One of the most valuable attributes that someone can bring to an employer, a relationship, or a task is CREATIVITY. It can identify new and better ways of solving problems, improve one’s sense of competence, reduce stress, and increase attractiveness to others, among many other things. Here are some ways to maximize your creativity:

1. Incubate

Trying to force a creative solution is hopeless. Creativity blossoms only when it is allowed the room to breathe. If you are trying to solve a problem that has hitherto resisted a solution, let it “incubate” or simmer. “Sleep on it” is one way of doing this. Daydreaming can be another. By taking the pressure off, allowing time for synapses to connect in new ways as the mind addresses the issue, the unconscious can more readily emerge with a solution. After all, the unconscious mind is far more suited to establishing new and novel associations and patterns than is the conscious, organized, logical mind.

2. Cultivate Flow

Author Mihály Csikszentmihályi has written extensively on the concept of “flow,” a feeling engendered in the joyful performance of certain processes, that has the following characteristics

– Intense and focused concentration on the present moment

– Merging of action and awareness

– A loss of reflective self-consciousness

– A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity

– A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered

– Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding

When people are in flow again the unconscious mind manages to emerge.

3. Be Curious

Wondering why things are the way they are, why a particular way of doing something is the “right” way, and questioning accepted patterns if they don’t make sense to you can often lead to creative insights (see #5 below). At the same time, be careful about the way the question “why” can lead to simplistic answers. Most human-related phenomena have a multiplicity of causes; “why” can tend to lean towards a search for a single cause whereas there are often many contributing factors to why something is the way it is.

4. Expose Yourself to New People, Experiences, and Information

When the hitherto unknown enters awareness it forces a shift in the way the world is perceived, even if that shift relates to only a very tiny part of one’s thinking. These shifts in thinking reveal new ways of looking at things, which is in essence the definition of creativity. Travel to unfamiliar places, listen to different kinds of music, read books that involve the unconventional (e.g. science fiction). These activities will expand your mind and allow it to enter new solution territory.

5. Don’t Be Too Quick to Dismiss a New Idea

Whether the idea is your own or another’s, it is so easy to dismiss a thought that seems “weird” or illogical. Occasionnaly, though, it is that very kind of idea that paves the way for creative inventions / solutions. It may not provide an obvious answer to the issue at hand, but it may point to an entirely different, and perhaps superior, approach. Bubble wrap was initially conceived to be a kind of wallpaper. Play-Doh was originally meant to be a cleaner. Dreaming of new uses for these products resulted in tremendous success. Relatedly, try not to judge a thought prematurely.

6. Don’t Be Afraid to Make a Mistake

Mistakes provide very valuable information, indicating which paths of exploration do NOT hold potential, allowing attention to be focused on other paths that might. And sometimes what may seem to be a mistake turns out to be quite the opposite. Penicillin emerged from a contaminated petri dish, a “mistake.” Saccharin, the first artificial sweetener, was discovered by a guy who accidentally spilled a chemical mixture on the bread he then tasted.