The first article I ever wrote for Inc.com was 32 Easy Exercises to Boost Your Creativity Every Day. My goal was to show that creativity is a skill, not a talent, and that we can all improve with regular exercise.
The World Economic Forum defines creativity as "the ability to come up with unusual or clever ideas about a given topic or situation, or to develop creative ways to solve a problem," and lists it in its 2016 Future of Jobs study as the 3rd most important skill global companies are looking for in employees.
One of the ways to develop unusual ideas is to question our habits and things we take granted for.
Habits and shortcuts allow you to do things quickly and repeat the same things without much thought. Everything--from the way we make our bed to how we hold meetings to writing our emails--is codified, simplified and repeated to save time.
The tradeoff is that we get desensitized when we do things automatically. Unfortunately, this is the death of creativity. "All children are artists," Pablo Picasso said. "The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." To think differently, we need to do things differently. Even to sometimes do them intentionally wrong.
Here are 23 tricks to help you to do things a little different every day. Each exercise goes against an assumption, starting with the first one that challenges the idea that you need to look at your hand to draw.
- Draw someone or something, without looking at your hand. Hide your hand under a paper towel to not cheat.
- Write with your non-dominant hand. If a rightie, write with your left hand and vice versa.
- Write with both hands at the same time (architect Louis Kahn was amazing at this).
- Make a non-flower arrangement with vines, small branches from trees and wild weeds.
- Fill vases with water. Leave out the flowers.
- Take photos of shadows.
- Take photos of hands, feet, wrinkles--anything but the person.
- Write a short poem about a meeting you just had.
- Keep a journal that has no writing, only drawings, mind maps, photos.
- Throw a costume meeting at work.
- Instead of email, send a short film.
- Instead of making a copy of an image, trace it with tracing paper.
- When you get up, make your bed a different way. My favorite--pile all the pillows in one tall pile.
- Eat your dinner for breakfast. Have breakfast at dinner.
- Hold a meeting outside, standing up, sitting under a tree, and If adventurous, under the rain.
- Take a different route to or from work. Use a different transportation mode. Get off one bus or subway stop too soon or too late.
- We tend to take the same routes but eat differently every day. Do the reverse for food and eat the same thing for lunch every day for a week.
- Instead of scheduling a meeting via email, send everyone a paper invite.
- Take words to one song and sing them to a different song.
- Listen to a podcast at 1.5 times the speed.
- Start a book midway. Open to a random page and start there. Then go back to the start.
- Drink water from a soup bowl (French do this with cafe au lait). Soup in a water glass (I haven't seen this).
- Try using no technology for an hour every week. Instead of emailing, walk over to someone's office. Instead of Instagram, leaf through coffee books. Instead of Netflix, stare out the window.
Once you get the hang of it, you will find yourself thinking about what else you can do differently; what other habits you can break and how you can think more creatively before making assumptions or going only with what you know by reflex.
Which is when you need to watch Stefan Sagmeister, a true master at not taking things for granted, ups the ante in his 99U talk.