I’m not a writer by trade and am glad for it. Because I like writing and I would hate for it to become work. (This is also the reason why I don’t think I’ll ever get a PhD.) There is this magic about addressing some blank canvas with the spark of inspiration in you, whether that canvas is a page, a slide, your life or an actual canvas. With that spark of inspiration, the blankness is not an oppression, but an exuberant freedom. It is a giving birth, the bringing forward of something new to the world, and the process is wondrous, even if the output is an ugly howling red thing. I write because it’s fun.
It’s that spark that makes it magic, but the trouble is that the spark is willful and flighty. It is impossible to control and futile to try. That’s the trouble with creativity, innovation, whatever you want to call it. It’s defined by its new-ness, and so, by definition, there’s no build-by-numbers kit for it. It’s impossible to sift through the infinite permutations. So, is there any way to encourage the thinking of something that never before existed? Is remaining watchful all we can do?
I think we can do more.
Lay the foundation. There’s this view that creativity is this chaotic, crazy thing that is supported by chaotic, crazy environments that may include, among others, drug use, manic depression, promiscuity and bright colors. For me, this has never been the case. This might be because the flavor of creativity I prefer is something akin to pattern recognition. I like the creativity of sense-making, though I’ve been known to write a poem when a feeling comes over me that I can describe in no other way. I need a framework to provide context for the new-ness, to help me order the new-ness, hang it in the right place on the Christmas tree of my thinking. This isn’t an arbitrary framework but one based on personal truths that I consider indisputable, such as the passing of time, my care for myself and my loved ones, and the deep uncertainty of the world around us.
Build a pile of tinder. The creative product does not come from the air. It is built from the material of our subconscious, diverse experience, work life, daily observation, culture we imbibe, biologically derived impulses, the idiosyncrasies built into our DNA, and the complexities of our interactions with other people. The richer the tinder, the more likely and fiery the blaze.
Shelter it from the storm. The habits of our daily lives (and especially our daily work lives) are not conducive to new-ness. We tend to fall into the ruts of doing the necessaries, reacting to external stimuli instead of enacting all the degrees of freedom we were born with. It’s hard for us to stay aware of our beingness, like the story of the fish in water asking “What the f[expletive] is water?” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/sep/20/fiction). It’s even harder to shelter creativity at companies, with their profit imperative.
Rub two sticks together. We can invite inspiration in a few ways. Constraints, first of all. They say that necessity is the mother of innovation. We have some power over the constraints we lay upon ourselves, and inside organizations, over other people as well. They can be social constraints (like announcing our objectives to other people), financial constraints (like quitting our jobs), or professional constraints (like setting up a meeting). We can also invite inspiration through new experiences, exposure to new ideas, the breaking of patterns.
Remain watchful. Keep a pen and paper handy for when musings turn into inspiration. Even if you’re in the shower. If you’re a company, keep a CNC prototyping machine or a pile of engineers or a pilot budget handy.