I have always wondered what I would say if I could meet the five-year-old me.
Perhaps, “don’t waste time trying to be cool.” Maybe, “don’t focus on things you can’t control”. Even something simple like, “just be yourself”. I recently asked my mum what I was like when I was five. “A little tike mostly” was her response.
Never did I think that my inner five-year-old might have some advice for me.
In my role, you can never know when you'll next need to come up with that perfect disruptive idea, shifting immediately into a creative mindset. The truth is that tapping into my younger self has made this possible, letting me generate ideas long after others have tapped-out. It isn't easy, nothing worth doing is, but anybody can try.
So what's the secret?
Well, firstly it is worth noting that there is no such thing as a creative type.
Imagination is embedded deep in our DNA. We all can be creative all of the time, and we can improve. However, when working in a world of boundaries, protocols and budgets, finding a creative mindset can often feel impossible. Why is this?
In 1965, four years before NASA would put a man on the moon, they realised they had a creativity problem, an existential one. Trying to understand the problem they commissioned George Land to devise a test to benchmark the creativity of their high achieving mathematicians and rocket scientists. NASA, with its focus on employing the best of the best, expected roughly 25% to pass as creative geniuses. The actual results showed it to be 8%. When given to the adult population at large, it was 2%. Then Land gave it to children.
It's hard not to look at the table below and wonder if education saps our creativity. As we learn to focus and hone our thoughts, we lose our instinct for creative thinking. The good news is that the five-year-old in us never goes away and can re-emerge and enjoy meaningful, often magical interactions when the conditions are right.
Creativity is powerful. It's the thing that turned us from a bunch of hairless apes to masters of the planet.
It doesn't matter if you're stuck on a problem, arranging a brainstorm meeting or bringing an audience together for a presentation. If you're not planning to maximise creativity, at best you are wasting people's time. At worst you're setting yourself up for failure. Thankfully, this planning is easier than you might think. Want to get started?
1. It's okay to play.
Giving your mind something it can become fully immersed in allows it to wander away from the norm and mundane. Whether a simple puzzle or getting outside and taking a walk without treading on any cracks. Have fun, unbridled fun, just like when you were young. It may come very naturally to some; others might need to work at it for a while before they become comfortable.
2. Unlearn the possible.
The best way to solve a problem is to come up with multiple solutions - from the obvious to the seemingly ludicrous. Instead of letting that voice inside you say something is impossible, write it down, embrace a divergent mindset. Only once you've created this list can you whittle it down based on your knowledge of the possible. You might be surprised at which ideas stick around.
3. Free your mind.
I have a saying that I always tell my kids; “only boring people get bored”. Yes, it annoys them fantastically once I have extracted them from their X-Station, Play-pad or whatever gizmo but it's true. Humans have a finite amount of energy, not just physically but emotionally and intellectually. Do nothing, let yourself get bored, feel your batteries recharging. Look away from the screen, turn off your phone and give yourself five minutes.
In my younger days I was once told to stop drawing in a meeting. Back then I didn’t know why I was doing it. Now I know I do it because it helps me concentrate. Studies have shown that doodling can free up both short and long-term memory, help retain information and increases retention span. The firing up of all these connections in the brain by this simple action can even create visual cues for the information you are receiving, allowing for near-perfect recall.
5. Don't box yourself in.
Whether it be at work or home, most of the time we are not positioning ourselves in the best environments to enhance creativity. How close to a window are you right now? If you are on your computer, have you closed the blinds to stop the glare? Have you got fresh air? We are spending increasing amounts of our lives in these dark, artificial environments which kill creative thought. If you can, get out. Get some sunlight on your face. Take off your shoes and feel different textures under your feet for a while.
You might have guessed who Diddy-Wudda is by now.
Yes, admittedly it's a bit of a strange nickname for a five-year-old. One day I'll ask my parents what they were thinking. I find myself imagining more as I get older about the wisdom Diddy-Wudda could bring to my challenges today. It's easy to think about children having 'much to learn', but what if we stopped a moment to learn from them? Forget about the million responsibilities surrounding being an adult in the 21st century and for a moment rediscover the joy of being a kid. Give yourself space, time and a chance - you'll be amazed at what you can do.
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