It doesn't matter what your job is; you might be a graphic designer with ample freedom or an accountant with a niche role. Almost every job requires at least some degree of creativity, whether that's creating something new and artistic in more right-brained career paths, or finding creative solutions to tough problems in more left-brained career paths. Your creative potential--your possibility of coming up with new, better creative ideas--isn't something you're born with, at least not exclusively. It's a product of your natural disposition toward creativity, your environment, your habits, and your inner mentality.

Accordingly, most modern professionals are sabotaging their own creative potential by engaging in bad habits, accepting bad environments, or flat-out believing that they have no creative potential in the first place. Here are ways that you're probably doing it:

1. You aren't trying to be creative

Everyone is creative, but many of us choose to believe we aren't. Once you accept that you aren't a creative person, you immediately stop trying to be creative, in the same way that an individual who believes he/she's bad at math won't attempt a visually intimidating math problem. If you really weren't creative, this would be an efficient strategy, saving yourself the effort, but deep down, every individual has innate creative potential. It's only evident if you actually try to be creative. If you're the type who resigns to predictable, traditional solutions, start challenging yourself to be more creative--and take baby steps with smaller problems if you have to. You'll be amazed at the results.

2. You're too normal or routine

The most creative-inspiring situations and events are ones that are, for lack of a better term, "weird." For example, you might see a new piece of art that makes you think more abstractly, or you might encounter a strange event on your way into work that gives you a strange idea. These unrelated pieces of "weird" stimuli can spark new paths for creative thinking in the brain, so surround yourself with more of these strange items (art, music, and even scents can help in the office) and deviate from the norm by stepping outside your comfort zone. The more predictable your routines are, the more predictable your thinking is going to be.

3. You expect perfection

Most people have the misconception that creative geniuses are people who only come up with fantastic ideas; accordingly, when they come up with a bad idea, or experience failure, they believe it's a sign that they aren't successful at being creative. However, according to neurosurgeon Rex Jung, creativity isn't about the quality of your ideas, but the quantity of them. The people with the most creative ideas are the ones who have produced thousands of ideas; their best ideas are one-in-a-thousand. If you only produce a handful of ideas, your best idea might be one-in-six. Creativity, much as we like to think otherwise, is a numbers game, so stop expecting perfection and just create things!

4. You're too close to the problem

The most creative solutions tend to arise from distant perspectives. For example, the scientist working deep in math equations will find it hard to think of the problem in terms of a visual metaphor. An account manager trying to solve a logistics problem will tend to have tunnel-vision on the elements of the problem he/she has already explored. To resolve this creative limitation, step outside yourself. You can ask friends and colleagues for their thoughts and perspectives, or simply try to explain the problem in terms that a layman would understand. It's easy for us all to become trapped in our own biases and thought patterns, so try seeing the problem through someone else's!

5. You don't create limitations

Now, you might think that creating limitations and constraints for yourself would actually decrease your creativity--but research demonstrates the opposite. Imposing limits can actually help you come up with more creative work. For example, an artist may try to see what ideas can be explored using only two or three different colors, or a musician may explore a simple two-note theme across an entire symphony. This minimalistic, constrained approach can also help you solve complex problems in a business environment; for example, how could you create more compelling web copy by only changing a certain number of words? How can you improve the communication of your team with only the addition of one rule? This makes the problem more challenging, but at the same time, more approachable.  

6. You give up

It's one of the simplest ideas on this list, but it's also one of the hardest to fix. Most of us, after seeing poor or unrewarding results on a problem for a certain amount of time, admit defeat and stop working on the problem. Creativity doesn't come immediately or predictably, so the only way to harness it is to keep going: keep working and keep brainstorming. Only after repeated effort will new solutions and new angles start to make themselves clear.

It doesn't take much to inspire more creativity within yourself, and the benefits are enormous. If you can start overcoming these challenges, you'll start seeing problems in new lights, coming up with more abstract solutions, and you might even reconnect with your inner artist. Everyone can stand to be a little more creative in their personal and professional lives--so what's stopping you?

Published on: Jun 10, 2016
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