What environment leads best to creativity?
As an awesome writer and communicator, you are curious about the world and thrive in a creative environment, am I right? You typically think of an innovative atmosphere as being free from constraints, boundaries, and rules. But, you are wrong.
The most powerful creativity comes from innovative ideas guided and constrained by rules and boundaries.
You may not have considered the necessity of boundaries, but your positive qualities can trap you in inefficient routines time sucking diversions. To be productive and meet your writing goals, you must monitor how you spend your time, stay focused, and have a specific goal or objective in mind.
The subtle traps of curiosity and learning
A month ago, I wrote the "Advanced Blogger's Guide: How Jump Start a Kicking Personal Brand,” and the research sparked my interest in the psychological effects of design on readers. When you visit and read websites, unconscious visual cues affect the way you feel about the site and content. Brands manipulate your natural visual response to create a strong, intimate connection with the audience.
The power of visual and responsive design entranced me, and I continued my research with vague plans to write a few more pieces on the psychology of vision. I failed to establish clear boundaries and objectives for my research, and I ended up feeling, after the experience, that my return to blogging was like returning home after wandering through the wilderness.
In the wilderness, I learned a lot about cutting edge web and graphic design, but I wasn’t sure what I would do with this knowledge. I had no defined purpose.
The learning fascinated me, and the subject was relevant to my writing, so I justified the research, exploration, and experimentation. I failed to consider the hit I would take in production: my writing.
This was four long weeks ago now, and my writing production shut down as I educated myself in web design. I began with my focus on visual psychology, but quickly branched out to all aspects of web design, including current trends with new coding such as CSS3 and HTML5.
Problem: My interest grew more broad instead of focused.
The depth of information and resources available on the web ensnared me, and I failed to see that I was heading into a different job title than pro blogger: web and graphic designer. Yes, these topics represent degrees and careers, and could entrap me endlessly, shutting down my own productivity in order to learn about innovation. You must have a strategy, and the plan must include action and implementation of new knowledge and skills.
I told myself that I was revolutionizing the way I would connect with my readers, opening new dimensions to my craft as a writer.
I would empower my branding, audience engagement, and visual appeal.
ZipMinis would be amped with new skills and tools, making the site more powerful.
The obstacle I confronted was that this new interest consumed all my time. I wasn’t writing. I worked, but I did not write. Any creative impulse the drives you away from the problem at hand is a distraction, not disruption.
Focusing with a powerful question: Who am I?
Writing today, I overcame habits that I had reinforced for the last month and focused on who I really am. This is a question I seldom give much thought.
Have you asked this of yourself?
You might find interesting and surprising answers. In discussing how to figure out who you are, the social entrepreneur, James van der Walt, concludes that:
"Each person has their own opinion of who they are and what their purpose might be. The only important thing here is that you choose well. If you decide on what "I" is then at least make sure it's something you are happy with."
However, there are many aspects to this question including family, history, society, and experiences.
I focused on my professional life: blogging. When I first asked, I thought I knew the answer. “I am a pro blogger, a person who uses imagination to communicate and move people to action.” I blog to teach, learn, stimulate, and help. I intend to innovate and disrupt blogging, allowing people to see the complexity and beauty of the art and science.
Through my four weeks hiatus from blogging, I found I had strayed from the core of “who I am.” The negative aspects of innovation and creativity in my occupation overwhelmed me, and my learning about visual design became a distraction. I lacked a set of rules to keep me focused on my target.
After the break, I decided that I needed boundaries and purpose to reign in my innovation and make it productive.
You must have the foundational idea of who you are in order to guide and nurture your creativity, but unfortunately, the question often goes unasked.
Many on their death bed have sent advice to those who remain, attempting to capture this essence of life. The American rapper Heavy D, for example, posted a final tweet in 2011 shortly before dying outside his Beverly Hills home: "Be inspired.” Great last words, but when putting it into practice, you might find it hard to pinpoint exactly what inspiration is.
Establishing boundaries fosters innovation
Intuitively I believed that boundaries and rules stifle inspiration, but strangely, unrestrained imagination is also unproductive. And, counter-intuitively, boundaries can actually foster innovation. Without boundaries creativity is aimless wandering. In my noble pursuit to understand design, I lacked the focus that leads to true innovation. Innovation never occurs in the midst of inactivity.
So, following rules helps you create and innovate, giving you a problem to solve with creativity, focused and purpose oriented.
The key is knowing you and your purpose so well that you can envision the big picture: the guidelines and the inspiration that can solve the problem within careful boundaries.
At the same time, you must also sense when rules require resistance, when you must violate the boundaries to innovate. You have to understand that some disruptions create a new focus and design, while others create mayhem.
I tend to push disruption to the point of chaos and revolt, and this works sometimes. But, I have to understand when and how to innovate so that I create a new focal point, evolving from the chaos.
Influencers in the online social market place have grasped this vision and work within bounds to disrupt old strategies and traditions. Because they are confident, they persist, despite opposition, and they change the world.
Richard Hamming, a mathematician from Bell Labs, revealed some of the key factors that decide whether an individual will make significant creative contributions. He made these connections a short time before his death, after a lifetime of scientific productivity.
Hamming suggests that productive innovators:
Purpose is one dimension that I lacked in my pursuit to innovate the visual design of my web page. I had no clear purpose, value, problem, or question, and therefore I wandered. I lacked the boundaries and constraints that would have stimulated creative problem solving and innovation.
I started with the vague question “What can I learn about visual design?” - an open ended, broad, and nebulous question. To keep me focused, I should have started the pursuit with a refined purpose and constraints.
In fact, crafting a problem-question is the first significant step in innovation. For example, I might have asked these questions before beginning my research:
Pointed questions work towards a definition of your creative project.
My definition of innovation and creativity in business was something like “implementing new ideas ahead of everyone else.” Notice that this definition focuses on competition and neglects the value of innovation. Creativity is better defined as "the process of developing ideas that are both novel and useful [providing value]," according to Barba.
My greatest discovery: Innovation has specific value
Innovation is not just generating new ideas, working creatively, or learning knew ideas. Innovation generally fails when approached from this position.
When you only possesses a vague concept of the specific problem to be solved, your creative problem solving is bound for failure. Innovators are the ones who address specific problems with unique approaches and angles in order to create value, develop new solutions, and implement strategies to solve problems.
Before you go, share with us how you approach innovation within your work. Are you systematic or random?
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