Everyone wants to know the secrets of the Steve Jobses and the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world. Surely these innovative giants knew something about the business of creating that the rest of us don’t.
But what does creativity even look like? It’s a trait often associated with visual artists, musicians, and choreographers. In those people, we might say that it’s a sort of whimsical, introspective process that leads to the creation of an original piece of art that resonates with an audience. In entrepreneurs, it’s actually very much the same, only the piece of art is an idea that has the potential to change the world.
The amazing thing is, everyone is or can be that creative. In my experience, people just have a nasty habit of automatically dismissing their creative impulses. They’re too “grown up” to act on their fanciful ideas. In general, we’re too safe, and we care too much about what people think.
Here are four habits that you’ll usually catch creative types practicing. You might be tempted to laugh, but the end results are anything but laughable. Try these on for size:
1. Pay Attention to Your Dreams
Not your ambitions; your actual dreams. The ones that you act out in the ever-firing neurons of your brain while the rest of you is asleep. I know, I know. You may be asking yourself, “What exactly am I supposed to pay attention to in my dreams? Last night I dreamed about giving birth to a litter of beagle puppies in front of the Taj Mahal while my 7th grade teacher live-tweeted it.” Okay, so not all dreams are a golden ticket.
But guess what? Some of them are. Paul McCartney famously wrote the melody to “Yesterday” upon waking up from a vivid dream about it. The framework for Christopher Nolan’s brilliant, complex film Inception was derived from the director’s own experiences with lucid dreaming. Dreams are a portal into the unconscious mind, an area in which science is just scratching the surface of understanding its capacity for abstract problem solving. Try remembering your dreams and writing them down shortly after you wake up. You may have just solved a problem you didn’t even know you had.
2. Be Willing to Act Impulsively
But not too impulsively. Nothing that will land you in prison or maritime court or anything. Still, a hallmark of true creativity involves the ability to suspend or even ignore the sheepish part of your brain that tries to tell you, “Stop—this is silly and irrational.” Another, more authentic part of you takes over when you throw caution to the wind. You’re more likely to have what revered psychologist Abraham Maslow called a “peak experience,” which is basically an intense and euphoric moment of heightened awareness during which you feel tuned into your full potential.
Peak experiences are wonderful psychological events that signal robust emotional health, enhanced creativity, and what basically amounts to feeling like a total badass. They can put you into an excellent flow state, which can lead to more peak experiences, more creativity, and even more badassery. It’s the best feedback loop possible. Do something out of the ordinary today.
3. Get Comfortable in the Gray Areas
The pragmatic adult in all of us likes things to be black and white—clearly defined, without any hint of ambiguity. Things that aren’t clearly defined tend to cause people anxiety. Creative types are more naturally inclined to be comfortable operating within life’s gray areas. The real game-changers are comfortable looking ahead into next week, next month, or next year, seeing a lot of uncertainty, and embracing that. They are more likely to be flexible and allow ideas to take shape in motion. Like improvising a piece of music.
Of course, as you get more comfortable thinking this way, it helps to surround yourself with people who balance out your flexibility and spontaneity with a more concrete outlook. Otherwise you’ll probably ideate your creative, whimsical self into bankruptcy, which is a real party foul.
4. Have Fun
No, really. Your potential for creativity skyrockets when you’re really, truly enjoying yourself. Conversely, nothing kills creativity like feeling pressured to produce. An example: I like to sing. I sing all the time. I could make up goofy songs for my kids all day long (or for myself, when I’m stuck in traffic). And sure enough, when somebody says, “Hey, you’re into music, right? Sing for us!” there is no faster way to delete every single musical impulse I’ve ever had.
So I won’t demand that you be more creative right this instant. Instead, I’ll simply suggest that you relax. The best things happen when you least expect them. The trick is mostly to not ignore them when they do.
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