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Creativity Required

What if you could train your brain to be more creative? As it turns out, you can!

Highly creative people have always fascinated me.

Having worked in the marketing and advertising world for over 15 years, I was lucky to often be surrounded by a number of highly creative people. I remember always feeling so impressed and in awe of “the creatives”—the select team of highly-talented thought-leaders and inspiring “fire starters” from some of the top design and advertising agencies in the world.  

The “creatives” infused our more pragmatic brand management and business mindsets with fresh perspective and breakthrough ideas. Working in a category where new thinking and new ideas were required to innovate and win over the hearts and minds of consumers, these creative inputs were mission-critical to our success in the marketplace. Plus, working with these people and their quick wits made our day-to-day jobs way more fun.

If I dig a little deeper into my respect for and fascination with creativity and “creatives”, I think it’s almost like I viewed these professional creatives with the same respect, admiration, and fascination with which I viewed professional athletes —  Super talented. Different from the “rest of us”. Able to perform at a level that I could only aspire towards, but would surely never be able to reach… Or would I?

As I have partnered with more individuals to identify and build personal brands, I have had to tap into my own creativity more than ever before in my career.

The three main phases of personal branding: discovery, strategy, and content creation – could not occur without the fuel of creativity.

As such, a significant, but often understated part of the work I do is coaching others to find and unearth their own creativity. 

Just as our creative team was mission-critical to the success of our brand growth back during my corporate days, creativity is mission-critical to unlocking meaningful personal brand growth for my clients.

The good news is that being creative and the creative process are not magical or unattainable by any means.  While some people are undoubtedly more in tune with their creative sides, creativity in and of itself is a skill – it’s something that you can increase and improve upon with practice.

The science behind creativity

In a recent NPR TED Radio Hour Podcast “The Source of Creativity”, creative masters like Sting, and bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, offer insights into the creative process. They tell stories about times when creating their life’s work came easily, and times when new ideas seemed so far out of reach that they feared creativity would never return. 

From the outside looking in, it’s easy to assume that famous creators, like Gilbert and Sting, were born with a special gift to turn thoughts from their mind into a cultural phenomenon. But as the podcast explains, the source of creativity isn’t magical at all – as it turns out, our brain is wired to create. And, the more we understand how the brain works to support our creativity, the better chance we have to tap into our creative potential more often. 

The podcast features a study done by researcher Charles Lynn and his team, in which they leveraged functional MRI scanners to better understand artistic creativity from a neurological processing perspective. 

The scientists studied the brains of jazz musicians, trying to detect patterns in brain activity when these musicians were jamming compared to when they stopped playing. While the musicians were improvising, the part of the frontal lobe of the brain responsible for conscious self-monitoring (i.e. a creativity blocker), actually suppressed or “turned off” and the part of the brain responsible for self-expression (i.e. a creativity enabler) turned on. How cool!

Intentional steps to harness your creativity, today

While we cannot force ourselves to turn on and turn off parts of our brain (yet!), this research suggests that we might actually be able to exercise the part of the brain responsible for creativity and increase our capacity to be creative more often.

We can practice being a little more like those improvisational jazz musicians—we can let our guard down a bit and allow ourselves to be a little more uninhibited and more willing to make mistakes. We can try our best to encourage our imagination and foster new “generative impulses” and ways of thinking and doing.

You may be a bit uncomfortable with creativity—that’s okay. You might also think, as many of my clients do, that “I’m just not creative.” That part is not okay—in the spirit of avoiding negative self-talk, turn off this internal speech! I’ve mentioned before our invitation and duty to “flip the flop” – that is, choose more positive and helpful thinking.

Everyone can be creative. And, I would go as far as to say we must be creative if we want to dream big and figure out ways to make those dreams a reality. 

At its core, creativity is about letting go of control and taking risks. It’s about not being afraid of making mistakes. It’s about being willing to be a bit spontaneous and improvise along the way. And, last but not least, it’s about being in the moment. Anyone can do this. You can do this

Everyone has the capacity to be creative. Just like anything else worth achieving, you have to work at it –  you have to practice it. 

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