I think creativity is one of the most important, and also undervalued skills someone can have. Unfortunately though most of us are unknowingly sabotaging ourselves and our own creativity. But before we jump into that let me clarify some misconceptions first.
A lot of times when someone thinks of creativity they picture something along the lines of fingerpainting. It’s fun, but doesn’t really have that many real world applications. It’s something that artists and musicians need but not really anyone else. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Creativity isn’t arts and crafts, it’s being able to come up with something new. This applies to almost everything in life, especially business. Creative problem solving and being able to develop new creative solutions, systems, tools, products, etc. is absolutely one of the most important skills someone can have. And it’s only going to get more important as machines, robots, and AI take over more and more mundane tasks.
The other misconception is that you’re either creative or you aren’t - that somehow certain people are born with creativity in them. The number of times I’ve heard someone say “oh I’m not a creative person” - I don’t buy it, not for a second. I truly think that everyone is creative, and has creativity in them, because I think it’s a skill. Something that can be taught, learned, and practiced.
Recently though, we are unknowingly destroying our own creativity more than ever. We are starving our brains of what they need to be creative: boredom.
With the advent of smartphones, social media, netflix, etc. we no longer need to be bored because we can instantly distract ourselves. Sitting in a waiting room? Pull out the phone. Waiting for transit? Pull up social media. Sitting on the toilet? Well you get the picture..
Think about it, if you were meeting a friend in a park and you arrived 10 minutes before they did, would you keep your phone in your pocket and just sit on a bench and wait? Probably not. Unfortunately for our brains this means that they never have time to stop and think, to just wander aimlessly and start tying thoughts and ideas together into something new.
As a side note have you noticed how as soon as you go to bed your mind starts racing and you can't fall asleep? It could be because it's the first time in the day that you have just stopped to let your mind think and wander.
We need boredom to be creative, but we don’t really like being bored. We prefer the little dopamine hits of push notifications, social media, mobile games, videos, anything and everything to keep from just sitting and thinking. Nowadays it almost feels weird to just sit and think, like if you were to go to a cafe alone and just sit with your coffee and think, people would probably look at you like you were crazy.
So if we need to be bored to be creative but live in a world saturated with distractions, what do we do? Well we have to intentionally make ourselves bored, which takes a bit of getting used to. I was going to list out a few ideas but they basically all involve not looking at your phone or other devices. Just go for a walk, get a coffee, lie on the grass, do anything where you don’t have to think to do it (like driving, you really should be thinking while you drive) and fight the urge to quell your boredom with a glowing screen.
It can really be a fight to not distract yourself, you have to consciously kick the habit. But I promise you though that it’s worth it to be bored. Give your mind the time and space it needs to stretch its legs and explore new thoughts and ideas. Because no social media notification is worth the price of your own creativity.
Constant distraction is one part of the puzzle when it comes to diminished creativity, and there are inevitably other parts to the puzzle as well - but for now just try putting down the phone, going outside, and doing nothing.