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You either have it, or you don’t. Or so they say.

Creativity is a characteristic that is as much wished-for as it is revered. A lot of us hope we were more creative or that, deep inside, we possess that creative “spark.”

Today, creativity is no longer limited to individuals. From a business point of view, creativity is valued. In an international survey made by IBM, creativity was chosen as the most important element for future success. Yes, it is THE most essential element. Its value is more significant than hard work, discipline, and integrity.

That survey result may be distressing if you just don’t think that you’re a creative person. But, guess what? You have it in you. You are, or you can be a creative person. And if you have it hidden inside, it’s possible to let it out, to hone it, and allow it to reach its full potential.

So, can you learn creativity? Yes, you can.

Searching for Your Inner Creativity

Sir Ken Robinson, author of the bestselling book Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative, believes that every person has enormous creative capabilities. In his many books, he highlighted the belief that creativity isn’t solely associated with art. Anyone can be creative in math, science, technology, illustration, music, cuisine, dance, coaching or even managing the household.

Creativity is in every aspect of life because it is a process of forming original ideas that contain value. It is a PROCESS, not just a single event. And a truly creative process involves critical thinking, ingenious insights, and fresh ideas.

Creativity as a process is cultivating a vital idea that comes up over and over again. It’s not just about having an “A-ha!” moment (which everyone is also capable of). It’s mainly setting yourself up to get to that moment, and then being aware of what to do when the lightbulb moment happens.

For this reason, learning how to be creative doesn’t mean starting from beginning. It means finding and improving the creative intelligence you already have in you.

How to Be Creative

Creativity can be learned, improved, honed, and mastered. It’s just that for many of us, it requires more patience and a dose of cleverness in altering the way we think. Listed below are the scientifically proven methods to discover and develop creativity. Some tips are basic while others require patience to learn. The core lesson is that regardless of age or experience, we all can be more creative.

1. Teach yourself to create original ideas and associations.

Teach yourself to create original ideas and associations

There is no such thing as an original thought. But there is an original perspective on a thought or idea. The latter makes it possible to produce links and connections between somewhat unrelated subjects into one main idea. This association is a key to creativity.

According to a recent study, the heart of a creative mind includes the capacity to combine information from different situations and experiences – also referred to as conceptual integration – and the fortitude to learn complex comparisons. Linear thinkers, like engineers and scientists, usually have difficulty discovering patterns from different resources.

Most people who don’t see themselves as creative are still exceptionally intelligent, but are more of linear thinkers. They prefer to focus on a single subject or idea instead of many topics connected into one. It’s the merging of subjects, the discovery of patterns in between, that usually delivers original associations and ingenious insights.

So how can you teach yourself to make original associations? The first step is to listen. Other people can present you with new perspectives and unique ways of looking at solutions you might not have considered doable.

It helps to expose yourself to different cultures and to be more cultured. After all, it’s highly impossible to make an original association between a song and an artistic movement if you’ve never read an art book or visited a gallery. Also, be a voracious reader. Know what’s been accomplished or reported about the subject or idea you wish to pursue. From what you’ve read, find a new approach or method to make it your own original perspective.

It’s as basic as this: if you want to be a renowned writer, read the bestsellers. If you want to be a famous dancer, study the technique of the masters. It’s not a sin to get ideas from the professionals in the field you want to tackle. It’s in your power to incorporate something new to the subject, to add something worthwhile to what has already been presented to the world that marks your creative mind.

2. Open yourself to new experiences.

Open yourself to new experiences

Being open to a new experience demonstrates you have conceptual taste, an engaged imagination, an awareness of your inner emotions, an electrified intellectual curiosity, and an eagerness for diversity. This openness is also a characteristic that can be developed and improved.

If you make an effort to try new experiences – like learning a new language or trying a different cuisine – you help yourself to become more cultured. If you open yourself to meeting new people, push yourself intellectually with complex puzzles and mind-blowing books, and stay open to challenging social and political concerns, you will enrich your life. And as a result, you will become more creative.

3. Go for a walk.

Take A Walk

For others, creativity strikes in the middle of the night or in the shower, but based on a recent study headed by Standford, that creative idea will likely spark while out on a walk. Using the Guilford Alternate Uses (GAU), a standard test of creativity that focuses on thinking divergently and creatively, 81% of the participants had something creative in mind after walking. Even after taking a stroll, the creativity level remains elevated. 95% of the participants who went for a short walk could visualize a creative metaphor, yet only 50% of those who stay inside the room for the same time period could develop a metaphor.

Creative greats have long grasped the value of going for a walk to improve their creativity before studies – like the one conducted by Standford – were there to back it up. American author Henry David Thoreau said it best: “The moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.”

