It's that time of year again, when one person gets the sniffles and before you know it the whole office is out with the flu. While the proliferation of runny noses and empty tissue boxes isn't so pleasant, we know that laughter and smiles can spread just as easily. In the same way, we can think about creativity as being contagious.

It makes sense because we're social beings. We take cues from our environment both consciously and unconsiously and they can affect us in profound ways. If one person starts griping about work over beers, it's very easy for Happy Hour to become a gripe session. This is a phenomenon researchers call 'emotion contagion'. Research has also shown that we are highly influenced by purchasing behaviors of others. For example, if we see someone buying a snack on a plane we're 30% more likely to buy a snack as well. It's been established that we're suckers for peer pressure, but how does that help us with creativity?

We've seen how risk-taking promotes creativity and increases our chances for innovative solutions. Researchers at Caltech have shown that when we observe risk-taking, we are more likely to take risks because the areas of our brain that perceive risk have become more excitable. We can take advantage of this natural pliability to access our creativity by surrounding ourselves with people who are more inclined to take risks. Here are some ways to get yourself into situations that will inspire you to take risks and be more creative:

Consult for a startup on the side: The nature of startups is that they're lean, agile and unestablished. There's some risk involved, but it might be the breath of fresh air you need to breathe life into that new campaign you've been trying to launch.

Try being a nomad for a while: Joining a community of working professionals who aren't afraid to pick up and move where the work takes them for a while might inspire you to hammer out the details of that reorg you've been toying with. If you're serious about getting involved, check out Unsettled, founded by my friends Jon Kalan and Michael Youngblood. It's a global community for creatives, entrepreneurs, and independent workers to embrace uncertainty and seek meaningful human connection.

Dip your toe into more extreme workouts: Try your hand at bouldering, ninja warrior training or parkour. Being part of a community of individuals who defy ordinary ways of staying fit can give you that nudge to forge boldly forward with new ideas. Spending some time around peers who often dance with danger might encourage you to pursue a more aggressive but potentially more efficient approach to engagement.

Take an improv class: There's nothing quite like an improv class that exposes you to a bunch of social risk-takers. Even if you're just dipping your toe in, after a couple of classes you just might find yourself more comfortable with tasking risks and approaching problems from different angles both on stage and at work.

Build a team of risk-takers: If you're hiring, consider risk-taking as an important quality to screen for. It could make a huge impact in the way your team grows creatively and approaches solutions in the long run. Look for projects in their resumes that they've had to take a chance on. Perhaps they left a prestigious teaching position to start their own company. Maybe they took on a role that required a totally different skill set. Try to gauge how well they handle ambiguity and uncertainty.


Use these strategies to harness your brain's natural ability to generate and share creativity with others. Just don't forget to wash your hands with soap and warm water!

Published on: Oct 18, 2016