The 5 Rules of Professional Creativity


Are you creative?

If you are managing projects, serving customers well and making an impact, you are creative.

What if you’re not sure about your creative gifts? Maybe you think it is a gift reserved for those who perform in concert halls. That is only one example of creativity. In business, there is also a great need for creativity. It is one of the best ways to immunize yourself from the pressure of automation and outsourcing.

The 5 Rules That Creative Professionals Use

1. Engage fully

Have you heard the term “FOMO”? It means “fear of missing out.” Sadly, it is a barrier to both creativity and satisfafction. The ability to pay attention to other people and your current context is valuable. Yet, if you are always thinking about your next appointment or yesterday’s disappointment, it will be difficult to make progress.

Here are one way to tame your technology and engagte fully at work:

  • Turn off digital notifications. Automated notifications from your computer and smart phone make it difficult to focus. The worst example of this is a smart phone placed on the table during a meeting that buzzes and vibrates periodically. With rare exceptions, your organization willl survive without your attention for an hour or two so you can focus in a meeting.

Tip: Read “Fighting FOMO: 4 Questions That Will Crush the Fear of Missing Out” for more insights on this challenge.

2. Learn something new daily

Daily learning is one of the best ways to become more creative. With more ideas, examples and stories, you are able to combine ideas into new combinations. Over the years, I have experimented with different approaches. Here are some ideas to start your daily learning.

  • Set a daily reading time. A key part of my morning routine is to read a book for 30 minutes and it puts me in a good mood.
  • Study new words. I subscribe to the OED Word of the Day. As a student of history, I love reading about the origin of words. A few favorites include philobiblian (A book-lover. Obs.’) and  ad hominem (By attempting to disprove an argument or proposition by attacking the beliefs or character of the person proposing it).

3. Record new ideas as they happen

Capturing new ideas, to do items and questions as they occur to you is an important practice. Once an idea is recorded, it is easier to work with it and develop it into a new idea. Once an idea is written down, you can create a mind map, come up with additional questions and tasks to get moving. Here are two of my favorite tools.

  • Evernote. When possible, I like to use Evernote to write down ideas and notes. If an idea has developed into a task, I move it over into Nozbe, a task management tool. I like the flexibility of Evernote and the ability to search and organize material easily. I like that Evernote is available on several platforms including the iPhone, Web and a Windows application.
  • Moleskine Notebooks.  I have used these notebooks for years and recommend them. The durable covers and the various physical sizes make them easy to manage. I also prefer to bring a physical notebook to meetings, seminars and other settings where a laptop would not be welcome.

4. Welcome restrictions

Restrictions can be fun!

Several years ago, I attended an “welcome to the company” orientation one day program at a large company. To foster networking and conversation, attendees were assigned a few challenges to complete a task with limited resources and time. I enjoyed the challenge of building a small bridge capable of supporting a medium sized toy car.

Here are a few ways that working with restrictions leads to better results and productivity.

  • Automation instead of man hours. When you face a time crunch, traditional approaches may not work. I have sometimes faced situations like this in working with Microsoft Excel. In order to meet a deadline, I had to learn how to use formulas in a new way. Learning that new skill made me more effective in the future as well.
  • Question complex solutions. Building a highly complex solution often comes to mind as the first way to solve a complex problem. Unfortunately, complex solutions may be too much for the end user to handle. Ask yourself “what solution would I develop if a non-expert had to use this?”

Tip: One of my favorite scenes from “Apollo 13” explains how to achieve success despite limited resources

5. Go beyond your screens

This is a broad suggestion that can be read in different ways. If you are anything like me, you probably use computers and digital devices all day. They are great tools for work and leisure. Yet, they only represent one aspect of the world and one way of thinking. Here are some ideas to spur your creative skills by going beyond your usual routines.

  • Read a magazine from a new field. I first encountered this suggestion in Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind. It is a great way to ask new questions and consider new opportunities. For example, you might pick up a copy of Wine Spectator or National Geographic. Reading widely gives you more mental models and examples for your mind to use.
  • Visit somewhere new in your city. It’s easy to confine your thoughts of travel to a few short weeks of vacation each year. What about exploring new aspects of your own city? For example, the A Long Walk From Toronto blog shares reports and photos from Toronto and the nearby area (e.g. Scarborough Museum and the East Corridor).

Creativity Resources

There are many great resources in books and on the Web to help you become more creative. Here are a few examples to get you started.

Knock Em Dead – The Job Search Guide by Martin Yates

I came across the five rules in reading Yates’s book this month and it provided excellent inspiration for this blog post. If you are going through a career change, this book is a helpful resource.

Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono

A classic book on problem solving that is well worth reading and studying. This book is especially valuable if you are looking to build creative skills in a team.

A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink

Years after reading this book, it continues to come to mind. Pink encourages readers to think with “right brain” qualities such as empathy, stories and invention. The website, linked to above, provides a wealth of resources including book discussion guides.

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