What to do when the idea escapes you? - Michelle Gibbings

Recently, Collective Campus, an innovation consulting company, released a report into the 20 most innovative companies on the ASX 200.  At the top of the list you’ll find Seek, REA Group, CSL, Domino and Xero.

As reported in the AFR*, which quoted Steve Glaveski, the company’s co-founder and chief executive, “Australia boasts too much ‘innovation theatre’, with organisations flaunting their innovation labs, hackathons, Post-it-note-littered agile storyboards. And then … nothing. ‘There are some great initiatives but often they are PR initiatives,’ he said”.

It got me thinking about how we approach creativity, what we deem to be new ways of thinking, and what we can do to generate new ideas.

The esteemed economist, John Maynard Keynes said: The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones”.

Personally, I think it is a bit of both. It can be hard to let old ideas go, but for many people it is equally as hard to find new ideas. Part of the reason for this is many of us convince ourselves that we aren’t creative, and we aren’t the ‘idea person’.

We also very easily box people into the category of ‘creative’ and ‘non-creative’. And yet, we all have the capacity to be creative; just in different ways and to different degrees.

A recent study at Harvard University found that people who do better at creative tasks often have more creative hobbies and achievements.

In the study, the participants were asked to complete a test of “divergent thinking”. This alternate use task test involved people thinking of new and unusual uses for everyday objects.  The study also identified the different areas of the brain that are used in creative activities, and concluded that “the creative brain is ‘wired’ differently and that creative people are better able to engage brain systems that don’t typically work together”.

Of course, this depends on how we define creativity. Is being creative coming up with the completely new idea, or can it also be taking something that someone else has created and making it better?

To me, creativity is both as it comes in many shapes and sizes. And so rather than labelling yourself as ‘non-creative’, it’s time to seek out structures and activities that can help you tap into your creative ability and find new ideas.

If you are looking for ways to do that, here’s eight ideas to get you started:

  1. Shift your environment. When you move to a new space or place the brain shifts and thinks differently. So, when you are stuck, move somewhere else, and see how the new environment sparks new ideas
  2. Take up a hobby or activity that is completely different to your day job. This helps to create new neural pathways and builds new capabilities as different regions of the brain will be activated
  3. Get moving. When we move and exercise we release endorphins, and this can help to spark new ideas and thoughts as the tiredness and stress of the day dissipates
  4. Read widely. If you only read from one genre or one style you narrow your field of view. When you read widely and seek knowledge from a broad range of sources (what’s called a polymath) your source of ideas is limitless. You will be able to bridge gaps and draw new connections from a wide range of sources
  5. Find an idea you like by reshaping, adding or subtracting from an existing idea. The best ideas aren’t always starting from scratch. Sometimes a small tweak or alteration can turn an average idea into an awesome one
  6. Buddy up with someone. Working with someone who has different experiences and knowledge to you will help you see the world and the problem differently. Diversity of ideas is only generated from diversity of thought
  7. Sleep on it and take a break. It is during sleep or when we are resting and reflecting that we often come up with our best ideas. By stepping away from the busy energy of the everyday, we are able to create space to see things differently. That’s why your best ideas will often arise when you are on holidays or during the middle of the night
  8. Keep a notebook by your bed. Ideas often arise during the night when your subconscious brain is processing. Before you go to sleep ask yourself the question that you want to solve or the problem you want to expand, and you’ll be amazed at what pops up during the night

As you think about your next idea, consider the words of Winston Churchill:  “Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.” 

*Note: If you have AFR subscription you can read their article here

P.S.  It’s almost the end of the financial year, and so next week I’ll be sharing some special end of financial year offers!  Stay tuned.

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today. 

Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian. Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them get fit for the future of work. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’ and  ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate your Career’.  For more information: www.michellegibbings.com or contact michelle@michellegibbings.com.