Creativity can help companies innovate, succeed, and stay competitive. But misconceptions around creativity hold some people back from harnessing their creative potential in the workplace.
Creativity refers to the development of novel and useful ideas. It involves solving problems in new and interesting ways or approaching situations with a unique perspective. Because it is, by definition statistically infrequent, creativity is projected to be one of the most important and sought after attributes in the future of work.
Whether you’re working in a traditional organizational setting or running your own business, improving your ability to come up with creative ideas is something you should welcome with open arms. For employees, the ability to consistently offer unique and valuable insights is perhaps one of the best ways to stand out from their peers and reap coveted benefits — such as greater autonomy and status. Likewise, managers benefit when their employees are creative, as research shows such behavior helps organizations stay innovative and succeed in an increasingly competitive environment. Creativity is also essential to the entrepreneurial process; specifically, the discovery, evaluation, and exploitation of opportunities.
Despite its obvious benefits, there are many misconceptions about how creativity manifests and how it can be harnessed. To understand some of these misconceptions and how to boost your creative potential, consider the following.
Develop an appetite for learning
It can be tempting to think about creativity as a sudden and triumphant “eureka moment,” where ideas needed to solve previously incomprehensible problems just spontaneously come to mind. But this is an oversimplification of the creative process.
While creative ideas can arise spontaneously, they are usually the result of a deep knowledge of underlying concepts rather than the mere random emergence of ideas.
Creativity involves the combination of concepts and ideas in ways that are unique and useful. And while creative ideas can arise spontaneously, they are usually the result of a deep knowledge of underlying concepts rather than the mere random emergence of ideas.
Because creativity is often the result of a thorough understanding of the topics at hand, one key way to increase your creative potential is to broaden your point of view with diverse information and knowledge. Research suggests that some of the best ways to achieve this end is by listening to others who have alternative perspectives from your own and familiarizing yourself with topics outside your current area of expertise. A great example of this latter point comes from Galileo, the 16th century astronomer and physicist. The book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World covers how Galileo’s expertise in 2 seemingly different domains of knowledge — astronomy and artistic use of shading and lighting — helped him make a novel yet, at the time, unconventional astronomical discovery. Galileo discovered the moon’s topography was not smooth — it was actually quite similar to Earth’s.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
One important way you can expose yourself to alternative perspectives is by explicitly asking for help when refining your ideas. One study, for example, found that the more employees asked their teammates for help when developing novel ideas, the higher their supervisors’ rated their creativity.
Yet, despite the benefits of seeking help when engaging in creative problem solving, many people are reluctant to ask for assistance from others. This is because asking for help can evoke individuals’ concerns that they will be seen as incompetent or unable to develop their ideas without others’ assistance.
Interestingly, recent research suggests that such concerns may be largely unfounded. This study suggests that because the willingness to seek advice from others conveys a degree of wisdom and confidence, people tend to view those who ask for help as more, rather than less, competent. Keep this in mind next time you need help refining your ideas. Not only will you get the benefit of another person’s perspective, but you may ultimately make a good impression as well.
Because the willingness to seek advice from others conveys a degree of wisdom and confidence, people tend to view those who ask for help as more, rather than less, competent.
Focus on current ideas, not past failures
As you reflect on your ideas, and results turning out less innovative than you had hoped, you may feel like you’re just not cut out for creative work. But it is this sort of thinking, however, that can further stifle creativity.
Creativity requires experimentation, an acceptance of failure in the process of trial-and-error, and the willingness to learn from past mistakes. What this means is that although we often think of creative individuals as having the proverbial “Midas touch,” where every idea they come up with is pure gold, the truth is these individuals simply come up with more ideas than the average individual, including ideas that ultimately fail.
Developing your creative potential, then, requires that you reframe how you view past failures and focus on refining and developing current ideas. Over time, additional creative successes can help build the confidence or, creative self-efficacy, needed to enhance your creativity even further.