JC Scull taught an MBA program and often writes about business, history and culture.
How to Improve Creativity
In this article, we'll explore:
- The definition of creativity
- How the creative process works in the brain
- How and why creativity is good for our mental and physical health
- Five methods for boosting your creativity
- Seven tools you can use to be more creative
- Over a dozen projects to help you further your creative skills
What Is Creativity?
Albert Einstein once said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” As always, Einstein found a way to describe a reasonably complex process in a succinct and pithy sentence that magically captures our imagination. From a more technical perspective, it can be said that creativity is a phenomenon in which something new is formed.
We often think of it as the use of our imagination in the creation of original ideas or concepts. It is the ability to reorganize our thoughts in such ways as to be able to find hidden patterns, perceive the world in new ways, and make connections between unrelated ideas, concepts or objects, often leading to new solutions to problems.
We, as humans, are extremely imaginative and creative creatures. All we need to do is look around us and observe all the accomplishments of humanity from the harnessing of fire to space travel in order to observe what seems to be the limitless capacity of human imagination and inventiveness.
What's the Difference Between Imagination and Creativity?
There is an important difference between imagination and creativity: action. As Linda Naiman, the founder of Creativity at Work, said, “If you have ideas, but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative.”
We all imagine, create ideas, and visualize in our minds—everything from planning our day to what we want to eat for dinner. We daydream; we create mental images of objects and events. We even occasionally recreate the story of our lives. However, in spite of our incredible imagination, it is not until we cross the divide from abstract idea to something concrete that we become truly creative.
Creativity Is a Neurological Process
As Einstein suggested, the creative process is like mental entertainment: sort of like going to a three-ring circus where disparate acts are seamlessly working together to deliver a couple of hours of entertainment. It is equivalent to the occipital lobe and the temporal lobe playing a set of tennis, after which your brain feels not only invigorated but also relaxed.
New research by a group of psychology experts from Harvard, Yale, and other institutions used MRIs to predict creativity levels in certain individuals. As Grant Hilary Brenner, MD, FAPA explains in a Psychology Today article, the brain has three different networks: a default or inactive mode, the executive or decision and emotion center, and the salience network (which determines what to notice and what to ignore).
Creativity Connects All 3 Networks in the Brain
The theory behind this study suggests that creativity takes place when those three networks work in conjunction to do problem-solving. When comparing the brain scans from participants involved in creative tasks with those involved in uninventive work, the researchers found that more connections between these three networks took place in those participants engaged in creativity.
Basically, what these scientists hypothesize is that these three networks operate as a team in which the default mode network generates ideas, the executive control network evaluates them, and the salient network identifies which idea is worth passing back to the executive control network.
How Is Creativity Good for You?
You might ask yourself: What is the big deal with creativity? Why should I care if I am creative or not? As it turns out, creativity is actually good for you, both mentally and physically.
Studies have shown that tapping into our creativity makes us happier and gives us a great outlet for our emotions. Drawing, painting, sculpting, or working with ceramics have been proven to help people suffering with psychological or emotional trauma, as it is often easier to express emotions through art than through words.
Writing is also a creative endeavor that allows for the type of emotional outlet that can be especially important, as it involves narrating past events in a way that allows for negative situations to be turned into positive feelings.
It has been proven time and again that creative endeavors have great brain-boosting effects. Even the simple act of writing things down helps improve learning and memorization. Writing an essay, an article, or short story often forces us to do research, compelling us to read and learn new things.
Putting words together in order to create sentences and paragraphs that ultimately deliver a narrative, story, or description of something is a great way to improve the way we organize our thoughts. Writing a poem or the lyrics to a song can be an exhaustive mind-bender, forcing us to look for the right word with the right sound and the right meaning.
Painting, sculpting, or working with ceramics requires a great deal of cognitive agility and ample dexterous adroitness. It also requires problem-solving skills which could include the creation of the right composition, color blending, utilization of available space, construction, or as the cliché goes, plainly just thinking outside of the box.
