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How to improve creativity

Looking how to boost your creativity skills? Discover how to overcome creative blocks, explore new ideas and unlock the power of your imagination to take your skills to the next level.

Woman improves her creative skills

Creativity can help drive success and satisfaction across all aspects of life, from your downtime to your career. But how do you get your creative juices flowing? And why is it so important to develop creative thinking skills?

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at creativity and creative thinking, both in and out of the workplace. Read on for easy tips on how to bring more creativity to your life and learn why it’s such a valuable pursuit, for your career and beyond.

What is creativity?

Creativity is an abstract concept – there are many definitions, and you’ll likely get a different answer depending on who you ask or where you look. As a starting point, it helps to look at the root word, which, of course, is create.

Creativity is what happens when your imagination – the ideas buzzing around your brain – comes into some sort of tangible form that exists in the world. Put simply, it’s what happens when you begin to create!

When you’re creating or being creative, you’re introducing something new that didn’t exist before you started. This can show up in all sorts of ways, from tangible forms like crafting, painting, or writing, to in-the-moment activities such as dancing, cooking, or humming a tune.

In your free time, creativity might show up as a series of pictures on your phone, a song that you sing, or a poem hidden in a notebook. In the workplace, creativity could take shape as an idea you express, a solution you propose, or an opportunity you identify.

There’s plenty of study on the science behind creativity and what happens in our brains when we’re engaging in creativity – learn more about the neuroscience of creativity in CQ University Australia’s Unlocking the Creative Brain course.

What is creative thinking?

Creative thinking is about coming up with something new. The ultimate goal is to arrive at a plan or solution that’s not obvious – and then, perhaps, continue to push even further beyond that!

Creative thinking requires you to examine, refine, and experiment with ideas. It’s something you do every day, perhaps without realising it. It could be as simple as substituting an ingredient when cooking or rearranging the furniture in your room!  

The ‘creative’ part is all about generating unique ideas, original solutions, or solving a problem in a fresh way. The ‘thinking’ part involves taking these ideas or solutions and thinking them through, considering how they will work from a variety of different angles and perspectives. 

3 easy ways to increase your creativity

It’s one thing to talk about creativity and creative thinking – but how do you actually get your creative brain to start sparking off ideas?

Creativity isn’t an exact science – different tactics tend to work for different people. Here, we’ve listed 3 easy things you can start doing to awaken your inner creativity.

1. Give yourself dedicated time

Just like exercise or healthy eating, creativity can be something you incorporate as a ritual into your routine. Set aside time each day or week to dedicate to a creative activity that you enjoy – it could be speaking a new language, practising a craft, or playing an instrument.

Giving your brain the chance to indulge and explore in a creative space will help to strengthen it when you need to tap into creativity in other areas of life.

2. Try something new

In order to come up with fresh ideas, we need to expose ourselves to fresh situations. A 2018 study in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology found that diversifying our experiences can improve creativity. It could be as simple as taking a different route on your commute home or reading a book about a topic you’re not familiar with. Getting off your usual track outside your routine can support creativity.

3. Get some exercise

Moving your body has been proven to stimulate your mind, as identified in a Frontiers in Human Neuroscience study. A simple walk around the block or a bike ride along a trail can unlock ideas and inspire creative thinking.

Taking a course in a creative subject that interests you is a great way to carve out creative practice in your daily life. If you love music, consider learning an instrument. If you enjoy reading, look for a writing class, such as The Open University’s Start Writing Fiction.

It’s all about finding something that challenges and inspires you, but that you enjoy at the same time (which means you’re more likely to stick with it).

Creative thinking and the workplace

Creative thinking has an essential role in every workplace. Companies need people who can develop, test, and implement original ideas, from solving the inevitable problems that occur in any given workweek to coming up with original ideas that help reach new customers or differentiate from competitors.

There’s plenty of evidence that shows companies value creativity – a McKinsey study found a strong correlation between creativity and financial performance. According to a 2022 Lytho study, 89% of workers say creative work is important in order to meet business objectives.

This is echoed in State of Create, a study conducted by Adobe that looks at how creativity impacts people in the workplace – 86% of respondents said they believe being creative makes you a better leader.

Adobe reports that people who work in roles where they can be creative report having stronger self-worth and are overall more likely to describe themselves as ‘innovative, confident, problem solvers, and happy’.

As well as improving employees’ overall job satisfaction, Adobe’s study found that people in creative roles have a 17% higher household income compared to the average worker.

