New Rules for Creativity

Written by: Lisa Jordan, Principal, CG Infinity Inc.

I’m surprised how often creativity is ignored in the world of IT. When we think of IT, we often focus on the science of technology—after all, technology wouldn’t work without engineering, math, physics, and logic. But, I believe our success as technologists is directly correlated with our ability to innovate, problem-solve, design, and build. #Creativity is the magic that makes the science work.

I also believe we’re in a bit of a creativity crisis. Back to back Zoom meetings? Posting up in one place and not moving all day? Perpetual state of worry and concern? 2020 has been exhausting, stressful, and distracting. I felt my own creative energy failing even before I started to see several articles about how this year has drained our creativity. I’ve experimented with some practices and habits and I have organized them into 3 new rules for creativity. I hope you will find these helpful if you’re trying to get your creative mojo back. More importantly, I hope you’ll share what has worked for you.

1. Make some space

Add this to the list of things I never thought I would say: I miss my commute. Of course, I don’t miss the traffic around DFW. I miss the space in between working and not working. As I have been talking with my colleagues and friends about our work-from-anywhere routines, it hit me that I am missing all of the in-between spaces, not just my commute. You might be having a similar experience. Going non-stop all day every day isn’t just stressful, it’s hampering our creativity.

I don’t think there are very many people who are creative on demand. I know I can’t just flip a switch and “be creative”, and I certainly can’t parcel out and cram creative work into a few rare 10-minute windows of unscheduled time during the day. Instead, I am making space for creativity in the following 5 ways:

  1. First of all, I’m pumping the brakes and making space for life. I realized that working from home put me in a mental state of being “on duty” 24×7. My desk was always waiting for me and I ceaselessly checked email and Teams. Too many nights, I was still in front of my computer after midnight. Logically, I know this isn’t sustainable, and I also know that exhausted people aren’t creative people. Putting up boundaries and making space for life (and getting some sleep!) has been an important first step in getting back in a creative groove.
  2. Instead of filling what used to be my commute time with work, I am filling it with a different kind of commute. I try to go for a walk or a bike ride either before or after work each day. Mostly, I use this time to let my mind wander and to daydream. My goal is to give my brain some downtime. By creating “in-between” space, I leave room for ideas to germinate. Don’t your best eureka moments happen when you’re NOT thinking about a problem? Same here.
  3. I am also making space to have non-work conversations and build relationships. Work is a social activity and I’m so grateful that my job gives me the opportunity to “see” other people throughout the day. These would be some lonely times without my team and clients. However, I also believe that virtual meetings have the potential to turn every conversation into a dry, mechanical, work-only interaction. Creativity requires humanity; collaboration requires empathy. Humanity and empathy come from a depth you won’t get if all you know about your team is what tasks they’re working on. I’m making space for my relationships to deepen, so we can collectively create better.
  4. I’m experimenting with making physical space for creativity. One day a few months ago, I needed to escape the interruptions of email, messages, and task reminders, so I picked up a pen and paper and moved to the couch. As expected, leaving my computer and all those distractions behind helped maintain my creative streak. And, there was a cool side benefit: Changing my location gave me a new perspective and energy. With this learning in mind, I rearranged my workspace to dedicate a corner for creative work. In my case, it’s a cozy spot away from my computer. I suggest conducting your own experiment to make a creative space for yourself.
  5. Finally, I’m making space in my weekly schedule to feed my creativity. I know if I don’t plan time for something, it’s much less likely to happen. You can read more about the ways I spend this time to fuel up for creativity in Rule #2.