Creativity is not just good for the brain: It's also physically healthy. Its calming effect can be compared to meditation. This relaxed feeling oftentimes helps to bring down blood pressure and even reduce cortisol levels. After successfully finishing a creative project, our sense of accomplishment allows for the feel-good hormone dopamine to flood our brains improving our performance in other activities.
There have even been studies that show a connection between writing one’s experiences down on a daily basis with an increase in CD4+ lymphocyte blood cell count, which is key for immune system health.
The case for being creative is strong, but how do we become more creative? The following are some creative processes that will help you to stay creative as well as become more creative. Whether you want to work on your individual creativity or you work in a team environment in which creativity is paramount, you might find the following suggestions helpful.
5 Methods for Increasing Creativity
Most people think that brainstorming is nothing more than pulling up a chair and thinking about incongruent solutions to problems. They think that at the end of this process, somehow a eureka moment materializes, and the answer to your query appears.
However, the truth is that it is a little more complicated than that. For best results, you should approach brainstorming from a more organized, systematic, or scientific perspective. Keep in mind that brainstorming is the first step in the exploration phase of any new project, and as such, your top priority should be quantity over quality.
While this method is meant for group brainstorming sessions, it can be adapted to one person with little effort. The main idea is that group members write down their ideas separately, take some time away from the rest of the group in order to think and improve on the idea, and come back later in order to share with the rest of the team what they have written.
In the ensuing meeting, each idea is discussed and evaluated individually and the best proposed solutions are kept, while the least desirable are discarded. An individual who wishes to brainwrite would jot down ideas—perhaps on index cards—after taking a while to think about the project, discard the less desirable, and keep the most appealing.
3. Figuring Storming
In this approach, you ask yourself how someone else might handle the situation or solve the problem. Typical questions would be: How would a professional artist do this painting? How would my boss solve this problem? How would Martin Luther King, Jr. have dealt with this issue?
The basic idea is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and in the process, look for solutions outside your normal way of thinking.
4. Rapid Ideation
Placing a time limit on your brainstorming sometime forces you to generate ideas quickly. The idea is to have various mediums such as index cards, chalkboards, whiteboards, or yellow stickers in order to write down ideas as soon as they enter your mind.
You might decide to write simple solutions on yellow stickers, but draw a large diagram or picture on a whiteboard. The main idea is to get your creative energy moving.
5. Reverse Brainstorming
In this method, we ask ourselves what would lead to the opposite effect of what we are looking to accomplish. For example, if improved customer service is desired, you can ask the group, “What should be done in order for customers to be completely dissatisfied by customer service?” If you are beginning a new art project, ask the following question: “How could this painting, sculpture, or ceramic project look amateurish?” After you have answered these questions to your satisfaction, simply reverse the answer.
For more information on the creative methods described above, you can visit the following sites:
7 Tools for Increasing Creativity
1. Mind Maps
Mind maps are very helpful tools for creating a system of idea generation. They allow the user to create a hierarchical tree in a cluster format that branches out into major sub-topics. As these branches continue to create extensions to sub-topics, new ideas are created.
Once the branches reach their limits, the user can eliminate the less desirable ideas and work on the more viable ones. Mind maps can be used for many projects, from writing an essay, a short story, even a book, to just plainly organizing large amounts of information. Mind maps can be drawn manually, but there are also apps that provide you with the platform to create one.
For those of you that are video-making aficionados, creating a storyboard might be the thing that could catapult your creations to the next level. Whether you are making a personal video that you will post on YouTube or a sales video for your business or for the company you work for, a storyboard is a great way to plan each scene.
Storyboarding is also a great way to share your vision in order to elicit other people’s opinions, get approval for your project, or just plainly have others (and even yourself) visualize what the message you are trying to portray is all about. The process is simple: First, create blank slides or squares on a sheet of paper. Add your script beneath each frame. Sketch your story.
Remember, creativity does not have to be spontaneous. In fact, it rarely is. As the old adage goes: “He who fails to plan, plans to fail.”
