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What Inspires Creativity?

Posted 4 years ago by Naomi Francis

Throughout our lives, we encounter pressure to be inventive and think ‘outside the box’ – from our early school life through to our day jobs. Designers, along with other creatives, are expected to produce original work on a day-to-day basis and even though natural talent in this space may accelerate the process, we all get stumped sometimes. Which is why it’s vital to experiment with different methods and environments to inspire creativity.

Why has being innovative become such a vital part of society? In the past, there had always been a clear subject hierarchy, with mathematics and the sciences at the top, and the creative classes falling to the bottom. People have often been discouraged to take the creative subjects; to the older generation, they didn’t seem to hold as many career prospects following graduation. I know I felt the pressure from my parents to steer away from the arts even though it was something I enjoyed.

In his TED talk on the subject of whether schools kill creativity, Ken Robinson discusses this issue. He believes that creativity should be treated with the same status as literacy. Robinson states that by being ushered away from the creative subjects and losing experience in them, we lose the capacity of being prepared to be wrong. Not to say that “being wrong” is the same as being creative but “if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

“In a world where mistakes are stigmatised, we are educating people out of their creative capacities.”

We are all born with a wild imagination and so there is space for us all to be creative, not just the handful of those we believe to have ‘natural talent.’ It’s just that our life experiences may have taught us to be afraid of the unknown, but there is nothing to be afraid of when it comes to being right or wrong. In the words of Thomas Edison: “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Now, more than ever, businesses have begun to recognise the true benefit of creativity and the importance of design within a company. Siyana Sokolova, Mentee at Mitt Liv AB, states that “stimulating creativity and exploring completely new and unknown territories lead to increasing the productivity of an organisation.”

By recognising and embracing creativity, there will be a higher rate of producing solutions to problems and more of a chance to stay ahead of the competition. Encouraging employees to “think outside of the box and give them the time and resources to explore new areas for innovative ideas is the key to cost-effective business solutions.” This has been the centre of some interesting studies conducted into what inspires motivation in employees. In his 10 minute video on this topic, career analyst Daniel Pink, identified three key ways in which businesses can do this: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Pink discusses the result of the ‘Candle Problem’, which has been replicated over the past 40 years and has shown the same findings each time: using profit-based incentives designed to sharpen thinking and accelerate creativity actually does the opposite – “it dulls thinking and blocks creativity.” Pink describes this as one of the most robust findings in social science yet one of the most ignored. Scientists have identified a new approach based around intrinsic motivation. Which, essentially, is wanting to do things because they matter and because we like it rather than being driven by profit. Making us feel less like a machine and more human – a much better deal. Pink sums this approach down to three key elements:

Management was invented by humans and is now outdated. Pink’s theory on ‘autonomy’ in the workplace is rewarding because management is not a natural thing. I don’t know if anyone has experienced micromanagement before, but in my eyes it’s one of the most detrimental things to a person’s motivation, creativity and outrageously stumps progression. By giving people the opportunity to direct themselves and by taking the issue of money off the table, you encourage engagement in their role.

Mastery refers to the incentive behind what drives us, even outside of our duties, to learn and to become the best. Therefore a sense of progress in our work as well as in our capabilities, contributes towards our inner drive. So it’s important to have the opportunity to develop skills in our day jobs. Last but by no means least is the importance of ‘purpose’. There is nothing more important than feeling the work you are producing is of value and that your colleagues value you as well.

Jeff Veen wisely said at our recent Design Club event that a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up will drive productivity and creativity. Money, contrary to popular belief, is not the motivator.

Snapshot from RSAnimate’s video of Dan Pink’s ‘Drive’

So, we’ve spoken about what a company can do in order to ensure its employees are working in an environment that allows them to be motivated and creative – but what can individuals do themselves? Let’s start with the theory of ‘over-consuming.’ It’s important to step back and evaluate how much time we attribute to consuming, as it’s really quite easy to overlook. From checking our social media feeds in the morning, to the amount of time we spend binge-watching Netflix, we find ourselves constantly procrastinating.

“We never stop consuming – which is time spent that we could be creating.”

Paul Jarvis, author and designer, understands that this is something most people want to change about themselves – nobody wants to be a procrastinator (apart from at University when it was relatively cool). And somehow reading life-hacks on ‘how to become more productive,’ ‘creative’ or whatever it is we want, becomes the go-to method to boost our inner drive. So we end up in a cycle of simply attributing more time to learning how to become more creative and productive rather than actually getting to it. Jarvis eloquently writes that “in reality, the act of figuring shit out for ourselves, becoming less afraid of looking stupid because we’re learning, and actually having a little fucking self-reliance in our attempts at greatness can take us much, much further.”

Over-consuming can relate to looking for inspiration in other people’s work, particularly in design, when it can sometimes be helpful to take yourself outside of the box. Tom Dixon, designer, once said that taking inspiration from another is “the best way to just reinterpret something that has been, today, reinterpreted a thousand times already.” The vision for his designs came from things completely separate from design, like nature, art and science. Spending some time within a new and unfamiliar environment can be helpful as we are stepping back from the issue at hand, which can inspire us to see things from a very different perspective. It’s good to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and into the unknown – we never know what might trigger the next idea.

Sometimes just getting out and about can help, particularly for those of us who are stuck to a screen all day. Doing something physical stimulates our neurons and gives us a new lease of energy which could ultimately lead to some pretty creative thinking. Steve Jobs was a huge believer in ‘walking meetings.’ Walking helps to take our mind off of what may seem like a dead-end problem. Whilst it may seem that we are lost in thought, there is a change in sensorial stimuli which our mind and body will register, allowing inspiration to hit us from an unexpected source.

On the other hand, there is some magic to be found in remixing other people’s designs. George Bernard Shaw said that, “Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery — it’s the sincerest form of learning.”

There is much to be said in the art of looking at a great design and analysing what works and why it works. Similarly, it’s beneficial to also look at what isn’t a particularly good design – everything is a learning experience. Our girl, Linh, wrote an insightful piece on finding inspiration in other people’s work called The Remix Reality. She found that, “We are better off thinking of our work as new additions to the pool of knowledge. We all exist on borrowed ideas. Embrace, not avoidance, is the key. Creativity works best in freedom, not fear and control.”

“Producing great work is all about knowing yourself.”

The problem is that since childhood we’ve been subject to the same educational and working experiences; and with no variation in experience there is less variation in ideas. It’s important to understand the environments in which we work best and what methods we find most efficient. I find it much easier to brainstorm on pen and paper than I do bouncing off a room full of people. As a result, I’ll never go into a meeting without a little planning. When I’m writing, I find it best to be surrounded by people but where conversation is inaudible. So when I’ve got a deadline, I relocate to a place where I know I can work. Identifying these things has helped me become more productive and accelerate my creativity. But everyone is different and that’s the beauty of it.

Having the open-mindedness to launch ourselves out of the metaphorical box can provide us with the new experiences we need to give our work that final kick it needs. Then, we can start to see our work spiral beyond our imagination.

Writing for Marvel. Writing for fun. Eating everywhere, all the time.

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