4. Make green your favorite color.

Make green your favorite color

The neuroscience of colors and shades is a complex and often confusing subject. But in several ways, it all boils down to green. Based on a study presented in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, a brief glance at anything green before a creativity task boosts creative performance.

It doesn’t matter if you’re doing a word-based or an image-based creative activity. Looking at something green quickly either before starting the activity or in the middle of doing it has a tendency to elevate the supply of creative juices more than any other color or shade. In fact, based on the same bulletin, the colors blue and yellow mellow the juices, thus stopping the creative process.

5. Keep a cluttered table.

Keep a cluttered table

This may come as a surprise to many, but a disorderly desk is a sign of creativity. As explained by a Management Professor following a comprehensive study, creativity is served by breaking away from what is traditional or in order. A cluttered environment appears to help most people to do just that.

Plus, most of the great creative geniuses of all time are also known for their disorganized workstations. To put it differently, if you wish to produce creative work, concentrate on the things that matter the most, and not on your desk.

6. Don’t shy away from the spotlight.

Shibuya Crossing

Sharon H. Kim, an educator who specializes in group creativity, discovered in her latest study that the most creative people are those who prefer to stand out in a society or have been, in some manner, rejected by a community. Kim observed that given that creative answers are, by definition, uncommon, sporadic, and possibly debatable, they are triggered by the need to be noticed and to assert a person’s individuality. The rejection may set off a mental process that encourages, rather than restrains, efficiency on creative activities.

As Gregy Feist, a psychology professor, told The Boston Globe many years ago, when you let your concentration shift away from the people and things that surround you, you can better tap your “meta-cognition” or the method of thinking critically and reflectively about your very own ideas and thoughts.

7. Refine your ideas all the time.

Refine your ideas all the time

You can do this by forming, clarifying, developing, and implementing ideas. Clarify by asking the right questions. Develop them by making sure that the idea is realistic and doable. Implement by making it happen. These concepts, built into the exercise of design thinking can change the way institutions and businesses create merchandise, services, procedures, and techniques.

Creative breakthroughs are hardly ever the result of a sudden inspiration, but rather a consequence of perseverance and rigid routine. Have patience, be prepared to do the work, and refine your idea repeatedly. In most innovative and ingenious creations, perseverance beats impulse.

8. Take time to relax.

Take Time to Relax

According to research, those who are relaxed are more inclined to uncover creative solutions faster than people who are restless, agitated or too excited. The theory is that a calm, wandering mind aids people to psychologically float between ideas and thoughts instead of getting trapped in a linear, logical mode of thinking.

The analytical mode is where creative links and associates are more difficult to come across. When the mind drifts, it is a typical sign that the creative juices are flowing. The study also outlined that with regards to coming up with a brilliant idea, the ability to completely focus is overrated. If your mind wanders, you can outperform your peers in many activities where flashes of awareness and perception are important.

9. Practice, practice, practice.

Practice, practice, practice

As discussed in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, the 10,000 Hour Rule is the concept that it’s vital to focus on a particular creative skill for 10,000 hours before you can truly master it. That is an investment made up of eight hours a day, five days a week, for a minimum of five years. Gladwell further discussed this concept on Reddit, stating that practice is NOT an adequate condition to succeed.

It’s basically like playing chess: even if you play chess for decades, there is still no certainty that you will be a Grandmaster. At its core, one’s natural capacity simply demands a tremendous investment of time to make it show itself.

Creativity can invariably be learned up to a point and while practice is important, it’s not always enough to become an expert or a master. Still, to become the best possible creative you can be, nothing beats good old hard work.

10. Don’t give up.

Don’t give up

While relaxation and a wandering mind can kick start the flow of your creative juices, the process also requires discipline, time, and passion. Ultimately, a creative mind is a combination of different characteristics. You can relax all you want, but if you don’t put whatever creativity you got from your free thinking into action, that creative spark will vanish in an instant. You can practice day after day, but if you don’t have the passion for pushing yourself to be better, then you’re basically wasting your time and energy.

Combine all of these attributes and never give up. Some of the most creative geniuses come up with their best creative works after years of critical thinking and creative process. If the “A-ha!” moment doesn’t strike you in a snap, take comfort in the reality that it rarely does.

Your age or previous creative work doesn’t affect that fact that creativity can be learned. Understanding that creativity is a skill or talent that can be discovered, honed, improved, and developed is the first step to unlocking your creative juices. Incorporate science to slowly but surely release your creative potentials. Read a book, go for a walk, surround yourself with anything green, stand out, ignore your messy table, and be open to new experiences. And most of all, work on it, and make creativity happen.

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Posted by Igor Ovsyannykov

I'm a digital nomad and entrepreneur bouncing around South East Asia. When I'm not working here, I'm out taking photos. Follow me on Instagram: @igorovsyannykov

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