It doesn’t matter what line of work you’re in: Creativity is a key aspect of any successful business. Sure, a 43-year-old accountant named Herman may not use his creative faculty as much as a 20-something, “freegan” graphic designer named Kai. But the fact remains, all of us need to exercise our creative muscle, whether we’re designing a website or figuring out some avant garde way to calculate audit risk.
Flexing the creative muscle can be difficult for some people, especially if they’re not always using it. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of the top three conditions for creativity. So, the next time you’re struggling to come up with an interesting post for your company’s Facebook page or if you're in need of some fresh ideas for a kick-off meeting, take the time to ensure you’ve got the right conditions to get your creativity going.
Unfortunately, Styles P was correct–time is money. It’s therefore impossible to take as much time as you want for any creative project in business. That said, giving yourself an unlimited amount of time to create can actually stifle the process. Without a specific due date or planned end time, you’ll likely never be happy with your end result. In fact, your constant tweaking and nitpicking may actually get you further from your first, unconscious impulse (which is usually closer to the mark than any last-minute decision).
Each of us has a duration of time we can be most creative and then a corresponding “re-charging” period. Consequently, instead of spending 8 hours to work on a project, try spending 2 hours a day for 4 days (if possible). In addition to avoiding creative exhaustion, this method will allow your brain to unconsciously work on the issue as you sleep and go about your day, such that ideas will flow forth like a heavenly fountain once you sit back down to work at it… ideally.
Nothing drains the creative juices like negativity and stress. This why top level bankers rarely make time for their own artistic pursuits. Conversely, it’s why your cousin who makes jewelry out of pigeon feathers 5 hours a week is always telling you to “chill.” Balancing stress and productivity is especially important for creative agencies, as it’s just about impossible to be creative in a high-stress environment–humans evolved to run or fight during periods of high stress, not paint the Mona Lisa.
It’s important to be aware of your level of stress before you embark on the creative journey. If your office’s stress level is too high, make an effort to bring it down however you can. If that’s not possible, indicate that you’d like to work on the project at home or in an different environment that will allow you to relax and let your ideas arise naturally. If that’s not possible, you will fail and get fired, in which case you’ll have plenty of time to get creative on your futon all day.
Open and Closed Modes of Thinking
Famed actor and humorist John Cleese recently gave an excellent speech on creativity, and I’d like to draw on his ideas regarding the “open” and “closed” modes of thinking, which aren’t really as much physical conditions as they are distinct conditions of the mind.
The open mode is the creative zone in which we brainstorm and work freely on ideas, while the closed mode is our examination of how to implement said ideas. The closed mode needs to take into account all the practical factors of problem solving that we can temporarily ignore during the open mode. Too often, we forget to separate these two mindsets, wrongly categorizing them under the umbrella of the general creative process. But it’s important to distinguish between the two, and the ability to oscillate between each process is vital.
Some of us get stuck in either mode, becoming either detached from reality with grand visions that won’t actually work or developing “tunnel vision,” which is a common problem with politicians, as Cleese points out:
“The main complaint about them from their nonpolitical colleagues is that they’ve become so addicted to the adrenaline that they get from reacting to events on an hour-by-hour basis that they almost completely lose the desire or the ability to ponder problems in the open mode.”
If you've spent time with programmers and designers, you're probably familiar with the perils and pitfalls of sticking to one method of thinking. Programmers, as they plug away at an infinite number of small commands, tend to get stuck in the closed mode of thinking, often neglecting big picture items in place of smaller, though still important, details that make up the whole. Designers, of course, are used to employing the open mode of creativity, stressing high-level ideas and design concepts that often ignore details that programmers and developers need to constantly consider. Project Managers are the ones who need to strike a finer balance between the two modes of thinking by constantly harmonizing the reality of a project's limitations with the wants and needs of the client.
It's not exactly bad that programmers and designers largely adhere to one method of thinking. In fact, that's why there's a clear demarcation between designing and programming as different occupations. However, it's important that everyone in any capacity cultivate both modes in order to remain effective while also maintaining a high-level of creativity and innovation in the workplace.