One of the greatest skills that a business person can have is the ability to be creative.
It's common to think that creativity is only something that "artsy" people need, but the need to be creative extends far beyond an art studio. Creativity is about solving problems, whether they be artistic, mathematical or anything in between. And that is precisely why creativity is such a useful tool in business.
But what if you're not creative? Do you have to be born with the creative gene? Not exactly. In fact, these fives suggestions should help anyone improve their creativity today.
1. Approach creativity like a professional
Usually, when business people want to improve a skill—like public speaking, for example—they practice it. Guess what? Creativity is no different.
The only way to become more creative is to practice being creative. Throw out suggestions in team meetings. Draw up a diagram or a flow chart that shows the different possibilities. Try to think of a solution that no one else has thought of yet—even if it's bad. Stretch yourself.
By taking these actions, you're giving your brain a chance to train itself to see other options and find creative solutions.
2. Limit the possibilities
Sometimes, we when try to think outside the box or imagine every possibility we can overwhelm ourselves with options. It's like we're standing in an open field and the answer could be in any direction. Without any sense of where to go, we often end up staying put and making no progress at all.
Instead, give yourself some boundaries. For example, telling an engineer to simply build a bridge is very different from telling her to build a bridge out of steel. You can develop creative solutions for either problem, but the limitation gives the engineer a place to start, which is the most critical part of any creative problem-solving session.
3. Partner with someone
Creative solutions often arise from a string of ideas. One thought leads to the next, which leads to the next and so on until the final solution is discovered. Any easy way to string more thoughts together, and thus improve the creativity of your solutions, is to partner with someone. Talk through a problem. Brainstorm with each other. Build upon one another's ideas.
As a bonus? Partner teams are found to be among the most effective because they hold each other accountable. If you're working with someone, you're less likely to get distracted than if you were working alone, yet the group is still small enough to be flexible.
4. Don't make creative comparisons
A common reason we don't attack creative problems is that we feel unqualified to find a good enough fix. We look at previous solutions, either our own or someone else's, and we think, I can't come up with something that good or I don't have time to do this as well as I did before. The result is that we quit before we ever get started.
Comparisons are useless. Every situation is different and each problem is unique. Disregard the past, focus on where you are now, and solve today's problem to the best of your ability.
5. Stop making excuses and get to work
The primary thing holding people back from creative problem solving is simple: procrastination. Usually, we know the problems that we need to solve. We know the tasks that demand our attention. We know what the most important thing is that we need to do. But if it involves serious thought or effort, then we often find a way to avoid it.
Smart people can make excuses all day long. Don't be a victim of your own ability to come up with a reason for not doing important work. Creativity will come if you give it a chance. Stop avoiding it and do the work.
James Clear is the founder of Passive Panda. He is an award-winning writer on business strategy and entrepreneurship and has delivered speeches in the United States, the United Kingdom and Switzerland.