2. Feed your creative side

Feed your creative spirit every day.” It’s one of the first things I share when asked for career advice. As knowledge and information continue to become easier to get with a simple search or a quick report, creativity becomes the competitive advantage. I believe anyone can (and should) build up their creative side. The key is to think of creativity as a muscle that needs proper nutrition and a good workout. Here are five things I try when I feel like my creative energy is running on empty:

  1. I read when I have writer’s block. I’m sure one of my middle school teachers insisted that we would be better writers if we spent more time reading. I don’t know if I believe reading makes me a better writer, but it does make writing easier. When I was an early road warrior, I always spent my return flights reading. The books I read (mostly sci-fi) had nothing to do with the work I was doing (CRM and Sales Automation). But, becoming an avid reader filled my brain with words and phrases and ideas, making it so much easier to create presentations, reports, and even emails.
  2. I try to spend time each week to consume art. I listen to music, get lost in Pinterest, watch TED talks. Did you know there are virtual museum tours available online? They’re not the same as wandering around an exhibit in person, but still pretty cool. Sometimes ideas and inspiration come from the most unexpected sources. For me, it isn’t an immediate payoff, but enjoying the creative works of others stores up energy for my own work.
  3. I am making time for my hobby. Creating for fun gives my brain a workout and helps me refine my creative process. Adopting or spending time on a hobby is a great way to practice and develop a creative mindset. When work calls for creativity, I am ready with a framework that I already know will work.
  4. I create with others. One of my favorite ways to enjoy my hobby is to go on a creative retreat. As we work on our projects, I get to see what everyone else is working on and watch how they create. When I get to collaborate with someone else, I learn about their approach to creating. From these experiences, I almost always take away a new idea for how to approach my own creative work.
  5. I have experimented with creative prompts. There are tons of sources for creative writing prompts. I tried a few for journaling last year when I was trying to fit more writing practice in. There are online sources for programming prompts, craft projects, design prompts—pick your favorite. If you want to establish a discipline of creating, but need ideas and inspiration, creative prompts will help you get started.

3. Give yourself some grace

In 2019, I got to hear one of my favorite authors at a DMA Arts and Letters Live event. I love learning about how other people create, and listened intently as she spoke about her creative process. My favorite takeaway: She writes mostly late at night; she joked that her inner critic usually falls asleep much earlier than she does. So relatable, right? Nothing gets in the way of creativity like a noisy inner critic. When I expect perfection or some other unattainable standard, it can easily keep me from starting a creative project. I’m learning to tune out the negative and give myself some grace. Here are 5 things that I’m trying:

  1. I have given myself permission to be imperfect. I remind myself there’s no need to correct/fix/perfect everything on the first iteration. I can make a first draft that might need to be completely scrapped. I can make a sample or a prototype and I can throw it away. Once the pressure’s off, it just feels easier to begin creating.
  2. I am learning to accept where I am on my creative journey by practicing what I call “bad art”. This year, I want to be able to add some graphic facilitation skills. (Because I really admire the cool creative people who fill up whiteboards and flip charts with doodles and cartoons.) And, goodness, I am terrible, really, really terrible at drawing. I think I can improve enough to be able to use this skill in workshops and meetings, but only if I practice. I’m creating bad art right now so I can make good art later.
  3. I am learning to reset, simply by breathing. A deep breath in and a slow exhale out will fix a lot of things. When that voice in my head begins to hyper-edit and I feel like I’m critiquing more than I’m adding, I take a quick 5 minutes to just breathe. After a reset, I can return to making progress on my project.
  4. I am learning to walk away. Sometimes, I find myself staring at the keyboard, blank piece of paper, or pile of craft supplies and waiting for my muse to show up. When the spark doesn’t come, it’s a reminder that I can’t force creativity. For me, this is hard to admit, because it feels a lot like giving up. I’m getting used to being OK with stepping back, making space, and refueling my creative energy. I know I will be able to come back later, better equipped, and ready to create.
  5. When all else fails, I phone a friend. One of the most important ways that I am giving myself some grace is knowing when to ask for help. I am lucky to have some great cheerleaders and collaborators as friends. Cheerleaders do a great job of silencing inner critics. If I’m feeling low, it’s so nice to talk to a friend who offers encouragement and support. Collaborators are great for brainstorming and constructive criticism. When I’m stuck, I know I can call a friend and bounce ideas around. When I have a draft or prototype that isn’t quite where I want it to be, my collaborator friends are there with advice and support.

If you’re trying to get back into a creative groove, try applying these 3 rules for yourself.  Make some space, feed your creative side, and give yourself some grace.  I hope 2021 is a year of creativity for you all!