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The Secret to Creativity

Connecting the DotsPeople often ask me where I come up with the topics for my articles and my standard response is “I don’t know, do you have any suggestions?”  My question is usually met with a faraway look that says “I have no idea, why are you asking me?”  I have, however, given some thought to the creative process.

One of my sons is becoming a pretty good guitar player.  He has been in several bands and performed a few shows.  One of my favorite things to do is sit with him and his buddies while they write music.  I marvel at their creative process and how they seemingly pull endless ideas out of nowhere and turn them into something amazing for others to enjoy.

Killing Creativity

Corporations Killing CreativityAn article by Kelly Fitzsimmons in INC. magazine, shares the story of how her colleagues almost killed her creativity.

As a young mother, Mrs. Fitzsimmons would spend her Saturdays playing with her kids and alternating her readings between My Little Pony and MIT Technology Review.

By Monday she would think she would be quoting Mark Zuckerberg when in reality it was a quote from Rainbow Dash—which, she says, sounds surprisingly like Mr. Zuckerberg.

Later on she began limiting her reading to “serious” sources like Network Computing, Inc. and Harvard Business Review.  It was this switch to more narrowly focused and “serious” reading material that she credits for the near death of her creativity.

She found she was becoming an “echo chamber for other people’s ideas instead of coming up with her own.”

Kelly learned, as have I, that real creativity comes from consuming vast amounts of information—often unrelated and sometimes highly unusual—and trying to connect the dots between that and daily observations.

Creativity isn’t something that you either have or don’t have, it is something we are all born with and can develop.

Creativity of a Child

Rogue T-RexLast weekend I spent some quality time on the floor playing with my 4 year-old granddaughter.  I marveled at her creativity in coming up with new things to talk about and games to play.

I laughed as her imagination ran wild while we ran from dragons, dinosaurs and other evil villains.

While dodging imaginary darts, an idea popped into my head for a future article and I was able to flesh out a rough idea before being gobbled up by a rogue T-Rex.

A good friend of mine shared a story with about a time when she was working on a challenging presentation late into an evening.  Upon hitting a stumbling block she decided to call it a night and let her mind work on it while she slept.

In the middle of the night she woke up with what she thought was the answer to her problem, so she grabbed the notebook sitting beside her bed and quickly scribbled down the thought.

When she woke up, she reached for the notebook to retrieve her mid-night breakthrough thought only to discover that her groundbreaking solution was Llama Llama Red Pajama.  While my friends midnight ah-ha moment didn’t help her much, it did help me—it became the basis for this article!

Preparation and Observation

Creativity is a skill that can be developed and mastered over time.  Much like the athlete who performs an amazing feat in the middle of a contest, creativity is as much about opportunity as it is about preparation.

Creativity Loves PreparationPeople don’t just do amazing things haphazardly; amazing things come because of preparation.

You can prepare for creativity by consuming information from various disciplines and sources.  Find things that challenge your thinking and perspective, don’t just read things you agree with.

Consider Abraham Lincoln’s executive cabinet—very divided and opinionated—as an example of looking for alternatives outside of your own expertise.  Also, pay attention to the everyday paradoxes and details of your life.

One of the greatest sitcoms of all time was a show about nothing.  The show’s creators spent a great deal of time observing the behavior and activities of those around them.  These observations became a story line and the source of one liners which float through pop culture 15 years later—yada yada yada.

The Takeaway

In short, creativity is about connecting the dots.  The more diverse the dots, the more creative you become.  Like the old song says, “take time to smell the roses” then spend some time figuring out the connection between llamas and red pajamas.

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