If I could sum it all up, creativity is really about being able to see associations when others couldn’t. Being innovative, on the other hand, is about coming up with something others have not thought of. Whether is it inventing a new product or coming up with solutions to a problem, innovativeness requires creativity because one has to be capable of connecting abstract ideas and facts with existing scenarios before creating something unique and different.
Granted, we are all wired differently (some of us are blessed with the natural inclination towards innovativeness and creativity), but this doesn’t mean that we cannot do anything to stretch the limits of our creative minds.
As Thomas Edison puts it, there is work to be done day in, day out before we could even get that stroke of genius.
Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Accordingly, a genius is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework. – Thomas A. Edison
Whether you’re expanding your innovative capabilities for your freelance work or personal development, it’s never too late to begin somewhere.
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1. Maintain a Keen Sense of Curiosity
The most innovative people in the world are also the most inquisitive among us. They ask lots of questions (often about what the rest of us often take for granted) and they’re always looking for ways to improve things. Unlike many of us, innovators don’t simply settle for the status quo; they love challenging what is widely accepted as the norm or the standard.
Instead of relying on preconceived notions about things and people, they prefer to look at new things they’ve encountered, from various perspectives.
While there is certainly no prescribed formula that will help you adopt such child-like curiosity, making a conscious effort to question everything under the Sun is a good first step. With the magic of the Internet and Wikipedia at our disposal, there’s no excuse for not getting the answers you want.
Equally important, strike up conversations with different people you encounter and listen to their unique perspectives about the world and their lives. Sometimes, the greatest insights come from our interactions with people who hold views opposite from ours.
2. Jot Down Ideas and Thoughts
You’ll need something to capture and organize your ideas and thoughts as you go about your day learning new things. Try jotting down everything that comes to your head including random words, phrases and even doodles. Ideally, you can try linking your arbitrary thoughts together to paint a picture of what your subconscious is trying to say.
Remember that innovation comes from creativity, and creativity is about how you associate different ideas and facts. As you jot down your thoughts into your journal or scrapbook, don’t let your inhibitions get the better of you. No matter how absurd an idea may seems to be, see it as a piece of the puzzle to your inner world which could potentially spark off an inspiration.
Not only does the act of penning down your ideas help you keep track of your thoughts, it can even stimulate your thought processes and lead to one new idea after another. Let your imagination run wild!
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3. Seek out New Experiences
Sticking to things that you’re used to limits your thinking process and perception. To think outside the box, you must step out of your comfort zone and look at the scenario in a different light.
As a matter of fact, the greatest innovators are often individuals who learn from different fields and merge them together into something extraordinary. After all, Steve Jobs innovated and revolutionized technology with his unprecedented emphasis on aesthetics and user-friendliness.
Some of you may think that seeking out new experiences in life entail something grand, like travelling to Iceland to witness the Northern Lights or even conquering Mount Everest. Well, it doesn’t have to be. All you have to do is to try new things to stimulate your mind and senses.
Perhaps you can start reading books of a different genre or pick up a new hobby for yourself. If you see yourself as an introvert, try challenging your self-perception and open up to meeting new people. You’ll develop new skills for innovation in the process.
4. Practise Mindfulness
In the context of psychology, the term ‘mindfulness’ refers to the moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the surrounding environment in a non-judgmental manner. In essence, it is a continuous attempt to pay attention to what’s going around us and being more accepting of whatever it is that we experience through our senses.
With this conscious effort to bring attention back to the present, we train our mind to focus on the present and not let it wander from one thought to another. Besides making you happier, practising mindfulness helps clear our mental clutter and makes us receptive to new ideas for innovations.
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For 10-20 minutes a day, you can engage in mindfulness exercise by simply focusing on your breathing. Better yet, incorporate mindfulness into your day-to-day activities by being fully conscious of whatever you’re doing at any given moment, focusing on only one task at a time.
When eating, savour each bite and appreciate the flavours. When listening to someone, maintain your eye contact and truly listen to what he or she has to say. Once you’re able to notice subtle things which you have never before from your surroundings, you’ll become better at discerning ideas for expansion.
