Chances are you're not using your creativity to the full, says the director of Stanford's entrepreneurship center. Here's how to fix that.
Vanishingly few of us are born Mozarts or Rimbauds, with symphonies or poems bursting fully formed from our brains before we've even reached an age at which you could legally buy a beer in America. So what are us non-prodigies to do, simply accept our modest level of creativity and get on with life?
One solution for those of us with less than stellar creative gifts is practice. Malcolm Gladwell set off a mania for practice a few years ago with his book Outliers, in which he argued that to become truly excellent at any skill, you need 10,000 hours of deliberate practice--that's six hours a day, six days a week, over six years of simply sticking with it. This conclusion may be tough-but-necessary medicine for Olympic hopefuls and aspiring concert pianists, but it's hardly useful for the average entrepreneur hoping to improve his or her levels of creativity. After all, you presumably want increased innovative thinking to help with your business, and your business will certainly go under long before you reach 10,000 hours from simple neglect.
Happily, when it comes to creativity, there appears to be a middle way between in-born effortless genius and laborious, time-intensive practice. Tina Seelig, executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, has outlined it in her new book inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity. The book argues that most of us are not as creative as we have the potential to be and, thankfully for the time starved business owner, living up to our full creative potential doesn't necessarily mean locking yourself in a practice room for around a decade.
Instead, Seelig offers simple but powerful ways to increase your creativity by shifting how you approach problems, including just being more observant and asking better questions. "Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, ‘If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first fifty-five minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.’ Mastering the ability to reframe problems is an important tool for increasing your imagination because it unlocks a vast array of solutions,” she writes.
Interested in more simple but powerful ways to make the most of your creativity? Have a look at this entertaining 40-minute presentation Seelig gave to Googlers recently. What does it contain? Here's a sample:
"Most people in the world view themselves as puzzle builders. That means they're going out, getting all the pieces they need and putting them together to solve their problem," Seelig tells the Googlers. "What's the problem with that? The problem with that is if you're missing a piece, oops, it can't be done. Instead you need to view yourself as a quilt maker. Quilt makers are people who take the resources that are available to them and bring them to bear on the problem they're trying to solve."
JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist. @EntryLevelRebel