3. Investigation Board or Collage
You don’t have to be a detective in order to create an investigation board, since it is merely a collage of photos, newspaper clippings, old theater tickets, or any object that, when viewed on its own, does not tell you a complete story. From an artistic perspective, it is a great way to create something that is visually interesting and at the same time relays the story or message you might want to convey to your audience.
The real value of these investigation boards is mostly for police work. However, you do not have to be in law enforcement in order to create one. For those that are trying to get their creative juices moving, it is an easy exercise to undertake. All you will need is a mat board or foam board and a lot of random clippings or small objects that can be glued to the surface you are using.
Afterwards, if you want to preserve your creation, you can apply lacquer for a shiny and durable finish.
4. Energizing Music
Listening to classical orchestra music has been found to improve cognitive performance. Research has shown that listening to classical music while taking intelligence tests improves results. Pieces by Mozart, Bach, Wagner, Beethoven, or any of the masters will energize you and inspire you, spawning creative thoughts.
5. Zero Draft
Often used by writers, this ideation technique is a “concentration-free” approach to getting your project started. The purpose of this method is to establish what you already know about a subject—and after getting your initial ideas onto the paper, you can work on the rest of the details as you move through your project.
Basically, you first write down all you know about the subject, after which you write down all you need to know but don’t currently know. Stop to reflect and determine whether your subject is important or worthwhile, and either write more or begin the research that will give you the details necessary to finish your work. Initial messiness is allowed. You can clean that up later. The main idea is to get started.
6. Forced Connections
In this method, we bring together disparate ideas, words, or notions in order to create a new concept. In essence, forced connections allow you to escape your traditional ways of thinking. This method puts you in a different frame of mind that gets you to see things from a different perspective, creating different combinations of ideas and concepts.
An example of this would be: banana + time watch = an app that measures the time it takes carbohydrates to metabolize. Another example of a product that has been around for years is: sofa + bed = convertible sofa.
Stopping your creative session and taking a break could be helpful, as long as you continue to subconsciously think about your project. Sometimes your best ideas come to you after your brain relaxes. This sort of intuitive approach works well when you least expect it.
Just make sure to have the tools necessary to write or record your ideas on a piece of paper or your iPhone! Keep these near you at all times.
13 Ideas for Starting a Creative Project
The suggestions above are but a minuscule part of the many ways to improve your creativity. Keep in mind that it has been proven that groups are much more creative than individuals: Basically, two or more minds are better than one. Groups tend to use each other’s ideas to improve on them, and one team member’s idea generates a different idea from a different team member. However, this does not mean that we cannot or should not try to be creative on our own. Remember that creativity is good for you physically, cognitively, and emotionally.
So go ahead: Start your own projects in order to become more creative and to stay creative. The following are some ideas for projects that you can do in order to get you started in your journey to a more creative person:
- Draw an apple or an orange on your iPad, iPhone, or Samsung Note 10. Go further and draw a different fruit every day for an entire year, if possible.
- Draw a cat or a dog. Maybe try a human face.
- Buy some color pencils and a drawing pad. Start by drawing a coffee cup. Put a saucer underneath. Continue building on your initial drawing with a spoon, a fruit and ultimately an intricate background.
- Draw while you are listening to classical music. Draw what you feel the music represents, or the image that comes into your mind as you listen to the piece. You can even draw something abstract, such as lines, waves, circles, dots—it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to let your emotions, thoughts, and feelings come out through your pencil, pen, or brush.
- Make an abstract sculpture from discarded items. You can use bottles, cans, newspaper clippings, old tools, and nails. Don’t worry about the details, since what’s important is to get your mind thinking creatively. You can use any permanent glue to adhere the items.
- Start a diary. Write down your impressions, your fears, or your successes. By the way: There are diary or journal apps you can download on your smartphone. Since most of us keep our smartphones with us all the time, this will allow you to make entries into your diary whenever you feel the need to say something.
- Create new lyrics to a song you like. The lyrics can be funny, obscene, romantic, or whatever comes to mind.