5. Take Risks & Make Mistakes
One thing that separates innovators from the herd is that they are not afraid to make mistakes. Thomas Edison succeeded because he didn’t give up despite failing over and over again. He perservered because he saw failure as part of the learning process while he experiment with his ideas. Innovators like him see mistakes as opportunities for perfecting their innovation.
Keep pushing your boundaries. Innovators embrace risk because they love shaking things up to make things more interesting rather than lead mundane, typical lives. If Mark Zuckerberg had not taken that leap of faith and dropped out of Harvard University to finish up his Facebook project, he would never have realized that his innovation has the potential to change the world.
So, venture forth and take some healthy risks.
Face your fears and do what scares you, because they make for good practice in overcoming your fear of making mistakes.
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6. Share Your Ideas
You’ll definitely need feedback about your innovation, so keep sharing and selling your ideas to people you encounter and see what they have to say. Face your fears and do the talking even if your ideas are at their infancy stages.
Sure, there will be people who will not get your ideas and would even laugh at your proposal. But now that you’ve learned that mistakes and rejections are part and parcel of innovation, you will take these criticisms in your stride and even capitalize on them to improve on your ideas.
Even if people don’t have anything constructive to say about them, talking about your ideas alone will stimulate your creative senses and possibly give you new insights.
7. Stay Persistent
Be ready to persist in your mission regardless of how many others may persuade you otherwise. Sure enough, people who are uneasy with change will advise you to settle for the status quo. Plus, mistakes and failures are inescapable as you experiment with different ideas that don’t work the first time round.
All these roadblocks only makes keeping your faith and staying focus all the more crucial. Some people may call it naive optimism or unrealistic idealism, but prolific innovators like Thomas Edison had to find 10,000 ways that didn’t work before succeeding in creating the light bulb.
Persistence is when you keep going because you’re certain of what you want. Write down what you wish to accomplish and look at the list every day to remind yourself why you’re persisting. Surely, there must also be a deep-seated motivation behind your pursuit for this particular goal.
Identify it and visualize the moment when you achieve what you want. It may seem trivial and cheesy, but repeating such positive affirmations daily will help you manage your morale and keep your spirits high in times of setbacks.
8. Take Solitude Breaks
Persevering with a laser-like focus on your goal is great, but sustaining attention on a task for an extended period of time can deplete your creativity juices. Stepping away from work briefly creates a space for you to re-conceptualize the problem with new perspectives.
It helps to take regular breaks and naps to relax your mind and maintain a conducive environment for creativity and innovativeness to settle in. Take some of your breaks alone by going for long walks, taking showers, exercise or indulge in daydreaming to connect with your subconscious.
It is in such quiet moments with yourself that you will be able to catch those fleeting inspirations.
9. Create Psychological Distances Through Imagination
Besides physically separating yourself from your innovation project occasionally, you can also induce a state of ‘psychological distance’ while working on it. Based on the construal level theory in social psychology, things which we do not experience as happening now, here and to ourselves are classified as ‘psychologically distant’.
Creating such a distance involves shifting the way we think when dealing with the problem, such as by means of adopting another person’s perspective or imagining hypothetical questions that seem unreal and unfamiliar. By making you consider the broader aspects of the problem, it facilitates abstract thinking and helps you come up with unique associations between apparently unrelated ideas.
Just check out how several studies have shown that psychologically distancing yourself from your task can make you come up with more creative solutions to problems.
10. Build on Existing Ideas
Innovators don’t just invent something out of nothing; they build on existing ideas. As a matter-of-fact, many products we see today are the result of merging two or more ideas or concepts together. One good example of such an innovative invention would be your smartphone, which is essentially a mobile phone integrated with advanced computing capabilities and Internet connectivity.
A true innovator must open him or herself to as many potential ideas as possible, identify patterns and connections between them, and finally assimilating them together to come up with an innovation which is better than before.
To build a firm foundation in what you intend to innovate, you must keep yourself up-to-date with the existing tools and technologies applicable to your innovation. Make it a habit to read up on the relevant literature and participate in online communities and discussions to further your knowledge with people who share the same interest.
With a thorough understanding of the field you are interested in innovating in, you would have a sharper eye in recognizing possibilities and be more adept at interlacing different ideas together.