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Why Some People Are More Creative Than Others

Why Some People Are More Creative Than Others

Would you label yourself a creative person? Do you think creativity is something we are born with? Creativity is more than the simple left versus right brain. It is more than your logical hemisphere compared to your creative hemisphere. Creativity and learning takes place when we are able to connect new knowledge with knowledge we were already familiar with. Creativity is something we can all develop. In fact, it has been scientifically proven that creativity can be cultivated.

Prior to the last couple of years, I used to think creativity was something you were born with. I believed one of the myths of creativity and used it as an excuse. Do you associate with any of these common myths about creativity? Common myths:[1]

  • You are born with it.
  • You have to be right-brained.
  • It falls into your lap.
  • You’ve got to be a little mad.

Everyone has fell victim to at least one of these myths, but anyone can be creative, not just the privileged few. Let’s take a look at how some people embrace this mindset and become more creative than the rest.

They are good at making connections between different ideas.

“Part of creativity is picking the little bubbles that come up to your conscious mind, and picking which one to let grow and which one to give access to more of your mind.” – Nancy Andreasen

Yevgeniy Brikman has an interesting analogy for creativity. He looks at creative thinking as a deck of index cards. He remarks,

“Imagine you have a deck of index cards and that each card has a word or phrase on it. These cards represent the ideas and thoughts that are floating in your head.”[2]

Try the following with index cards, where each card has a word or phrase on it:

  1. Shuffle the index cards.
  2. Drop them on the floor.
  3. Scan over the cards and see what sentences have formed from the random arrangement of words.

Brikman asserts, “Most of the time, the random permutations will be meaningless. You just have to pick up the cards and return to step 1. However, every now and then, a meaningful sentence or thought will emerge. Sometimes this will be a full solution to a problem – the ‘aha’ moment. Other times, this will be a mere stepping stone from which you gather enough info to add or remove index cards from your deck before returning to step 1.”

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They are divergent thinkers.

“We are boxed in by the boundary conditions of our thinking” – Albert Einstein

    Creative thinkers are not linear thinkers. In fact, they are divergent or lateral thinkers. They embrace a different way of thinking and attack problems from new angles. Creative people can literally remove their mind from the box. Typically, most people think that you must remain within the already known boundaries. However, when we move out of the box, we then extend our boundaries beyond the existing framework. This is critically important in cultivating creativity.

    They act on the eureka moment.

    “Seeing something that doesn’t exist and then making it so.” – Hugh Howey

    Have you ever had that unbelievable epiphany or insight that just suddenly occurs in your mind? This is the eureka effect, our experience of suddenly comprehending something that was previously incomprehensible. The effect is named after a story about the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes. However, we will use a different example of this effect. Sidney Harris has a simple cartoon that visualizes this effect perfectly. In her cartoon, she draws an illustration of Albert Einstein standing before a chalkboard. On the board, Einstein has two different equations crossed out. The title of the cartoon is the “The Creative Moment” and is a fabulous caricature of one of the most important discoveries in history.

    Creative thinkers endlessly search for their creative moment. So, the next time you have a eureka moment, use the following tips to act on it.

    There are four stages of the creative process.

    Let’s now discuss how you can activate your creative mind by following these four stages.[3]

    1. Preparation. So, did you think this would start with an idea? Well, you would be wrong. Here we are gathering facts and existing ideas about our problem. In the first stage, start asking questions in order to start generating ideas.
    2. Incubation. This stage is important. Go for a jog or take a bath (Thank Archimedes for this idea!), but make sure you allow the problem to wander in your mind.
    3. Sudden Insight. Here is your eureka moment! This is where your connections overflow until that fantastic ‘aha’ moment hits.
    4. Manifestation. In this stage you carry out and apply the sudden insight.

    We can cultivate creativity in numerous ways.

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      “Ask questions for which there are no answers.”

      There are certain things we can all do in order to become more creative. Let’s look at some of them.

      • Ask questions. “Successful creators don’t just like knowledge, they thirst for it. They can’t stop asking question, and they always go beyond what they’ve learned from teachers and books.” – Keith Sawyer
      • Practice. When we practice a skill over and over again it will start to become a habit. Write about how to develop a creative mindset, blog about it, and even try to teach other people about it.
      • Use an analogy. When we use analogies, we find similarity between two things. Think of the index card example earlier.
      • Random word. If you have a problem and you need a completely outside-the-box approach to solving it… try this. Go to randomwordgenerator.com and generate a random word. Here the random word serves as a stimulus which will then serve as a bridge between the stimulus and the idea which will help you solve the problem.[4]
      • Leave your comfort zone. “But the essence of creativity is to be surprised, to come up with something you really didn’t know. That’s the nova in innovation. It’s the newness. And if you keep doing the same old thing, you won’t do the new thing. But when you suspend the old thing, the new thing doesn’t always automatically emerge.” – Michael Gelb
      • Read poetry. Metacognition is when we think about what we are thinking about. This revelation recently hit me. The most powerful deep thinking approach is poetry.
      • Mind mapping. This is a great way to take a topic down a rabbit hole. This is where you have your main idea in the center. The main idea branches out to second and third-level branches. This will help you see patterns that others fail to see.

      So, are you now motivated to become a creative thinker? Do you believe you can? Well, you should. On your journey to become a more creative thinker, remember the four stages and don’t forget that you have to let your thoughts incubate for a while. Don’t try to force the ‘aha’ moment. Allow yourself the time to let your mind wander. Once you do this, you will find that you are able to create something out of nothing.

      Reference

      More by this author

      Dr. Jamie Schwandt

      Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt & Red Team Critical Thinker

      How to Upgrade Your Critical Thinking Skills and Make Smart Choices How to Reprogram Your Brain Like a Computer And Hack Your Habits 5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory 10 Hacks to Increase Your Brain IQ, Focus and Creativity 9 Game Changing Tips on How to Write Goals (and Reach Them!)

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      Last Updated on April 23, 2019

      How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

      How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

      Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

      While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

      For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

      While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

      I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

      Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

      Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

      Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

      The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

      Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

      What Is a Stretch Goal?

      A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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      In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

      For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

      This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

      It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

      The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

      The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

      I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

      Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

      1. Get Outside of Your Head

      If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

      If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

      I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

      Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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      2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

      When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

      I see this in so many areas of life:

      When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

      In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

      “Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

      Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

      3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

      When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

      The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

      For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

      We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

      From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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      When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

      Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

      4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

      S.M.A.R.T.

      is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

      While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

      Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

      For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

      By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

      5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

      I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

      The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

      When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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      One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

      Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

      I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

      A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

      As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

      From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

      The Bottom Line

      These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

      For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

      Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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