Try these powerful ways to boost your innovation further

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Some people doubt whether creativity can be learned, let alone taught. They assume it is some kind of genetic gift; you either have it or you don’t, and you can do little or nothing to change that fact.

Yet nearly all creative people have some things in common, and that at least suggests that encouraging those same traits and actions in yourself could help you make the most of whatever creativity you have naturally.

The “genetic” view of creativity may explain part of each person’s ability to innovate, but any gift has to be nurtured and released to make it useful. I think that a “naturally gifted” person who takes his or her creativity for granted, and does little to keep it sharp, may well be less innovative in practice than someone with less natural aptitude but more determination to develop.

With that in mind, I offer these observations on ways to extend and polish your own innovative powers, whatever they might be. By using such approaches diligently, you can indeed become more creative than you are today — and maybe more creative than you even imagine.

Keep topping up your tank

You can’t drive a car forever on a single tank of gas — not even a hybrid. You may eat a vast meal today, but if you don’t eat again ever, you’ll starve to death.

Creative people know that fresh ideas do not arise in a vacuum. Creativity needs raw material: it needs continual exposure to more knowledge and other peoples’ thinking to allow it to appear. First come knowledge and ideas as raw material; then you will also need the understanding and skill to take your creative impulse and express it for others.

Without sufficient input, creativity soon withers. That is why writers are usually voracious readers and musicians listen to a great deal of music beyond their own. They need input. And since there is no knowing in advance which particular fact, experience, or idea will be the one to set off a creative chain-reaction, they get all that they can.

An aspiring writer who doesn’t read is doomed to mediocrity from the start. A hopeful thinker of new thoughts will produce only banal repetitions, unless he or she constantly seeks out what others have thought before.

Seek out as many new experiences as you can

Not all the input creativity demands can come from book-learning and the classroom. New sources of experience and new stimuli are important to trigger ideas — especially when those experiences come in circumstances unfamiliar to us.

Whether it’s visiting other countries and cultures, trying new foods and ways of living, or just spending time with people outside your normal social circle, such jolts to your comfortable, well-known mental pathways can set you off in totally new and unexpected directions.

The more you cling to your comfort-zones, the less likely you are to be able to see beyond them, let alone stimulate your mind to produce new ideas.

Keep challenging yourself

Creative people are constantly putting themselves into situations that challenge them in some significant way: intellectually, practically, or in terms of understanding. They take risks that less creative people shy away from. They put themselves directly in the path of looming obstacles and go to the dangerous edge of that chosen field, where one slip may mean a bad fall.

As a result, creative people make enormous numbers of mistakes — and do so willingly. Perhaps 90% or more of their ideas turn out to be completely impractical — even wholly mistaken. It doesn’t matter to them much, if at all.

Like the prospector panning for gold, they know they have to sift through a whole heap of dirt to find that gleaming nugget of pure wonder. And they won’t be able to do that without going into inhospitable places and taking big risks — nor without pushing themselves close to the edge of what they can handle.

Ignore automatic criticism — especially your own

It’s a truism that a good many creative geniuses have endured long periods when the rest of the world judged them to be fools, wasting their time with crazy notions. Some spent their whole lives being despised, only to be recognized as amazing years after a pauper’s death. Some received their due praise only in old age. But they all kept going.

Creative people focus on the ideas, not the evaluation. They preserve their thoughts first and only later submit them to some kind of evaluation. They know too that what may seem at first to be useless may be an essential step towards final triumph.

And if they persist in the face of derision from other people, they are even more determined when it comes to ignoring their own, inner critic.

Many peoples’ creativity is stifled at birth by self-judgmental impulses. Indeed, that’s likely the greatest reason why the majority of people fail to use the creativity they have: any new idea is squashed instantly by negative thoughts in their own minds. They never risk being rated a fool by others because they dismiss themselves as foolish first.

How to make the best of whatever creativity you have

Try using these observations to improve your own ability to exercise whatever creativity is in you:

  • Gain all the learning you can in your chosen field. There is no such thing as too much input, so long as you don’t take it as gospel truth and convince yourself you can never have a new idea.
  • Keep seeking out fresh experiences. Don’t be content with what works today. When the creative person finds that something isn’t broken, he or she promptly breaks it to make a better one.
  • Keep challenging yourself. Never be content. When you can do something well, move on and try things you know you can’t to.
  • Make lots of mistakes cheerfully and never be embarrassed because you got it wrong. At least you now know what won’t work, so you can move on.
  • Don’t let yourself and your ideas be squashed by criticism, internal or external. If what you are working on is truly new, others won’t understand it — and most people scorn whatever they don’t understand. Your inner critic is usually the voice of convention, so the more it squeals in protest, the more creative you have just been!

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