This is the final episode of a 3 episode series on emotional intelligence.
In the previous episodes, I talked about empathy and intuition, essential traits to have as part of our emotional intelligence skillset. Both of these should be treated as skills, in fact, I offered some suggestions on how to practice them.
Today, I want to talk about creativity: what it is, how it plays a vital role in your idea formation process, and what we can do to have more of it.
What is Creativity?
Creativity is about seeing the hidden patterns and connections between things that aren’t normally related. It’s how we use our imagination and original ideas to create something.
Creativity changes how we see the world and how we solve problems. It’s such a recognised trait that it’s become an academic discipline in the last few years.
But from a physiological standpoint, you can’t point at a part of your brain and say “that’s where creativity comes from”. There isn’t one single part of it that magically helps you to be more creative.
Here’s a quick 3-minute explanation of the neuroscience of creativity. Bonus points if you like Australian accents:
Have you ever come up with a brilliant idea to then realise you weren’t sure how you got it?
I’m sure you have, even if you can’t recall a specific one right now. We’ve all had that ‘genius’ moment.
From a psychological perspective, this happens thanks to the mixing of your analytical and creative thinking.
Like I mentioned in the skills for the future, designers are usually more familiar to this type of thinking than others, given the nature of our profession. Creative people have the ability to create new ways to achieve tasks, solve problems, and approach challenges.
But how much of this is process is a natural talent embedded in your brain, and how much is gained through experience instead?
Some studies show us that watching someone else be creative, or watching a fantasy film, helps in finding new insights and sparking your lateral thinking, or the ability to perceive patterns that are not obvious.
It should be made clear that you can’t become more creative by simple observation though, in fact, studies suggest that creativity is a result of genetics and experience, this means two things:
- You might have some creative genes running in you, and this will give you an advantage. But that’s not enough to be a creative genius;
- You need to nurture your creative thinking by putting your ideas into action. If you don’t, your genes won’t do much for you.
Steve Jobs when asked about creativity said:
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”
Designer or not, everybody uses creativity, it’s how our brain works. Next time you hear someone saying they’re not creative, politely call bull***t on that.
They’ve just not practised their creativity enough.
How to Practice Creativity
We can practice creativity in many different ways, but the best way to do it is to deliberately expose ourselves to new experiences and to learning new things. Here are four ways in which you can do it:
1) Learn new things
This is disarmingly simple, but often under-looked. Learning something new on a regular basis — like a new skill or a new concept — helps in keeping your creative thinking sharp.
You need to explore different areas you’re not comfortable with. Mixing intellectual and physical skills is a great way of doing it, for example, I’m learning photography this month. In the next 3 months, I will learn how to code an app, how to improve my speed reading and how to handstand.
Try this: Learn a new skill. Read some books, watch some videos, go take a course in something you’ve never done before. If you don’t know where to start, I suggest you pick one skill from Danny Forest’s list and learn it for the next month. This helped me tremendously.
The Top 10 Skills People Want to Learn in 2019 and How to Learn Them
2) Explain your learnings
When you want more knowledge on a certain subject, explain it to someone else. Make it as simple as you can and teach it to someone who doesn’t know a thing about it. Dumbing it down and explaining it indicates that you have all the basics right. It also helps in exploring different and creative ways to frame a problem.
I try my best to do this with family and friends and talk about what I’m learning. Sometimes it motivates them to try it too, sometimes they couldn’t care one bit, but it’s still good practice! There’s a good reason if the saying “to teach is to learn twice” exists.
Try this: Whenever you learn something new, pick your brother, mother, friend, or dog, and teach it to them. You don’t have to give a lecture on the subject, but rather explain just the basics of what you’re learning.
Use the basics of the SEE-I method (State it, Elaborate it, Exemplify it and Illustrate it). Learn more in this article:
How to Explain Things Better and Make Others Understand Your Ideas Easily
3) Practice your imagination
You’ll have to let your imagination run wild for this one. If you want to build your creative muscle, you’ll have to think outside the box, dream and put your imagination to work without considering the boundaries and constraints of your everyday life.
This recent study on Creativity in Innovation Design indicates that out-of-the-box thinking, or thinking beyond the norm, is one of the major types of creativity. The other type is a combination of experience and smart “stealing” from different domains.
Try this: In the previous episode of this series, I suggested journaling and meditation as a way of coming up with ideas. This would be another good way of using them. You can write some fiction, doodle or simply write down the craziest idea you’ve had that day, maybe the ones that came up in your meditation.
Take the Alternative Uses Test — a test that measures your divergent creative thinking by picking an everyday object and coming up with the different uses it can have — and write them on your journal.
4) Be consistent
Valerie van Mulukom, a researcher specializing in the cognitive ties to the imagination, suggests that the first requirement for enhancing your creativity is through exposure and experience. In short: the longer creatives engage in their particular art, the more likely they are to come up with creative ideas.
To do this you need to be able to know how to form a habit. Whatever you do, do it as much as you can and do it consistently. Be disciplined in the pursuit of your passion. If you design, design every day, if you photograph, do it every day. Or at least try your best to.
Try this: Form a habit to practice your craft every day. I recommend James Clear’s approach because it’s one I’ve tested myself after reading his book Atomic Habits. This method helped me to be more consistent in journaling, writing articles, tracking the calories I eat, and many more.
This was the final episode of Emotional intelligence in design. If you want to read the previous articles you can find them here:
- Emotional intelligence in design: the skill of empathy
- Emotional intelligence in design: the skill of intuition
The skill of creativity, coupled with empathy and intuition, gives us a notable advantage when dealing with uncertainty, decision-making, and solving problems.
It’s safe to say all of them connect in some way, they are interchangeable and help each other out. When these skills are practised consistently, they bring us enormous benefits in our work life, but they also carry over those benefits to our everyday life, allowing us to become better humans.
You just need to start with simple steps, and keep practising!
Thanks for sharing and following