- Whenever you come across an unfamiliar word, look it up in the dictionary. Write it down on your iPhone or on a pad. Write ten sentences using the new word. You can even use the new word in your diary.
- Try to write a poem. Start with a short poem and work your way from there.
- Write a short essay or story about your interpretation of a poem or of lyrics to a song you like. You can use the following prompt: Listen to the song "Rocky Raccoon" by the Beatles. Write your own short story of what happened to Rocky after he got shot by Dan, his rival who stole his girl. Did Rocky survive? Did he move on with his life? Where did he go? You can figure out the rest as you go.
- Try to see images in clouds.
- Play with a set of Legos.
- Make a hand puppet with some cloth, markers, or whatever else comes to mind. Put together your own puppet show and story. Invite your children or some neighborhood kids to watch.
In reality, the list of things you can do is endless. Take the first step and start creating. You might never stop!
- Brenner, GH. (2018 Feb). Your Brain on Creativity. Psychology Today, Retrieved August 2019.
- Gregoire, C. (2016). Why Finding Time Each Day For Creativity Makes You Happier, HuffPost, viewed 26 July 2018, Retrieved August 2019.
- Stahl, A. (2018 July). Here’s How Creativity Actually Improves Health. Forbes. Retrieved August 2019.
JC Scull (author) from Gainesville, Florida on July 02, 2020:
Thank you Anupam. I am glad the article was of help.
Anupam Mitu from MUMBAI on July 02, 2020:
Thank you so much for sharing such elaborated article on creativity. As a teacher we keep on working on this thing to help our students become more imaginative. Your article is great help for teachers like us.
JC Scull (author) from Gainesville, Florida on January 14, 2020:
Thank you Md.
Md Mosherof Hossain on January 14, 2020:
This article is a very much high- quality article for human life, human society. it is also helpful for a writer also.
JC Scull (author) from Gainesville, Florida on January 09, 2020:
Thank you for your comment!!
RoadMonkey on January 08, 2020:
What a great article. I used to teach a course on creative thinking and this adds a great deal to what I already knew and an enormous amount to the background. Fabulous article. Thank you.
Miel Reyes from Philippines on August 31, 2019:
You're welcome JC! And thanks for using our language :-)
JC Scull (author) from Gainesville, Florida on August 31, 2019:
Miel Reyes from Philippines on August 31, 2019:
Genuinely, I am excited, to begin with, your ideas to tap my creative side again. As a reading specialist (teaching little kids and those with reading problems how to read), and also as a freelance writer, sometimes I get too generic in my writing and run out with ideas on my styles and techniques in teaching. This post provided me a lot of light bulbs in my head. I have to print your article soI have my reminder with me always, thanks for this!
JC Scull (author) from Gainesville, Florida on August 20, 2019:
RTalloni: Thanks for commenting.
RTalloni on August 19, 2019:
A neat discussion on creativity. Appreciate the chance to consider imaginative verses creative. We were designed to create, and as I think about it, how could it be otherwise when our Creator is the Grand Designer? You've reminded me of a poem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqB9kQOS-Lg
JC Scull (author) from Gainesville, Florida on August 19, 2019:
Thanks Tess! I am glad you enjoyed the article.
Tess from Hawaii on August 18, 2019:
Creativity is so important! Whether you're creating computer code for a new website or baking a pie, we as humans need to create! I love the suggestions you have here to get the mind flowing. Thanks for sharing.
JC Scull (author) from Gainesville, Florida on August 17, 2019:
Hang in there. We all experience similar problems. I have been keeping notes in my smart phone's journal app every time I think of something creative I want to do and the list keeps on getting bigger and bigger. Haha
Miel Reyes from Philippines on August 16, 2019:
“if you have ideas, but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative.” - This is so me! Thanks for this post. It reminds me of things that matter and what I should do.
TurtleDog on August 14, 2019:
Placing time limits is so true. On the surface you'd think it would be counter intuitive but it really helps