How can I be creative? How to be a creative person

How Creative are you?

Creativity is a huge buzz-word today. Most of us would like to be known as creative, innovative, imaginative, a person who thinks “outside the box.”

Why? Because we live in the age of creativity. In fact, in our society, creativity has become a highly valued skill, the crème de la crème of personal qualities. Many of us would gladly give our right arm to be considered creative – to be the new Leonardo da Vinci or Thomas Edison. The next Missy Higgins or Mark Zuckerberg.

Since when and how did the idea of creativity as a sought-after skill or virtue come about?

Historically, we have come through many stages of economic and human development over the last few centuries. Before the 18th or 19th centuries, humans worked mostly in agriculture. This was followed by the Industrial Age where labour was increasingly mechanised and heavy machinery enabled the age of mass production. In the 20th century, we saw the rise of the Information or Knowledge age.

Creativity in the 21st century

We are told we live in the Age of Conceptualisation which is defined by Creativity. Our economic well-being will depend on how well we can come up with new ideas and finding ways to link the old/existing order with the new and the yet-to-come ideas.

(See: Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future ).

A Whole New Mind - bookToday, more and more adults (whether they work for small or large organisations or for themselves) seek to be creative. This skill, a creative ‘mindset’ and the growth of imagination is being encouraged in children as a standard part of early development through such strategies as creative play.

But how do we become more creative, imaginative and innovative? Is the sort of schooling and deductive thinking currently promoted by school syllabi and teaching methods going to serve us well in the demands of the Age of Conceptualisation and Creativity?

Pink tells us (very rightly) that left-brain thinking (that which is still ingrained at school or used to teach us the 3R’s) is linear, analytical thinking. It needs to be complemented by right-brain thinking which includes emotion such as empathy and inventiveness. These are the crucial skills needed by business. This means creativity and innovation will give us a unique, competitive advantage when our service offering or product is compared to that of the competition.

Where are the new crop of innovators and creators such as Leonardo da Vinci – a polymath – or sculptors like Rodin? Where are the new authors like J.K. Rowling with her ability to churn out Harry Potter books with ease, sketching superb story lines and inventing a host of characters? Are there some great poets waiting to burst on the world scene such as some modern-day rappers and songwriters (such as Prince and Lin-Manuel Miranda)?

Many years ago, Rollo May wrote in his book The Courage to Create: “Creativity is the process of bringing something new into being. Creativity requires passion and commitment. It brings to our awareness what was previously hidden and points to new life.” Additionally, the process of being creative has a remarkable effect on us according to May: “The experience is one of heightened consciousness: ecstasy.”

Creativity involves two processes: thinking and turning the idea into reality or producing a unique service or product. If you have ideas but don't act on them, you are imaginative but not creative. So your product or service has to be novel (new & unique) and relevant (i.e. fill a need).

What Can You Work On?

The words innovation, imagination and creativity are flung around freely. Yet many of us think that to be creative, you have to be unique, possess superlative skills and invent something every day or week. We think of Albert Einstein as being creative. Yet others think of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates; some in business think of Sir Richard Branson and yet others laud English engineer and inventor, James Dyson.

Author Linda Naiman says that ‘Creativity is characterised by the ability to perceive the world in new ways, to find hidden patterns, to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and to generate solutions.’

Sir Richard Branson (CEO of the Virgin Group) believes in the A-B-C-D principle or Always-Be-Connecting the-Dots – it’s a simple, powerful way of looking at creativity. Seth Godin, author, entrepreneur and marketer, is similarly passionate about the need to make better connections. He wrote about how students today are educated in collecting dots, but almost no school time is spent teaching students the skills necessary to connect those dots. This requires confidence and creativity, to think bigger and laterally, rather than just pass exams. “The magic of connecting dots is that once you learn the techniques, the dots can change but you’ll still be good at connecting them.”

Clayton Christensen and his team in their book The Innovators DNA say that there are five essential skills and behaviours to keep your brain sharp for innovation and to generate ideas.

