Unfolding Creativity: How to become more creative


People always try to become someone who is outstandingly different from the crowd. We try to do something different and we strive to execute a new way of presenting the solution to a concept. 

Simply creating something someone else has is not how you become creative. Rather, we merely need to apply or discover new ways to approach a situation or generate new ideas and bring them to the table. This process is iterative rather than linear, which requires people with curiosity, energy, and an open mindset to see connections where others simply cannot. Creativity is a new way of thinking or acting we need to develop to generate more original ideas, methods, concepts, or objects.

Creativity is deemed as the most important skill required for an artist, designer, architect, writer, marketer, and the likes. But actually, creativity is a needed skill set indispensable to professionals from all walks of life. In this article, we will learn how we can generate creativity within ourselves, which will indeed help us tactfully execute any subject matter we come across.

What is a creativity?

A creative process is an act of making new connections between old ideas we already have and identifying new relationships. It is the process of generating new ideas and solutions useful in solving the current problem we are communicating with the audience.

“Creativity is any act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one…What counts is whether the novelty he or she produces is accepted for inclusion in the domain.”

Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (page 28)

Creative thinking helps us gather fresh perspectives and different angles. It’s an inventive thought process that results in a surprising conclusion which sets a new direction to the things we do. With this way of thinking, we can create new ideas and possibilities.

Dimensions of creativity

1) Originality: 

Creativity needs to be something original and not just something that simply tweaks the existing solution. The idea must have a low probability. It often should be unique. Mostly, this is an organic idea brought forward for execution. 

2) Usefulness: 

Creativity needs to be useful. The solution you create should provide value to the organization, community, consumer, and whoever needs a solution to their problem. 

3) Simplicity: 

Creativity needs to be simple and easy to implement and execute.

“To be creative, you need to be able to view things in new ways or from a different perspective. Among other things, you need to be able to generate fresh possibilities or alternatives. Tests of creativity measure not only the number of alternatives that people can generate but the uniqueness of those alternatives. The ability to generate alternatives or to see things uniquely does not occur by chance; it is linked to other, more fundamental qualities of thinking, such as flexibility, tolerance of ambiguity or unpredictability, and the enjoyment of things heretofore unknown.” (page 394)

From Human Motivation, 3rd ed., by Robert E. Franken

Thinking inside the box

People tend to make mistakes about the common statement ‘thinking outside the box.’ It should instead be ‘thinking inside the box.’

Creativity is reduced when we apply thinking outside the box. With this approach, we tend to think away from the core problem. Thinking inside the box will set a constraint to think about the problem and avoid getting ourselves moving away from the problem at hand. It’s the notion of innovation to happen, which limits us from setting a barrier to turn ideas towards a new direction. Every box we have makes us think about becoming more creative. 

Going back to history, the concept of thinking outside the box was popularized in part because of a nine-dot puzzle, which John Adair claims to have introduced in 1969. 

The trick here is to connect the four lines without leaving the pen from the surface. 

The nine-dot problem.

To correctly solve this puzzle, we need to draw lines outside of the dotted boxes. But this solution only requires us to think outside the box and makes us think the fixedness is bad. In real life, there are no boxes and it creates confusion when people say “think outside the box.” 

So setting a closed world boundary and focusing on our problem instead is the best solution found by years of research. Many times, solutions are part of the problem themselves.  

In real-life implication, there are no boxes. Instead, the concept of a ‘closed world’ comes into play. The concept of the closed world was initially introduced by Roni Horowitz. According to this principle, ideas are more creative if they are confined to an enclosure. The closed world consists of the current component, its relationship with those components, and the current concepts. This is not to be regarded as a tool but instead, a principle. 

“You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when they are challenged.”

Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc

Barriers to Creativity

Some factors seem to block the doorways to our creativity. These barriers will take us away from the notion of creativity that we try to explore and discover. In general, there are two main types of fixedness that act as a barrier to our creativity.

1) Structural Fixedness

Structural fixedness is a cognitive bias. It blocks us from considering any other structure than what we’re used to. Structural fixedness is the tendency to think of an object as a whole with a defined structure that cannot be divided or rearranged. It makes it hard to imagine different configurations of a product or service that could deliver new benefits to the marketplace. 

This type of fixedness is a big concern with services and processes because they tend to happen in a fixed sequence, one step after another. Without a way to break fixedness, we’re prevented from seeing new options ahead of us. It simply is our unwillingness to accept objects in a different shape.

For example, the buttons of the TV are placed at the bottom of the screen. It is a defined structure, implied for decades, so we would not think of these buttons to be placed at the top of the screen.

2) Functional Fixedness

Functional fixedness is the degree of rigid definition we give to objects, making it difficult to see these objects as possessing functions outside of their definitions. We see objects, components, and things around us, and can’t imagine them performing functions other than what we think they’re designed to do. It’s a locked-in perception that makes it difficult to look at a problem from different viewpoints. If we are locked down to a particular way of doing something, then it is very difficult to come up with new and creative solutions.

It is simply using something only for what it was designed to do. Cognitive biases like functional fixedness keep us from seeing the full range of solutions to a problem and affect the ideas that are generated and considered. This inability to recognize alternative approaches and uses of elements constraints creativity, and ultimately limits us from ideation and problem-solving.

