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Lessons on Creativity from My 8-year Old Self

How to exercise your creative spark at work.

By Robyn Brown

When I was kid, rainy days were never boring. My brother, my friends and I would pretend the carpet in my parent’s house was lava. We jumped from chair to couch to coffee table to avoid getting burned. Other times the carpet was a vast ocean and our stuffed animals sea monsters.

On sunny days, our neighbor’s tree house became a circus stage in the way of Cirque du Soleil. We were ring masters, acrobats, lions and pranksters; other neighborhood children served as the audience. I lived for hours a day in these made-up worlds – our props were everyday objects like boxes, furniture and even discarded rubbish.

And then, somewhere over the years our sense of imagination drifted to the back of our minds. Reality set in – the bubble of Junior High and High School years, the mix of strife and ambition in college and young professional years. Life has now settled in, and we’ve lost our creative spark.

Yet, I truly believe the long-ago skill of imagination (yes, it is a skill) that we perfected in childhood could serve us well in our professions. Most of us in communications and marketing face an almost daily pressure to be creative – on the spot at times. Think of an original idea for a new campaign, think of a catchy tagline for this product, write an engaging lead for our technical article, etc.

Imaginative play is making a comeback these days at our workplaces, and it’s a muscle we’d all do well to exercise. Companies like Group Dynamix host corporate team-building events that pull people out of the office environment and force them to work together to solve challenges by using their imaginations. Additionally, these type of activities teach us to work well together, to trust one another and to communicate. Can you picture your work team playing a game of Capture the Flag or participating in a photo scavenger hunt downtown?

Advanciel Federal Credit Union participates in The Amazing Journey teambuilding day

Here are other simple and unstructured ways to exercise your sense of imagination each day:

Think of other ways to describe everyday objects. Your coffee machine is an energy refuel station. The elevator is a space shuttle, whoosh!, to your office on planet (floor) 5.

Meet your laughter quota. It’s been said that the average four-year old laughs 300 times a day, and a 40-year old, only four. Yikes! Kids laugh most when they’re playing and it comes from their whole body, rather than their mind at work. Their giggles are infectious. Laughter is powerful – it reduces stress, it awakens our brains, gives us a more positive outlook and makes us friendlier and more attractive to others.

“You don’t stop laughing because you grow old, you grow old because you stop laughing.” – Michael Pritchard

Be observant. I love to people watch in public, whether I’m at the mall or the park or in a waiting room. And I really love to imagine what they are saying in their conversations. I watch their facial expressions and body language, and I look at the responses from people with them.

Ask questions. There are people you meet every day that know all sorts of things and have valuable skills to share. Be curious and interested in the potential in everything.

Whatever you try, put your whole self into it. Kids don’t play and also think of what needs to be accomplished on their to do lists. They don’t play dress up or cowboys while checking their e-mail or texting a friend. If you’re going to commit to something, you need to commit 100% of yourself.

Get out of your element. Are you having a creative block? Take a break for an hour or two and play a round of kickball in the park. Walk through an art gallery and contemplate what you’re viewing rather than the project at hand. And, this brings me too…

Keep a notebook with you at all times – by your bed, in your purse, on your iPad, etc. I’ve found that I can’t schedule my creative thinking – it just happens, when I’m in the shower, during my commute, while I’m sleeping, while I’m working on something else. I have to train myself to stop and capture that idea on paper to use when I’m ready. If I get in the habit of thinking over a creative idea, I am actually training my brain to ignore these types of thoughts going forward. You cannot force your brain to be creative in the moment because creativity is so organic by nature.

To take this idea further, creative thinking is often like making vegetable soup. We put in all the ingredients before us including the veggie broth, diced veggies, pasta, and spices – and let the mixture sit on the backburner to stew and simmer for a few hours before it’s ready to taste.

Great ideas seem to come out of the blue. Bob Dylan, for example, came up with the lyrics to the chorus for “Like a Rolling Stone” soon after telling his manager that he was creatively exhausted and ready to bail from the music industry. (Example from the book, Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer).

And something else to noodle on: We use imagination to construct and experience reality as we want it to be. Take a moment each day to ask your inner kid what he or she is trying to tell you.

How do you exercise your creative juices at work?