And the Winner Is …

LinkedIn Learning recently reported the skills that companies are looking for the most in 2019, based on an analysis of the 50,000 professional skills used in 30 million companies. At the top of the list of skills most valued in today’s workplace was creativity, and economic trends suggest that this skill will be even more important in the years ahead: LinkedIn Learning concluded that as process-driven jobs become less relevant in the world of work, learning how to think more creatively will consistently deliver the greatest long-term benefit to any employee, regardless of his or her role or title.

Raise Your Hand if You Consider Yourself to Be Really Creative

As the adage goes, creativity is intelligence having fun. But it’s not just for artists, musicians, writers and graphic designers. The truth is we are all creative, and the people who tend to be labelled “creative types” are the ones who have made a deliberate decision to spend time cultivating it.

Research on twins confirms that while intelligence has a strong genetic component, less than 20% of creativity is determined by nature. Recent evidence suggests that creativity is a learned skill — one that you can cultivate and develop, a critical life skill that grows exponentially every time you use it.

The Advantages of a Creative Mindset

People who adopt a creative mindset tend to look beyond the first right answer by generating a range of alternative approaches and ideas. They are able to identify imaginative solutions and will question traditional assumptions. These individuals can uncover different avenues and opportunities when faced with unfamiliar situations. They make connections between ideas and recognize patterns and relationships. Curious by nature, they can suspend judgment, and they can tolerate ambiguity in the workplace. More inclined to solve problems through collaborative enterprise, creative people are likely to be catalysts for the introduction of new possibilities and directions. Capable of combining a number of established approaches to create innovative solutions, they will often focus on the practical application of novel ideas.

10 Practical Ways to Build Your Personal Creativity

1. Become a beginner. Learn something new like hula-hooping, wood carving or dancing — or why not learn a new language? Practice your drawing skills. Sketching an idea is often more natural than writing. Envision how your problem may look at a future desired state, and draw what it would look like.

2. Recognize that your rational, logical brain is slower to wake in the morning, so spend the first few minutes of every day in a state of relaxed attention and see if you can generate new ideas. Try using Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages” ritual (from “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity”) to get your creative juices flowing; write, in longhand, three uncensored pages of whatever comes into your mind shortly after you wake up each morning.

3. While silence is best for focus, ambient noise levels (not loud) have been found to improve creative thinking once we are fully awake. Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports” is often cited as one of the best examples of ambient music.

4. Try sticking to a strict schedule. Most creative minds schedule their time. Ernest Hemingway rose at 6 a.m. every day and worked until his midday break. Psychologist William James observed that an effective schedule allows us to “free our minds to advance to really interesting fields of action.”

5. Be sarcastic. Research has found that the dual meanings conveyed in sarcasm can increase your ability to solve creative problems.

6. Take it lying down. Evidence suggests that our ability to solve creative problems may improve when we are flat on our back. Researchers at Australian National University discovered that volunteers were faster at solving anagrams lying down than when they were standing. Warning: Excessive use of this unconventional strategy may prove to be counterproductive, especially if you are feeling sleepy!

7. Think inside the box. Imposing seemingly unreasonable constraints can often inspire greater creativity. Dr. Seuss found that setting limits to his work led to one of the most popular children’s books in history: “Green Eggs and Ham” was the result of a bet that he wouldn’t be able to write a book using only 50 words. He replicated this approach for other books, too; he wrote “The Cat in the Hat” using only first-grade vocabulary. Creating boundaries can sometimes stop you drowning in a sea of possibilities.

8. Forget about brainstorming. New research suggests that the adoption of a “no idea is a bad idea” approach may actually stifle creativity. As an alternative, watch Linda Hill’s TED Talk, “How to Manage for Collective Creativity,” to help you develop a “marketplace of ideas” by focusing on constructive debates.

9. Widen the spectrum. PayPal founder Peter Thiel made a point of hiring staff with autism to encourage the exploration of innovative ideas by reducing the potential for what he calls “herd-like thinking.”

10. Netflix and chill? Traditional hierarchical cultures can sometimes disenfranchise employees and stifle levels of innovation. Emulate the successes of organizations like Netflix and Spotify; make it easier for employees to develop and act on new ideas by introducing flatter structures with fewer levels of management.

Creativity Pays

There is plenty of evidence to confirm that deliberately cultivating your creativity will pay dividends – both at work and beyond. A global survey by Adobe found that businesses that encourage creative thinking improve productivity and customer satisfaction, deliver a better customer experience, and are more financially successful.

In addition, according to the research, employees who describe themselves as more creative are likely to believe they are innovative, confident, fulfilled and happy at work. It appears that exercising your creative muscles may even influence your income levels; self-described creative people earn an average of 13% more than non-creative types.

So, perhaps now is the time to take it lying down, be sarcastic, listen to some ambient music, work to a strict schedule … and become more creative!