Five easy ways to spark your imagination.
Can’t draw a straight line, play “Chopsticks” or scribble a poem? Think you’re not creative? Think again. You don’t have to be an artist or a musician - everyone has a creative side, and life is more fun when you tap into it.
“Creativity is about asking yourself the magical ‘What if?,’” explains Jeff Lentz, a Grammy-nominated opera singer and artist in residence at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania, where he teaches about the creative process. “That’s when you find that creative possibilities are woven into your day. Where you put the furniture, the route you take to work when traffic is backed up - creative solutions are all around us, and when we take stock of our small creative victories, we’re confident about making other creative decisions.”
How to get started? Forget the muse. Lentz insists, “You can’t just sit back and wait for inspiration to strike.” Instead, be alert for opportunities and lay the groundwork for creativity to flourish.
Tell a story
“Think about alternate ways to tell a story,” suggests Lentz. “This helps you to look at something from a variety of perspectives. Write your story - or business plan or hypothesis or shopping list - for children, or for people who don’t speak English as a first language.”
Play with new ideas
Don’t get bogged down by practicalities, adds Tom Gumpel, Panera Bread®’s head baker. Instead, focus on the spark of an idea. “One of my team’s favorite summertime beverages is strawberry lemonade,” he says. “We asked ourselves, ‘What if we turned that into a bread? What would it taste like?’” Though their attempts to turn lemonade into a bakery treat hasn’t resulted in a new Panera Bread product - yet - Tom says it was an important exercise. “Creativity starts with uninhibited playtime,” he says.
Don’t underestimate the power of ritual and routine. “Having that disciplined, organized methodology as part of your life is crucial to nurture creativity,” says Lentz. A well-ordered work space, a daily ritual like meditating, and literally scheduling time each day to think and plan are just a few structures that can help you ease into a creative mind-set. “There’s creative freedom in organization,” says Lentz.
Everyone has an optimal creative time line. Scientists, for example, seek creative solutions in a span that stretches over years. News reporters, on the other hand, hit their stride every day before their afternoon deadlines. To figure out the time line that nurtures your best ideas think about your favorite board games: Are you a fan of Monopoly games that last for hours? You’re a long time line person who’s happy to keep his or her eye on the prize. But if you prefer the quick turnover of Uno or Connect 4, your best bet is a constant supply of quick projects that will keep you engaged.
Don’t fly solo
Creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You need a group of peers to bounce ideas off of. For Tom, that place is Panera’s test kitchens in Massachusetts, where he and his team have a “play space” to explore ideas, create recipes, and just “go nuts.”