Every business needs imaginative problem-solvers, so it’s no surprise that a LinkedIn survey of employers found that creative thinking was top of their list of desirable soft skills. And while many people think creativity is innate, there’s plenty of evidence that it’s a skill anyone can develop. “There’s not really any evidence that one person is inherently more creative than another,” says psychologist Robert Epstein.
His research, and advice from other experts, suggest that strengthening some key skills – capturing your ideas, seeking challenging tasks, broadening knowledge and connecting with new people – can lead to an increase in new ideas. For example, in one study, following these proposals led to 55% more ideas from employees.
Save your ideas for later
For tech speaker and data journalist Alexandra Samuel, the challenge isn’t that we lack creativity. “It’s that we fail to capture the bursts of inspiration we do have, or fail to recall our great ideas in the moments and contexts where they can actually be useful,” she says.
She says our smartphones and cloud-based apps now offer a way to capture these ideas instantly. Samuel suggests keeping a digital notebook as you go, sharing it with colleagues and scanning your ideas file at the start of any new project, in search of a pearl of inspiration.
Broaden your knowledge
Creativity is all about making connections between disparate ideas – so you never know how useful that random bit of knowledge might be. A college class in calligraphy famously influenced Steve Jobs’ development of the Apple Mac, for instance.
“Ideas can come from making connections between seemingly unrelated things,’ says author and consultant Vanessa King. “Learning something new in one area of our lives can trigger ideas in another. So, curiosity and creative thinking go hand-in-hand.”
Connect with interesting people
Surrounding yourself with interesting people and objects will stimulate new thinking. Bas Korsten, global chief creative officer at advertising agency Wunderman Thompson, says having people from different backgrounds is “a catalyst for creative thinking”.
“Contrasting opinions spark new possibilities and allow us to make connections we hadn’t seen before, leading to better decisions,” he says. “Productive discussions, brainstorms, and debates often result in wiser outcomes.”
The most creative people are able to seek out big, perhaps unsolvable challenges and cope with failure in a productive way, says Epstein. He suggests taking on ambitious projects that don’t necessarily have a solution in order to spur creativity.
If you want to see how ambitious projects can spark a creative boom, think of how many technologies were developed during the race to put a man on the moon – from solar cells to home insulation.