This is reflected in the types of roles that those who pursue creative careers tend to find themselves in – according to a 2022 UK study, 83% of creative occupations are classed as ‘higher level occupations, professional occupations, or associate professional and technical occupations’.

What does creative thinking look like at work?

Jobs within the creative sector, such as film or music, have an obvious need for creativity. However, there are countless ways that creative thinking factors into virtually every workplace. Some examples include:

  • Brainstorming ideas – such as a new product or sales tactic
  • Evaluating and improving processes and systems – such as project management or communications
  • Proposing a strategy to improve or change something – such as a new marketing opportunity
  • Developing new ways to deliver information – such as teaching students or providing customer support.

Creative thinking can help you achieve success across many different fields. It’s also a valuable tool if you’re interested in starting your own business or becoming a creative freelancer.

The Open University’s Start Your Own Business: Creativity, Innovation, and Research course offers guidance on how to apply creative thinking and innovation to help with your entrepreneurial goals.

Essential skills for creative thinking

Lots of aspects factor into each stage of creative thinking. Often, it begins with identifying a problem or opportunity and then coming up with ideas on what to do next. Creative thinking is also essential when devising a plan or strategy to implement these ideas.

At each stage of this process, there are key skills that can help to drive creative thinking. Below we’ve listed some examples:

Data gathering and analysis

  • Research
  • Data Analytics
  • Forecasting and reporting
  • Presentation and communication

Ideation and innovation

Strategy and Implementation

Does this resonate with the ideas you’ve already had about your own creative pursuits? Kingston University London’s Culturepreneurship: How to Start a Creative Business course is a great starting point for learning how to harness your creative ideas and transform them into a thriving business.

4 ways to improve creative thinking skills  

Just as you can incorporate habits to cultivate creativity in your day-to-day life, there are many ways to stimulate creative thinking in the workplace.

As well as helping to improve your performance at work and in life, developing creative thinking as a key part of your work ethic can make you an attractive candidate: Bloomberg Businessweek reports that recruiters say creative problem solving is the second most difficult skill to find among applicants.

Whether you’re trying to solve a problem in your department or you’re challenging yourself individually, we’ve outlined 4 simple ways you can kickstart creative thinking at work.

1. Blue sky brainstorming

The sky is the limit! Identify a problem you want to solve or a goal you want to achieve and write down all your ideas, big and small. Don’t let your inner critic get in the way – give yourself a set amount of time to run with your imagination.

Expand your thinking beyond the resources you already have at your disposal and ask yourself what you could do if you had a bigger budget, more time, or a larger platform.

2. Think inside the box

This is sort of the opposite of the previous suggestion – but with a twist. Give your brainstorm a set of limitations. It could be cutting the budget in half, shortening the timeline, or reducing your communication strategy to just one channel.

Just as sometimes it’s easier to decide what you want to make for dinner when you only have a few key ingredients, you may find that it’s easier to generate ideas when you have set boundaries to work within.  

3. Diversify your perspective

There’s a special type of energy that can emerge when you expand your thinking beyond your own creative brain and experience. Brainstorming in a group environment allows you to tap into multiple points of view, especially when you’ve prioritised diversity, equity, and inclusion.

It’s important to approach these situations with a growth mindset – ask questions, look for feedback, and lean into opportunities for collaboration. Learn more about how to build empathy, collaboration, and resilience into your creative process.

4. Look for connections

As well as coming up with fresh ideas, creative thinking can be extremely powerful when you identify existing opportunities that have perhaps gone unnoticed. Make a point to take a step back and challenge yourself to look for connections or overlaps between things that may seem otherwise unrelated.

Whether it’s a series of problems that you’re trying to solve or a set of goals you’re trying to accomplish, drawing out a mind map and looking for ways to connect the dots can help you to unlock ideas and see things in a different light.

Once you’ve got the wheels turning, it’s important to have a strategy for processing and prioritising the ideas you’ve come up with. This is where critical thinking can begin to complement creative thinking – learn how to put these skills into practice with The New Scientist Academy and a Beginner’s Guide to Critical and Creative Thinking course.

Final thoughts

Creativity is a tool that can empower you both in life and at work. Whether you’re faced with a problem with no obvious solution or you want to expand outside of your existing framework and seek new opportunities, having the ability to tap into creative thinking will drive you towards success.

And the best part? You have the tools you need, right inside your brain. If you’re ready to get inspired, check out the huge variety of courses in Creative Arts and Media.

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