These are:

  1.  Associating i.e. drawing connections between questions, problems, or ideas from unrelated fields
  2. Questioning: posing queries that challenge common wisdom
  3. Observing: scrutinizing the behaviour of customers, suppliers, and competitors to identify new ways of doing things
  4. Networking: meeting people with different ideas and perspectives
  5. Experimenting: constructing interactive experiences and provoking unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge.

(See Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen & Clayton M. Christensen's book:  The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators).

The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators - book

Think of it in terms of an acronym AQONE – A Queen Of New Entertainment! Go out and make a royal noise!

To more basic and practical ways of accessing creativity:

One of history's most prolific inventors, Thomas Edison, (he invented the light bulb and over 1000 other patented devices), used a very clever way to access his creativity. He somehow knew that the best ideas come to people when they are in a relaxed state. His method was to sit in a comfortable chair with ball bearings in each hand, and soon he would doze off. As he became drowsier, his body would become more relaxed, until the time his fingers uncurled and the ball bearings dropped to the floor, making a loud clattering sound. He would come awake in a startled state and he would write down whichever innovative thought was top of mind.

This particular state of mind is known as a theta state. Our brain has three different kinds of brain waves: alpha, beta, and theta. Theta brain waves – the ones most useful for creativity and innovation – are very rare in adults though fairly common in children. Ever come across a group of children talking and you will frequently hear them come up with wild ideas.

The theta state in adults is mostly observed when people are either in the early stages of sleep or in a deep meditative state – stuff that is not encouraged or is practical at work.

So, if we want adults to be creative in the workplace, how do you engage the theta state in adults when they are at work? How can we or our teams get into a theta state of mind to become more creative? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Ask some team members to intentionally play the role of Contrary Ann and/or the Devil’s Advocate (Remember: Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats) This helps to avoid groupthink or keeping the status quo.
  2. Use a part of your internal company website (the intranet) for social networking in order to crowdsource ideas. This is similar to brain-storming where the rules are that no idea should be shot down but all ideas considered. The internal crowdsource method allows team members to comment on initiatives at a time when they feel most creative – either from home or at work. Investigate optons such as Yammer.
  3. If you decide to do brainstorming, try and do it outdoors or in rooms which don’t remind you of an office. E.g. a relaxed lounge-room type of setting with bright colours and relaxing décor such as beanbags.(Many offices have these spaces now available e.g. Microsoft, Google and Nestlé)
  4. Make meetings more interesting and creative. Get team members to read something funny, absurd or totally irrelevant out loud. Get people to tell funny stories or tell you about their favourite funny incident. This will take them out of their ordinary (boring) work state.
  5. Try and declutter people’s minds. If your team has been trying to come up with creative solutions to a problem unsuccessfully, give them a break. Let them go out to a basketball court or play with Frisbees outside. This will declutter their minds.
  6. Don’t just use words to convey an idea. Ask employees and lead yourself by using pictures, symbols and diagrams to describe their objectives. Draw mind-maps, construct info graphics, play with ideas (using pictures cut out of magazine articles) or ideas written on sticky notes. Why? Some of us are Visual, others are Auditory (hearing-related) and many others Kinesthetic (we learn by way of engaging in physical activity). These methods feed in to the Connecting the Dots method which I’ve described below.

(See: Differentiation Through Learning Styles and Memory by Marilee B Sprenger).

Hence, to inspire creativity and innovation among your team, the leader needs to think artistically (like a Leonardo or Raphael.) This means placing limiting ideas, controls, boundaries, logic, rationality, and even facts (at times) to one side for the purposes of exploring the potential of radical ideas. To be creative, you need to embrace flexibility, passion, playfulness, images and people. Because sometimes – just like Edison – you’ve got to fail your way to success. You have got to be okay with failure or dropping the ball once in a while or many times. It may take some time to train our brains to be creative, but allowing our brains to access the theta state or the lucid dreaming state or after we do deep meditation (meditation is known to help with anxiety, depression, trauma and stress) will help us to access creativity. And when the great ideas come, stop criticising yourself because these are the precursors of creation and innovation!

