It might seem as if ideas come in a flash — like lightning — to a lucky, very creative few. But that’s not how it works, Todd Henry, business creativity consultant and CEO of the Accidental Creative, told participants at the ConveneLive workshop at the Ottawa Convention Centre.
It’s easy to burn out under the pressure.
However, it is possible to come up with good — even brilliant — ideas when you need them, without frying your brain, he said. Based on his observations of successful professionals and his own experience, Henry recommended the five following ways to promote sustainable creativity:
1. Focus. Focus is about how well you define problems, as well as where you put your mental energy and efforts. We can’t do everything, yet we behave as if we can. A turning point for Apple came when Steve Jobs directed the company to focus on just four things — and to do those four things better than anyone else.
2. Relationships. There is a myth of the genius as the “lone innovator,” but creative production happens in clusters of community. Fuel your own creativity by cultivating relationships that stimulate and challenge you. Ask those people to help you solve your problems and offer to help solve theirs.
3. Energy. We may know how to manage time, but a more crucial skill is managing energy. You can’t stack meeting after meeting after meeting, and expect yourself to have the mental energy for great ideas in the minutes between them.
Making choices about energy also means taking your whole life into account, and not ignoring the effects that the demands of your personal life has on your work and vice versa.
4. Stimuli. We create based on what we take in. If we subsist solely on creative junk food — think marathon reality TV shows — then our ideas are likely to be junky, too. It’s okay to watch TV, but stretch and challenge your brain, too.
5. Hours. Schedule time in your calendar for generating ideas. It’s counter-intuitive, but it is productive to make time for doing work that you love but that you don’t get paid to do. It allows your mind to “jump the rails” and make new connections.
Being intentional in those five areas will almost certainly make you more productive, but Henry advised ConveneLive participants to look for meaning beyond cranking out work.
“All of us have a sweet spot,” where a set of activities aligns with the things we value and care about the most. Exert time, energy, and focus there, he said, and it will bring far greater results there than anywhere else.
What’s your sweet spot?