For example, when Ms. Y and most people look at a coin, they think about its most common function, as a currency. When Ms. Y thinks of a coin only as a currency, she is succumbing to functional fixedness. But if she can get beyond that idea and focus instead on how to use the coin, to maybe tighten a screw, she is overcoming functional fixedness.

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

Csikszentmihalyi M. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: HarperCollins; 2013.

Constraints: Source to Creativity

When we think of creativity, we think of unbounded thought processes. We want to escape, we want to do whatever we want. We may argue that too many constraints will limit us from becoming creative. These rules are too limiting and you need more space to come up with a future version of yourself that is truly original. But the truth is, adding constraints to problems will improve your creativity. 

For example, Mr. X is a manager who hires a team to work on a project. He says to his team, “You don’t have to worry about the budget. We have unlimited resources and we can use any kind of technology. We can additionally recruit more people.” In this scenario, the team might be ineffective and too lazy to bring up new ideas to the table. 

But instead, if the manager tells the team that they have very little budget, limited choice of technology and the company might need to let go of some people in the future, the team could perform to its optimum. 

“Creativity is often misunderstood. People often think of it in terms of artistic work — unbridled, unguided effort that leads to beautiful effects. If you look deeper, however, you’ll find that some of the most inspiring art forms — haikus, sonatas, religious paintings — are fraught with constraints.”

Marissa Mayer, former Yahoo! CEO

Source of Constraints

1) Organization

As an organization, people work under its strategy. They have some sets of goals they want to attain. When we innovate, we want to become within that strategy. We generally don’t want to come up with new ideas which are completely incompatible with that strategy. So the constraints in this perspective are strategic constraints which would be organizational constraints.

2) Technology

When thinking creatively around technology, we might have questions such as, “What technology are we using?” “Are we well capable of using it?” “Does it have a learning curve?” “Is this feasible?” These questions set up constraints and result in better creativity. 

3) Market

The market includes competitors and we want to come up with more creative ideas to better them. We may have a bunch of competitors who know what they are doing. Now we have to ask ourselves questions as to if we are good enough to penetrate the market or if we can sell our ideas or if the market is ready to adopt our ideas. These are the questions that set up some constraints and lead to better creativity.

4) Resource

The resource constraints include time or budget. This can apply to every company. Maybe we don’t have time to execute the idea or we have a crunch of people or a budget limitation. These are some constraints that arise and give room to creativity.

5) Regulatory

Along with the constraints of resources in organizations, there are also external constraints like financial regulations, medical regulations, and government regulations. If we can think inside these constraints, we will be more creative and result in better innovation.

6) Method

A method is a series of constraints that tells us how to think, when to think, when we are allowed to think and when we are not allowed to think at all. ‘Methods’ limit us to think within the scope and better enhances creativity.

Setting up constraints is great for a Scrum product development process. In Scrum, the creation cycle marches to the rhythm of sprints, time-box periods within a usable and incremental release of a product. These time-based constraints demand small iterative improvements that can be completed in a maximum of one month, thus ensuring a constant flow of value delivery.

Ways to Creativity

Creativity starts with a foundation of knowledge, learning a discipline, and mastering the way we think. Creativity is a process of how we interpret the problem; it’s not an event. We can learn how to be creative with experimentation, exploration, questionnaire, assumptions using imagination, and synthesizing information. Here are some points on how we can become more creative on things we do.

1) Stop being judgemental

It is only natural to judge our own work. We might feel discouraged when we fail to create something we originally planned. But despite our disappointment, we should continue to do better instead of staying discontent about the output we came up with. Our judgemental nature should not prevent us from creating better delivery.

Rather than mull over our failures, we should strive to do even better. We should take failures as encouragement instead of letting them distract and discourage us.  

2) Be accountable towards work

Any work we finish and publish is open for criticism. We should be open to accepting feedback and comments for our work. The results we create may seem to be simple to use but this may be a brilliant idea to someone else or vice versa.

We will never know about the reaction of people unless we share our work with the world. We often don’t tend to share things we don’t like ourselves for fear of rejection. Everyone should develop the habit of sharing and gradually moving towards improvements.

3) Set some personal constraints

We become better with practice. Nothing comes as a miracle. We should set aside our time by forcing ourselves consistently. With continuous practice over and over again, we become masters. Sparing some time to practice and create something better will do best in creative works. We can become masters once we show up enough times to get the average ideas out of the way.

4) Finish something

Half the work done is no work done. We should set aside our inspiration, planning, research, and strive to complete the work. We may not hit the bullseye on our first try but we need to prove ourselves that we possess the ability to create something new. 

No designers, artists, entrepreneurs, athletes, or scientists have achieved greatness by finishing just half of their work. We should set aside any complaints, constraints and obstructions and make something that the world can see and take inspiration from.

5) It’s ok to create junk!

In the process of producing something creative, we might fail many times. There is no way around this. Our first take is not assured to hit a satisfying mark. There are times when we might need to continuously create junk and move forward in becoming better at what we do. Let there be a continuous flow of thoughts and then will we be able to come up with something that is valuable and worth a solution. 

With these few tips on being more creative, we can create meaningful works and bring better ideas and concepts to the table. There are tons of ways in which we can level up our creative thinking process and become productive on what we come up with. With continuous practice and iteration, we can ultimately become a creative powerhouse.

 Reference readings:

Author: Ishan Manandhar. You can reach him out on Twitter.

Ishan Manandhar

Ishan is a Product designer at Leapfrog Technology Inc.

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