As a UX designer, it is my job to be creative. People expect me to be creative, and I love that because I believe I am. As a former teacher turned UX designer, I have unique insight into creativity in the workplace. In the classroom, my job was primarily to cultivate creativity in others, and now I get to focus on cultivating creativity in my own work. However, I have noticed something since I have transitioned into the tech world. Not everyone thinks they are creative. This was a shock to my teacher ears. I have heard people in various tech roles say, “I’m not creative.” That would never fly in my classroom. There is an invisible divide where we designate some people as creative and others as not. This is where my teacher instinct kicks in! I have seen firsthand that everyone has potential for awesome creativity, and it is a skill that can be cultivated. This article is for two different categories of people. The first is those who consider themselves creative and want to grow in that skill. The second is those who do not consider themselves creative and need to be encouraged that indeed they are. Below are five keys anyone can follow to recognize and hone personal creativity in the workplace.
Go with your gut.
Creativity is in your being
Key number one to cultivating personal creativity is go with your gut! We cannot always explain the best path forward even when we know what it is. In our culture we underestimate intuition. We get distracted by comparison, fear, routine, and self-doubt. Personally, I think of it as letting go and tuning to flow–intentionally stepping back, slowing down, and resting as I process obstacles. When I am free in my thoughts, I feel excitement, expansion, and peace. When I am operating in a self-restraining mindset, I feel constrained and experience self-doubt, dread, and tension. When engaging in creative endeavors or any endeavor really, our intuition is extremely useful. One way I picture it is opening your hand and letting a feather drift into your palm. The best creative ideas often come by holding things loosely and paying attention to what flows naturally. Bruce Lee said, “Creativity is a process of surrender, not control.” I also believe intuition can be cultivated. By engaging our intuition, it becomes more dialed in. Listening to your intuition is important in creative endeavors because the solution is not always obvious from an analytic perspective. A controlled study conducted by Stanford University showed when people made decisions intuitively, they were correct 68% of the time as opposed to 28% of the time when decisions were based on analytical thinking. Intuition is your friend–listen to your gut!
Look for inspiration.
What are the cool kids doing? Creativity does not necessarily mean coming up with something completely novel, which is a common misconception. It also means picking and choosing creatively from existing ideas. You do not have to reinvent the wheel. Some would go as far as to say that everything is recycled. Curating creative ideas from recent history and even ancient history are themselves acts of creativity. For example, in my personal practice of cultivating creativity as a UX designer, I use social media and websites like Behance to see what the “cool kids” are doing. I am inspired by what my fellow designers are creating on the cutting edge, and I incorporate elements I see into my own designs. This is a win-win. Everyone benefits from ideas continuing to flow.
Mine the past. For examples of creativity.
What has been done before? Although you might feel unique or isolated in the quandary you are presented with, chances are someone else has faced a similar problem. In the information age, the amount of knowledge we have access to is like never before in history. There is an invitation to take advantage of that and access inspiration from the ages. Not only do I use websites like Behance to inform my designs, I also dig into much older design theory. I have a book on Japanese color theory written in the 1930s by Sanzo Wada, who was a painter and kimono designer. This book was itself compiled and synthesized from six different volumes on Japanese color theory. Two clicks on Amazon, 19 bucks later, and I have someone’s life work and generations of color theory at my fingertips. I do not merely have to decide which colors go well together, I can lean on a thousand years of human history, tune to flow, and discover what will look good today.
You are creative! There is only one you. Your life experiences, culture, background, upbringing, and DNA fingerprint combine to create a person capable of bringing something completely distinct to the table. This is a gift that everyone has but does not always tap into. Your potential is immeasurable. Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku said it well, “The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10,000 other neurons. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe.” Combine that with your individual life experiences and you have an infinitely expanded ability to see things uniquely and deliver distinct solutions. Reminding yourself of these truths will help shift your thinking and continue to cultivate personal creativity.
Have fun! Unleashing your creativity
Our society underestimates the power of play and the advantages of having fun. Einstein said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” All mammals play. That is how we learn during childhood, and studies increasingly demonstrate the importance of play in adulthood as well. Having fun reduces cortisol and increases serotonin. This frees us up to be ourselves and flow in creativity. The Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research states, “Play has been found to facilitate insight, ability, and divergent thinking,” aka creativity. We know this intuitively as children but often forget it applies to us as adults. Finding yourself in a creative rut? Play a quick game of online chess, go kick a soccer ball for a few minutes, or bust out a coloring book. Having fun could be just what you need to get that breakthrough in cultivating personal creativity in your workplace! Play is also important in incorporating creativity into collaboration as a group within organizations. Samuel West of Lundt University stated in his doctoral dissertation, “Play promotes organizational creativity via the mediating factors of openness, intrinsic motivation, and the collaborative relationships needed to co-create and innovate.”
Hopefully you have found these insights helpful. Remember to go with your gut, look for inspiration, be free, and have fun! Your next creative breakthrough is just around the corner!
Gabe Puckett is a Pre-K/Chess teacher turned UX designer, enjoying life in the mountains of Colorado and New Mexico with his wife Leah and dog Zoie.