Instead of being mired in the nitty-gritty or the little details, take a helicopter point of view. Try to see the bigger picture, a place where you can make new connections – and make these new connections more interesting, unusual, distinctive, better. Even if you wonder how this will work or if it will make money, don’t be put off. The more connections you add, the more dots you connect in new and unusual ways, you will soon find newer ways to implement and sell your unique and new ideas in ways you never imagined.

5/5 - (1 vote)

18 thoughts on “How can I be creative? How to be a creative person

  1. Very interesting article, Menaka.

    I do think modern-day schools are doing a pretty poor job when it comes to stimulating kids and nurturing their creative sides. They seem to be training them for jobs that won’t even exist twenty years from now when machines are readily available.

    Generally speaking, I also think most (but obviously not all) large corporations have no real interest in creativity. They talk about wanting creativity from their junior employees, but really they’re just being pretentious. Many managers in these sorts of organizations really don’t like it when their employees rock the boat (which is often a side-effect of creativity). Smaller companies, by comparison, have to think creatively in order to survive.

    Just my penny’s worth.

    best, al

    1. I agree with you, Al, in your remarks.  It is disappointing when many schools and corporations only pay lip service to the idea of creativity and innovation.

      I think creativity has become a buzz word in corporations and senior managers believe they need it but the processes they have set up within the organisation stifle creativity.

      Only a few organisations that I know of welcome it – mainly because their managers have egos strong enough to withstand some perceived criticism.  However, the pace of corporate life means that it takes a long time for the creative idea to come to the top and by that time the employee has gone elsewhere. Or sometimes, the manager has stolen the idea and posited it as his/her own.

      But this should not stop us in our own pursuit of creativity i.e. in our personal lives, because it provides the stimulation and energy we require to grow and flourish as human beings.

      Neither age nor level on the corporate ladder need deter us.  This can come through writing (perhaps in a personal journal), joining like minded people in think tank type of groups, taking up a hobby or side-line job we have long wanted to do, examining modern inventions based on ancient mechanics or vice versa – travelling and seeing ancient and modern wonders, wondering how these can be adapted to today’s life.

      Not all creativity and innovation is in technology though this is leading the way.  For me, the recent advances in medical technology are breathtaking.  The woman who invented the use of an ear-ring which measures blood sugar levels instead of pricking one’s finger daily; another woman who invented the use of a foot cuff worn for 20 minutes a day which prevents incontinence; and recently a woman who invented the use of a stick-on pad for woman in childbirth thus preventing more invasive instruments ot be used.

      This apart, do remember.  We remember the artists and poets of old for their art and the words they have left behind. So start writing, painting, drawing, building models or whatever, you will join the ranks of the creatives of this world.


  2. I think creativity is one of those things that most of us possess, but don’t use enough in our lives. I like the idea of this theta state of mind – it’s something I’ve never heard of.

    As I have worked in a corporate job for the last 20 years, creativity is often one of those things that people don’t respect. I’ve found that leaders don’t always like new ideas or new ways of doing things and are content with just doing things the way they have always been done. However, incorporating your suggestions for being more creative are great! I would love to start trying some of those out… time will tell if they work or not.

    Thanks for sharing your insight, tips, and books that will be useful to help spur creativity in our lives. I love to find new ways of doing things!

    1. Hi Jen,

      You are right / creativity is something most of us possess but it is not fostered in us either through our school or academic years or at work. 

      For many corporate managers new ideas and ways of doing things are seen as dangerous or disobedient!  

      As you write – expand your current modus operandi to incorporate a couple of new ideas every day or every week.  And believe in yourself that you are on the right path. Self esteem and self belief in your genuinely creative ideas and ways of showing this is very important. 

      I look forward to hearing more from you.


  3. Hi Menaka,

    This was very interesting. I agree that words like creativity and innovation are used loosely. Your article really takes a logical look at creativity.  There is a lot more to this than meets the eye. Something in particular really made me think though, to quote: “If you have ideas but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative”, would you not say that imagination was a form of creation?

    I really enjoyed reading this, it was very thought provoking. I have never really given creativity and innovation much thought, I always assumed they were just characteristics. You have really opened up my eyes and I might pick up that book: ‘A whole new mind’. Its only $1.99.

