The “One Thing” for More Creativity
By Gregg Fraley © 2008
People often ask me what they can do to be more creative. When I tell them the “one thing” (think of Curly in the movie City Slickers) that really works they nod and say,
“Yeah, okay… but what else.”
It’s probably because it’s so simple and so obvious.
The one thing is this: keep an Idea Notebook and write your ideas down.
I can almost see your eyes rolling.
If you really want to be more creative, keeping a notebook of ideas, and continuously writing ideas, insights, and thoughts down, is the simplest, easiest, and most productive thing you can do. For those who don’t do any idea record keeping already, this one thing could mean a quantum leap in your creative effectiveness. Some academic studies suggest that you’ll double the number of ideas your mind is processing.
If you already do have an Idea Notebook, I have two questions: 1. Is your notebook with you all the time, and 2. Are you using it to brainstorm lists of ideas, and then reviewing later?
I hear you asking, “But there must be something else I can do to be more creative?” Well there are some things, here’s a list:
You can improve your IQ. Everybody is creative — but we all are born with a level of intelligence that we can do very little about. So, other than taking Ginkgo, and eating a lot of salmon, not much you can really do to improve your IQ. Sorry, off to a bad start here.
Let’s see, you can also know a lot about something. The book Greatness (an interesting read by the way) says it takes about 10 years of constant study and practice to be a master of something. Hardly matters what it is, baseball, piano, painting – 10 years into the effort things tend to click into place and you reach the master level. So, spend 10 years working at becoming an expert in your field and you are bound to see results. Not exactly a short-term improvement though is it? What else?
Well, you can learn to defer judgment. It’s a real key to creative thinking this deferral of judgment thing — all the experts say so. What it means is you don’t immediately critique and analyze things but you stay open, for much longer periods of time, to situations, experiences, the ideas of others, and your own ideas. This really works, and in theory anybody can do it, so what’s the catch? It’s uncomfortable living in ambiguity, frankly it’s just hard! What you may discover is that between getting up in the morning and having your first cup of coffee you’ve already made about 20 critical judgments. Frankly, it’s a habit that is very hard to break. Studies have shown that, with training, people can withhold judgment for about 10 minutes without a lot of discomfort.
So, sorry to be suggesting all these difficult, long-term, or impossible things. You’ll see why I’m coming back to my first point now. Writing things down in an Idea Notebook has immediate impact, is easy to do, its fun, and it’s not expensive. What do Thomas Edison, Leonardo DaVinci, Michelangelo, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Ernest Hemmingway, Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Walt Whitman, and Jack Kerouac, have in common? You guessed it, extensive notebooks of their ideas.
Emulate the creative greats — get yourself out to an art supply or stationary store, and buy yourself a notebook that works for you. Moleskins are great but I am a big fan of Strathmore 3 by 5 Sketch books because they are unlined and I often draw pictures and diagrams. The classic reporters notebooks also work well, fitting neatly on the inside pocket of a jacket or suit coat.
Once you have a notebook, it’s simple, write ideas down as they occur to you. Keep lists of ideas related to your various challenges. Have it with you all the time, I mean all the time. Once a week, or more often, go through it and add on to your existing idea lists. Then start taking action on the ones you think are the best. If a notebook doesn’t improve your creative power – well, I’ll eat my notebook!