Six Tips: Creativity

Advice on a single topic gathered from across campus and across disciplines.

1. Reclaim a childhood sense of possibility.
Drawing for a child is a way of interacting with the world and operating on it. In a drawing a child can turn the sky green. But most kids stop drawing in third or fourth grade. This coincides with the ­development of their conceptual cognitive abilities, but it’s also the time when they are taught that the value of drawing is only as an ­accurate depiction of what we see. It becomes separate from perception, the process of thinking, the process of solving problems. If we can overcome the self-consciousness that “we can’t draw” that was ingrained in us in the third grade, we could easily remember this way of thinking.
— Bruce Lindsey, MArch, MFA, is dean of the College of Architecture and Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design, and the E. Desmond Lee Professor for Community Collaboration in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.

2. Fail, fail, fail, succeed.
There is something called the “myth of the extraordinary” — that all creative acts have to be spectacular. Most creative acts aren’t extraordinary or spectacular. A hallmark of truly creative people is that they churn out a lot of ideas and aren’t dismayed when nine out of 10 don’t work/aren’t beautiful/make no sense. Understanding and accepting that one doesn’t have to be extraordinary with every creative thought can bring a tremendous sense of relief … and release. This builds creative confidence.
— Andrea Urice, MFA, is a senior lecturer in the Performing Arts Department in Arts & ­Sciences and a longtime theater director. She teaches directing and acting and the course “The Creative Impulse.”

3. Refine and refocus.
Creativity is more about developing your own reliable process for inventing things than it is about that lightbulb moment — though lightbulb moments are nice, too. Working iteratively — doing things in small chunks of time, developing some kind of written, diagrammed or drawn reflection of your work at every stage of the process — and then editing again and again can be helpful steps. You do not need to be an expert to use the tools of drawing and diagramming to structure your ideas. Do not worry; those diagrams and drawings will become more meaningful as you edit them.
 Heather Corcoran, MFA, is chair of design and associate professor of communication design in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. An information designer, she was the co-primary investigator on a ­project funded by the National Cancer ­Institute to use visual design to make health data more meaningful.

4. Commit to the idea.
Implementing an idea is often much tougher than coming up with one in the first place. Even good ideas often don’t get recognized. The solution: Don’t be afraid to shop your ideas around. Convincing your friends and allies — regardless of where they are in the organization — that your idea has merit can give you just the clout you need to get the ball rolling. Once you have a following, push your idea as hard as you can, even if there is some resistance. There’s no such thing as a milquetoast disciple. And if your organization values creativity, good things will await you when your idea finally comes to fruition.
— Markus Baer, PhD, is associate professor of organizational behavior in the Olin Business School. His research focuses on creativity and innovation in organizations considering a wide range of determinants, such as personality, contextual forces and social relationships — including sibling relationships.

5. But loop in an arbiter.
Investing yourself in your ideas too much is really a double-edged sword. On one hand, a sense of ownership provides you with the drive to keep going, even when the going gets tough and others may question your ideas. On the other hand, being deeply invested in your ideas is like having blinders on — people don’t want to let go of them, even if letting go of some elements of an idea would make the whole better. Instead, they listen to others only when they confirm that their ideas have value. The key is to get someone else involved when getting feedback about which ideas to kill and which ones to pursue. Outsiders are probably much more objective than you.
— Markus Baer

6. Nurture multiple creativities.
Staying creative means staying physically active — walking, stretching, ­carrying, shopping, chopping, bending, reaching. Staying creative means staying psychologically active — planning, plotting, calculating, reasoning, solving, ­remembering, imagining. Staying creative means staying socially ­active — ­sharing, asking, teaching, supporting. Staying creative means staying s­piritually active — exploring concepts larger than oneself, finding meaning in life, ­establishing a legacy, contributing to the world and to future generations. In short, staying creative means staying engaged.
— Brian Carpenter, PhD, is associate professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences. An expert in the psychology of late life, he has studied the impact of aging on creativity and the impact of creativity on aging.

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