De Bono also maintains that creativity helps make life more fun and more interesting.

Harness Your Creative Courage and Judgment

“Creativity is allowing oneself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep,” wrote cartoonist-author-entrepreneur Scott Adams. By being brave, we can risk making mistakes. “Art” may largely be a matter of taste.

You won’t know until you try.

How do you express your own creativity? What do you do to stimulate it? What would go on your “I am” list? Please join the conversation.

Douglas Winslow CooperDouglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D. is a former Harvard science professor. He still publishes and helps others write and publish their books, via http://WriteYourBookWithMe.com. Douglas’ life’s central theme has been a half-century romance with his wife Tina Su Cooper, now quadriplegic due to multiple sclerosis and receiving 24/7 nursing care at home, as discussed at their website here.

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