The challenge of maintaining creativity—or the lack thereof—boils down to several factors. Notably, when people are overworked, nurturing creativity becomes as tricky as tightrope walking across Niagara Falls. Many people fall off.
An excessive mental load and constant busyness cause us to consistently deliver what we already know. Predictability becomes the easy choice. Eventually, our creativity becomes dulled and desensitized. As Jennifer Mueller of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania discovered in her 2017 book Creative Change, people often claim they want to be more creative. Still, when given the chance, they spurn it, primarily due to their level of busyness. They go for what they already know.
Reflect on Your Busyness
Ginni Rometty, the former CEO of IBM, once said, “You can’t solve a problem on the same level that it was created. You have to rise above it to the next level.” It’s why we must strike a new balance between reflection and action in this day and age of overworked team members and leaders. We will never “rise above” if we’re mired in our badge of busyness.
Reflect on your use of time and its relationship to creativity by asking yourself:
- How are you spending your free moments?
- Are you aimlessly scrolling through social media in your free time?
- Do stress and fatigue hinder your creative thinking?
- Do you allow your mind to wander and daydream?
- Are you engaging in long reads or books, or is your reading hampered by the doing?
Stress, busyness, or apathy at work can compromise creative thinking quality. Failing to invest time in enriching knowledge hampers idea formulation. Over-programming every second of the workday can result in strain and fatigue, inducing what I call “Indifferent Thinking,” which affects your creativity and can have far-reaching consequences for your career and the organization’s goals.
It Takes Times
Being a creative thinker in the workplace takes time. Ideas don’t materialize overnight. For example, Charles Darwin’s natural selection theory began taking shape after his Galapagos Islands trip. Still, his seminal book, On the Origin of Species, wasn’t published until 25 years later. Darwin needed time to ponder and finalize his theory. He had to marinate in the moment, so to speak.
Bell Labs exemplified the principle that “big ideas take time” and the incorporation of creative thinking as an organizational trait. Their employees explored their creativity, leading to Nobel Prize–winning advances such as the laser beam and the transistor.
Consider these workplace-focused questions and their relationship to creative thinking:
- Does your role provide opportunities to be creative? How?
- Is your calendar overly scheduled, making you feel like a useless zombie in meetings, thus not being as creative as you want to be?
- Does your organization’s culture openly share and collaborate to ideate and brainstorm? Why not?
- Are ideas embraced from any part of the organization as opportunities for change or growth?
- Are mistakes tolerated or even encouraged during the creative process at your organization?
John Maeda, former president of Rhode Island School of Design, wrote that creativity “can be re-kindled in people—all children are creative. They just lose their capability to be creative by growing up.” We may need to let go of constraints to adopt a more effective approach to creative thinking.
Rekindling your creativity starts with self-reflection and evaluating your habits and surroundings. Are you making room for innovation, or are you confined to your comfort zones? Are you utilizing your colleagues’ unique perspectives and insights, or are you siloed and disconnected?
By giving yourself the space and freedom to think differently, you can unearth new opportunities and inventive solutions that propel you toward a brighter, more innovative future. Remember that the only way to reach your full creative potential is to give yourself room to explore, dream, and imagine.
Take a step back, reflect on your habits, and ask yourself if you’re nurturing or stifling your creativity. (Review the questions I outlined above.) Then, demand an environment on your team that encourages experimentation and learns from failures rather than punishing them.
You might also consider establishing a routine that incorporates reflection into your calendar. Set aside time for activities that inspire you, such as reading, journaling, or hobbies. Create a space that nurtures your creative spirit, whether that means a quiet corner at home or an inspiring spot in nature. My Friday afternoons are permanently blocked off—I call it “dp think time”—so I can muse, ponder, or connect the dots.
It’s also important to unplug from the digital world and allow your mind to wander without the constant influx of information. Take regular breaks and let yourself step away from the screen or device, if only for a few minutes. Use this time to let your thoughts flow freely, without judgment or restrictions. My bike rides are a great source of contemplation.
Just remember, creativity is not a finite resource. But it is a muscle that can be built up and made stronger with practice, patience, and persistence.
As Estée Lauder—entrepreneur and founder of one of the world’s leading cosmetics companies, Estée Lauder Companies—once wrote, “The more you can dream, the more you can do.”
Pre-order my next book publishing in October, Work-Life Bloom: How to Nurture a Team That Flourishes, (You won’t want to miss digging in.)