    1. Thanks, Freddy, for your very insightful comments.

      You are right – there is a lot more to creativity and innovation than meets the eye.  Words like these (creativity and innovation) sometimes deter us from following through on ideas which may be a little ‘outside the square’ but lead us into new and interesting paths of thinking of a process or product or tackling something differently.

      I like your quote ‘if you have ideas but don’t act on them, you are imaginative not creative’.  It leads me to think of us as children and the imagination the majority of us display.  However, we get that imagination driven out of us by being forced to follow rules and narrow pathways which have been successful to that date.  (This is not driving at not being safe and doing things in a way which are healthy and positive.)

      All of us have a vast hoard of imagination within us.  It means allowing us to look at things slightly differently or ask the question ‘What if’?’

      I have always loved Robert F. Kennedy’s quote:

      “Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.”


  4. Hello Menaka,

    Your page really piqued my interest! I really liked the A-B-C-D thought you share from Richard Branson. Just a thought or two…maybe you could share your thoughts about why do schools not teach them these skills, are there roadblocks to their teaching these soft skills? Perhaps it’s because creativity isn’t measurable in ways that schools and businesses can quantify.


    1. Hi Dennis,

      You do make some interesting points. I don’t know why schools don’t teach these soft skills.  I think they (schools) are just discovering that these skills need to be taught but we will need to wait until they develop a curriculum of what and how these skills are to be taught.  Again, my understanding is that much of the schools’ curricula are outlines set out by the Education Dept where schools and class teachers get to pick topics, eras, trends  of say history: a period of history, a particular continent and a particular topic which the teacher and school believe is adequate and sufficient for the children in their school. 

      That said, there are schools in Singapore and Switzerland which are very forward looking and have children and teachers working in new trending subjects in new and innovative ways.  Lets hope this does take off in Australia and the rest of the world.  In the meantime, we have to be grateful that the 3Rs are being taught though parents can help in encouraging their children to be innovative and creative.


  5. Excellent post, thanks so much.

    I sometimes think of myself as being not creative at all, so this gave me a few ideas to work on.

    I’m just upset that throughout my studies in school and University, creativity is really looked down upon.

    “Oh, you found a way to solve xxx problem in a completely different and cool way? You get an F- for not following instructions.” Then there’s the ‘you must do this, you must do that’, so people can’t really express themselves for fear or being not normal by society’s standards…

    Anyway, just some rambling haha… Thanks for the post, will utilize some of the ideas.

    1. I am glad you liked the post and will use some ideas going forward.

      What can I say about school and university educators who dismissed your creative solutions?  Some educators feel threatened when their lack of knowledge is shown up; some are given strict guidelines by Deans of schools of how to mark and pass students.  Educators and managers who try to push you into a narrow chute (like a sheep run) of how to do anything work on the principle of control and command. If they can’t control you, then you may spin outside their control!  A lot of the behaviour is guided by their own fear. (Very much like some parents who push their children into narrow confines of what to do so that their own parental experience can help them to stay on top).

      Please don’t be held back by the so-called ‘normal’ societal standards.  Sometime you have to rise above and beyond what is normal or out of the box.  That’s how discoveries are made.  What’s the definition of insanity?: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

      Even if your new out-of-normal methods don’t succeed for the 1st or 81st time, at least you have been the forerunner to define what is not going to work. Never think of it as failure, always think of it as discovering new boundaries and horizons.

  6. What a great discussion about creativity. It’s almost become a buzz word.

    But how many people could really define it? I like the definition you provided by author Linda Naiman because she includes the concepts of perceiving, patterns, connections and solutions.

    This means that people can be creative in all sorts of different ways. Creativity is limited to art or music. It’s also problem solving. For example, last weekend my husband was washing the RV. There was a spot high up on the drivers windshield that he just couldn’t reach. He was tottering on a ladder, reaching dangerously towards the window and was still inches away. I asked him gently to climb down to safety:-)  I went inside the house, grabbed my Swiffer, and put his RV washing cloth over the Swiffer and handed it to him. He was so excited that I’d solved his problem.

