In his classic essay on "The Discipline of Innovation" (HBR 2002) Peter Drucker wrote:

Changing a manager's perception of a glass from half full to half empty opens up big innovation opportunities. A  change in perception does not alter facts. It changes their meaning, though -- and very quickly. It took less than two years for the computer to change from being perceived as a threat and as something only big businesses would use to something one buys for doing income tax. Economics do not necessarily dictate such a change; in fact, they may be irrelevant. What determines whether people see a glass as half full or half empty is mood rather than fact, and a change in mood often defies quantification. But it is not exotic. It is concrete. It can be defined. It can be tested. And it can be exploited for  innovation opportunity

Joe Forgas, a social psychologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia, who studies emotion, affect, andmood, has discovered some surprising benefits of negative moods. Echoing Drucker, he notes our fleeting feelings can change the way we think. Sadness sharpens our attention, making us more focused and diligent, thus making our creative output more thoughtful and less prone to clichés. Good moods on the other hand, make us 20 percent more likely to have a moment of insight.

Creative challenges --be they in art, writing or solving a difficult technical problem--involve tasks that require diligence, persistence, and focus. Forgas's research suggests being a little miserable at times can improve our creative performance. My advice is not to overdo the misery or buy into the myth of the tortured artist.

Researcher Teresa Amabile asked 280 people working in various industries to record emotions they were experiencing on a given day. Her team then studied 12,000 journal entries and found that creativity is positively associated with joy and love and negatively associated with anger, fear, and anxiety. 

"The entries show that people are happiest when they come up with a creative idea, but they're more likely to have a breakthrough if they were happy the day before. There's a kind of virtuous cycle. When people are excited about their work, there's a better chance that they'll make a cognitive association that incubates overnight and shows up as a creative idea the next day. One day's happiness often predicts the next day's creativity."

Enhance your experience of well-being and happiness through creativity

A recent study in the Journal of Positive Psychology (Tamlin, Conner, DeYoung & Paul, 2016) indicates that engaging in a creative activity just once a day can lead to a more positive state of mind.

This could be as simple as keeping a doodle journal, knitting, playing a musical instrument, or cooking with some imagination. The key is to express yourself every day by doing something creative and enjoyable. You will not only benefit from a more positive state of mind, you will create a feeling of well-being that will permeate other aspects of your life.

Psychologist and author Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, says people focus their life activities in accordance with two powerful motivations. One is the ability to enjoy being creative for the sake of exploration and invention which has over generations enhanced human society's ability to survive in an unpredictable world. The other is to derive pleasure from comfort and relaxation which allows us to rejuvenate ourselves and to recover our energy in order to maintain overall health and well-being. A balance of these two motivations can lead to enhanced creativity. 

Csikszentmihalyi offers eight suggestions for enhancing creativity:

  1. Try to be surprised by something every day.
  2. When something strikes a spark of interest, follow it.
  3. Recognize that if you do anything well it becomes enjoyable.
  4. To keep enjoying something, increase its complexity.
  5. Make time for reflection and relaxation.
  6. Look at problems from as many viewpoints as possible.
  7. Produce as many ideas as possible.
  8. Try to produce unlikely ideas.

Published on: Jul 30, 2018
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