Creativity – different for me, different for you

Posted by on Dec 18, 2011 in Academic, PhD | No Comments

As the Christmas break approaches in the UK and we are enjoying our first real fall of snow in Southern Scotland, there is a real ‘end of term’ sense in the air. A good time therefore to focus on a skills/attribute/behavior that really benefits from a little space and opportunity to step back – that of creativity.


Until about 5 years ago I limited myself with the mistaken belief that I wasn’t creative. I knew I was able to work well and to deliver ideas really effectively, but I thought that really off-the-wall thinking was beyond me. Then, through my involvement in the Crucible programme and with encouragement (more accurately, irritation that I held such a preposterous notion) from a good friend, I started to realise that (a) I was as creative as the next person and (b) further creativity could be developed from a set of behaviours.


I’m going to share some of these in this post and to link to the resources I’ve found useful. Let’s start with a health warning though – my creativity isn’t the same as yours. The techniques that help me to think in a more innovative way might not help you – we all need to recognize our existing strengths and weaknesses and to be able to characterize our own brand of creativity before we can find tools to develop it further or in different directions.



  • Know your own creativity



I’ll start with a great presentation from Jason Theodor, a Canadian creative director and speaker. Jason shares his ideas and developmental tools in a brilliant workshop available on slideshare. Once you get to grips with the ideas he introduces, you can start to see where your own creativity can be developed and then to understand which changes to your thinking and habits will have most impact. The element that I want to develop is “deviation” and the prescription for boosting it is, in Jason’s words “exposure to new things”. I think of it in slightly different terms – in order to develop better ideas I need to shake off (for a time) my preference for ideas which are useful and readily applicable.


I’d encourage you to use Jason’s ideas and other resources such as MBTI and Honey and Mumford’s Learning Styles (both tools should be readily available to university-based researchers, probably for free) as a starting point. My familiarity with these really helped me to “let go” of my preferred style and to embrace the alternatives. 

This process of self-awareness should also include reflection on when you are and aren’t creative yourself. This is really key – in the workshop I ran on this topic last week we discussed our own creative preferences and had people who were most creative under pressure and least creative under pressure. Find your own creativity and be aware that the rest of this post is about MY creativity.

  • Write it all down


My next tip is to become a scribe. Get into the habit of capturing thoughts, observations and ideas. This has been a hard habit for me to acquire, but I now never travel without a notebook and use it constantly to write down anything that strikes me as interesting, useful or curious. It’s taken me about 3 years to start doing this reglarly and effectively. I don’t find this easy – which is why I do it.

  •   Collaborate


Working with others gives an instant ‘hit’ of alternative perspectives, but not everyone will boost your creativity. Think about who adds to, and who detracts from, your creative life. Aim to spend more time with people who help you develop better ideas. When you are with the right people your creativity will feel like a pinball – ideas will bounce around in a frenzy and the brilliance will flow.

  •   Draw, don’t write


Perhaps draw is taking it too far, but mapping ideas out in graphical terms gives a different view. To get you started, you might like to use some templates, such as these or something as simple as a mind map. I don’t find this easy – which is why I do it. With a bit of help…


  • Suspend your judgement


We often stifle our own creativity by allowing the inner critic to stop the flow of possibilities. Creativity comes from embracing the mad, weird and dangerous. We’re all (well mostly) sensible enough to weed out these ideas at a later stage, but in the divergent mode, we need to let the mad ideas out – there might be a brilliant one hiding behind them. Anyway, does it really matter if you get it wrong first time? (Clearly for pilots and brain surgeons it does matter…)


  • Do different things, go to different places


If you look at a problem from the same seat, in the same building, surrounded by the same people, breathing the same air, you are making life very tough for yourself. GO for a walk. Learn to knit. Visit a gallery. Read something as far removed from your own perspective as possible. Give your brain a chance to think differently.


  • Learn from the experts

In addition to the insights I got from reading Jason Theodor’s presentation, there are a few other ‘creativity gurus’ that help me. These guys help with my brand of creativity – no guarantees they’ll help you!

Jurgen Wolff’s book Creativity Now! and the accompanying blog

Dr Kevin Byron runs brilliant workshops on creavitiy – you can get a glimpse of his ideas in the setting up a researcher blog booklet.  Hopefully he’ll be persuaded to write a book one day…

TED talks are a fabulous source of ideas and challenging thinking. A couple on this theme include Ken Robinson on creativity in schools, or rather how education kills it, and John Francis who personifies what you can achieve by being different. Radically different. I found John’s talk thought the Imulus blog. Ken’s talk was recommended by my partner in crime at Bang Goes the Borders.

And to finish, a few musings of my own from a year or two ago.


If you were at the workshop which prompted this blog, the slides are on the Blackboard site – for anyone else who wants them, leave a comment and we’ll connect!


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