    Creativity! Perceptions, patterns & solutions.


    1. Good thoughts, Lyss,

      We both agree that creativity is more than its application to art, music or technology,  

      Yes, it includes problem solving or looking at things differently… just as your real life experience have shown.  And an experience like that will be used by some entrepreneur to create a long-handled cleaning instrument if it doesn’t exist already.

      Often it means questioning our own long held perceptions about people, places, things.  Looking for new patterns and their meanings.

      You’ve said it, creativity is more than what we have believed till now. It is letting our imagination loose and letting ourselves think outside the box

  7. Hey there, great write up!! I/m glad I stumbled onto this page, definitely happened for a reason.

    Finding my creative side can be a challenge at times, whereas other times it just flows smoothly.

    It seems to be a matter of finding the flow state and learning to hack into it whenever we want to.

    Thanks for the great information!!

    1. Thank you. I am glad you enjoyed the article.

      As you say, getting into the state of flow sometimes happens to us easily and at other times, we seem to be chasing it fruitlessly.

      However, there are many good books on the subject of Creativity to read – (at least 4 or 5 of these I have read and can recommend)

      Each comes at the subject from a different angle. Each opens us up to new ways of thinking and working creatively.

      The Creative Habit – How to Learn it and Use it for Life by Twyla Tharp

      The Artist’s Way – A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron

      Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step by Edward de Bono & Think before its too late by Edward de Bono

      Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon

      Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

  8. Interesting read. I agree with you on accessing our brainwaves to find that creative centre in us. It’s great that you included example of books – I gained a lot of new insights on Edward de Bono’s Thinking Hat book. Perhaps you can explain further how we can access the Theta brain state easily? Thanks for this article.

    1. Thanks for your feedback.  I am glad you enjoyed this article.

      I too have used de Bono’s book over the years with corporate executives in  trying to understand how they think and act) and found it very revealing.

      However, sometimes it is easier said than done and requires lots of practice in learning how to deal with people who think differently to ourselves. (I am a green hat, if you haven’t guessed).

      In terms of accessing the Theta brain state – it seems to require a continuous and continued access to deep meditation/mindfulness, gaining which has shown to ease anxiety and calm the system,.

      One website says, when talking about accessing the Theta state, that it is a state of very deep relaxation and is often used in hypnosis and during REM Sleep. 

      “The brain waves are slowed down at a frequency of 4-7 cycles per second…. people meditate consecutively for hours, in order to achieve this state…of absolute perfect calm.

      Theta brain waves can be considered the subconscious; they govern the part of our mind that lies between the conscious and the unconscious and retain memories and feelings. Also direct your beliefs and your behavior.

      … It is believed that this mental state allows you to act below the level of the conscious mind.  It is also the first stage of the phase when we dream…..

      It is a very powerful state. It can be compared to that kind of trance where you can find children when they are playing with video games.”

      I would suggest that you join a mindfulness/meditation class to learn to get into that state and then practice for a while. I know it is not easy but I have found that it brings great benefit to the mind and body.

  9. This was very helpful to me. I’m shy and I have a lot of issues being myself around people. I am very creative and I love to do things. But I get stage fright so to speak. This article really helped me understand how to handle myself better and assist situations differently. I will be sure to share this post with my friends. Keep up the good work.

    1. Hi James,

      Thanks for speaking up.  As you know, shyness and creativity can be good partners.  In fact, many introverts are very creative as they spend a lot of time planning and trouble-shooting (quietly) just as much as the extroverts of the world (a la Richard Branson).

      A little bit of advice and support, if I may?  Focus on the emotion that arises when you create and do new things.  Hold on to and savour that emotion. I know artists (painters, jewellery creators, sculptors, textile artists) who work quietly and allow others to ‘spruik’ about them.  Though talking up about your work and what helped you create can help you.  Perhaps write down those thoughts in a journal as you have them so that you can call on them later.

      I am so pleased you enjoyed the article and hope you have many years of imagining, creating, innovating and making beautiful things ahead.


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