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Systematizing Creativity for the Seemingly Unimaginative

On my desk sits a Rubik’s cube.

I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for a clean desk. A cup of coffee, my laptop, and a notebook full of ideas are all I need. But, as much as I love the minimalist feel, I won’t remove this colored cube from my workplace.

Every time I’m stumped, I twist and turn the block until it resembles a mishmash of colors presented in irregular patterns across all sides. Then, I’ll take a few minutes to put them all back in their place. I won’t continue to work until I’ve solved the cube entirely.

When I first picked up a Rubik’s cube, I was perplexed. The cube came with each side all one color. Then, I mixed it up and stared. Each side was now a rainbow of colors. Still, I knew it had to be able to return to original form – it came that way after all. I watched YouTube videos of experts solving the cube in a matter of seconds. I read tutorials on how to work the cube back to its original form. Eventually, I got the hang of it.

It now takes me a few minutes to solve a Rubik’s cube, but I can do it no matter how messed up it seems to be.

The cube comes in particularly handy when I’m trying to be creative. When I first watched cubists (as I call them) complete the challenge in a matter of seconds, I was in awe. It was like something out of A Beautiful Mind. They were always thinking 10 steps ahead of their current move. Being able to process all of that information was a gift of sorts.

Here’s the thing: although twisting the blocks into their respective places may seem like an act of genius, it’s really just a matter of memorization.

There are patterns, tricks, and memorized sequences that help to get the job done. It’s not so much a gift of sheer intelligence but rather a game of memorization and application.

Have you ever sat down to try to be creative?

Perhaps your boss challenged you to think outside of the box on a certain program or presentation. You likely sat down and stared at a blank page void of good ideas. You can appreciate the creativity of artists and outside-of-the-box thinkers, but you sure couldn’t come up with an idea.

Being creative is a daunting task. It has no boundaries or guidance. There’s no definition of a creative idea so it’s hard to see what actually fits the mold. As such, sitting down to be creative is a lot like staring into the mirror and willing yourself to be smart. It’s an adjective that describes a set of qualities, but there’s not one right way to get there.

To me, it’s a lot like solving a Rubik’s cube. You have the end goal in mind, but if that’s all you think about, you will never get there. Like solving a cube, the challenge of creativity can be overcome with some tips and tricks.

Here are some steps I’ve taken to be more creative and how to apply them to your current work:

1. Determine the box

In order to break outside of the box, you have to figure out the boundaries first. What are the majority of people in your craft focusing on? How can you do something different? If the majority of leaders in your craft are doing x, then doing y will naturally set yourself apart from the pack. The trick is making sure y makes sense.

In the world of fitness, nearly everyone is writing about deadlifts and why they are arguably one of the best exercises on the face of the planet.

That’s all well and good, but when everyone is writing about it, you get lost in the noise.

Figure out what everyone else in your niche is doing, but more importantly, decide what you can do differently.

2. Read more

The power of reading can’t be overstated. We live in a society where nearly everyone wants to create, but no one wants to read. There is an over abundance of writers and bloggers, but a scarcity of content consumers. A quick scan of my social feed yields at least 10 “must-read” blog posts and a host of other links to check out. Making your content standout is a topic for another post. For now, focus on consuming content from individuals that are completely polar opposite in terms of thought process and writing style.

When you read, don’t just read like a mindless drone skimming over the pages just to say that you finished. That’s what you did in middle school when the teacher made you read The Great Gatsby. Instead, think critically about each idea presented. Why did the writer choose that tone? How is this different than how you would have presented the idea?

Reading the creations of others is a quick insight into their mind. (Need some ideas? I just added a section highlighting books that I’m currently reading myself.)

Read. Observe. Analyze. Reflect. Apply.

3. Don’t pencil in time to be creative

Creativity comes in spurts and most times, it’s impossible to predict. Some people will tell you that they feel more creative in the morning or at night. That’s all well and good, but although I consider myself a morning person, I often have ideas come to me when I’m lying in bed about to go to sleep.

Scheduling time to be creative is setting yourself up for failure and frustration.

Although I try to be “creative” at least once during the day, I give myself various opportunities. I take 15-20 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes during a walk at lunch, and then 10-15 minutes in the evening. The rest of the time is spent acting on previous ideas.

The moral of the story: Creativity can strike at any moment.

Be willing to take advantage when the time comes. I recently read a story about an author that keeps a waterproof notepad in his shower to capture ideas. Figure out when you’re creative and be ready to write!

4. Forget boundaries

The quicker you forget any and all rules or boundaries, the faster ideas will come. As adults, we often lose our sense of imagination. We’re constrained by how things should work or move.

When you think of ideas, pretend as though limitations don’t exist.

In my notebook, I have some of the wildest ideas and projects you could dream of. In fact, most of them I won’t share with anyone else. But, I wrote them down and even took it a step further and planned out a stepwise process for completion. Even if it’s not going to happen, it can be productive to dream of impossible ideas.

Those are tips for being creative. It helps me turn something that seems very daunting into a manageable task of sorts.

Creativity is a largely undefinable trait. Even specific ideas can be termed creative to one crowd and outlandish to another group. Although it bears little definition, using the tools mentioned above, you can turn “creativity” into an art that can be focused and practiced over time.

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