TIME psychology

How to Overcome Creativity Roadblocks

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The riskiest, most dangerous and potentially most interesting ideas are the easiest to hold back

I have a lot of ideas in my head. And for the most part, that’s where they used to stay.

In my head. Where other people couldn’t see them, interact with them or build upon them. Where they were safe and untested and uncriticized. All mine.

Sure, I’ve created some. Some might say I’ve created plenty. But that’s only because they can’t see what I’m not creating. For example, this very post sat dormant for at least a month while I pondered, waited and nitpicked at it.

Because the riskiest, most dangerous and potentially most interesting ideas are the easiest to hold back. I would pin them down like butterflies on a mat, like art at a museum. They were in spreadsheets, in notebooks, on scrap paper around my desk.

And while it might feel creative to think of these ideas, they were dying a lonely death when I wasn’t doing anything with them. They didn’t get their chance to add anything to the world. To affect someone. To spark something.

I lost out, too, with this arrangement. I didn’t push myself to think deeper and harder. I lost out on the feedback or insight or even criticism of others. I missed the chance to discover uncharted territory within myself. I stopped before I could start.

It wasn’t the best life I could give my ideas—or myself.

So I decided to change. To find a way forward, I cataloged all the things that had ever stopped me from creating so I could shoot them down, one-by-one. It turned out to be a helpful exercise, so I thought I’d share.

1. Because the ideas aren’t finished

The No. 1 thing that keeps me from creating is that the idea doesn’t feel complete yet. It lacks something, or I need more examples, or I’m not sure if it’s clear.

A former editor of mine called these “glimmers”—a little spark of an idea, not fully formed but on the cusp of being something. Sometimes you need to let a glimmer sit for a while before it becomes a fully formed idea. Sometimes you can smush it together with a few other glimmers to make something.

The main thing is that idea glimmers need nurturing, which can be hard to do. When ideas are still developing, they can feel embarrassingly incomplete or tough to explain to others. What if my little glimmer is misunderstood or turns out to be nothing at all?

How to fix it:

It may seem counterintuitive, but I’ve learned that this is the time to talk about ideas most, so they can grow from a glimmer to a real idea. You can even post it on social media to give it a quick test. So what if the idea might fail? I’ll be able to get feedback right away and know whether to keep thinking on my glimmer or let it go.

2. Because it’s too hard

Although I’ve been writing most of my life, it never exactly comes easy to me. Occasionally the words flow, but more often it feels like a struggle to pull them out of me.

And sometimes I don’t want a struggle. Sometimes I want to lay around and watch Orange Is The New Black.

As the incomparable wit Dorothy Parker put it, “I hate writing. I love having written.”

How to fix it:

The best fix I’ve discovered here is simply to start. Start somewhere, anywhere. As soon as I put down an outline, a headline, or even one sentence of the piece, the rest begins to flow much more easily. You can also do this with a timing structure. Close down all the distractions and force yourself to focus on just 20 minutes (or whatever time period feels right to you) of writing and no more. The bite-sized task can jumpstart your focus for the bigger project.

3. Because I’m focusing too much on other people’s stuff

I’ve always loved reading. And there’s really never been a better time to be a passionate reader. I get great stuff all day every day from my Twitter stream, my gazillion RSS feeds and the newsletters in my inbox, plus there’s the Sunday Times (yup, I still get a printed paper), everything I haven’t quite gotten to yet on Pocket and the many books on my Kindle.

Nothing makes me happier than spending time reading great stuff.

But if I’m not careful, it can also paralyze me into thinking all the good ideas are taken and all that needs to be said already has been. It’s kind of like a specific, content marketing version of Imposter Syndrome.

How to fix it:

There’s always going to be space for reading, curating and cheering on others’ work. But there should also be a space for building on it and creating stuff of one’s own. Each of us has something to say, and we have the responsibility and privilege of adding to the discourse. It’s up to us to find and nurture the right balance and feel inspired by—not intimidated by–the work that others do. After all, everything is a remix.

4. Because I’m too busy with other work

Even as I type those words I realize what a flimsy excuse they are. Sure, I have lots to do at work and at home. We all do. But you always make time for what’s important to you, one way or another. I could wake up earlier or stay up later. I could cut out all TV. We all have the same number of hours in the day—it’s up to us to use them the best way we can to achieve our goals.

How to fix it:

What I discovered about feeling too busy for writing is that this is generally a symptom of needing to readjust my priorities to make sure creating doesn’t fall too far down the list. The things that have worked the best for me so far are to block out time in my schedule for creative work. I can write on the weekends, or in the morning before I check my email. If it turns out I’m really and truly too busy to execute an idea, I can always give it away to someone who has time to take it on. Because in the end, it’s more about the idea than it is about me.

5. Because I get distracted

From the time I decided to write this until the time I finished it, I did the following: Walked the dog, ate breakfast, thought about searching Amazon for a new rug, checked Twitter, read two articles. And that’s me on a really focused day. Distractions are always going to be present—that’s the world we live in.

How to fix it:

I’ve been experimenting with a lot of different ideas to help me here. The best solutions so far keep me focused by creating artificial pressure: setting a timer that goes off every 30 minutes, creating a deadline (either real or self-imposed), working until the power runs out on my laptop. I also try to realize the difference between productive distraction (walking the dog often leads to new ideas or “writing in my head”) and non-productive distraction, like idly checking Facebook and Twitter.

6. Because I’m afraid

Now we get to the big one—the real reason that underlies all these others. The biggest reason my ideas used to live only in my mind instead of out in the world is that I was afraid they might not be good enough, unique enough or novel enough.

In essence: I’d rather abandon an idea, bury it forever, than have it potentially fail on me.

Possibly an understandable instinct, but a misguided one for sure–especially when you think of it like this:

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Buffer

Execution is what makes things happen–not pristine, flawless ideas.

Not to mention, if I thought about everything in my life the way I used to think about ideas, I’d be missing out on some pretty amazing experiences. Risk is what makes life interesting.

Luckily, Buffer’s culture creates an incredibly safe space for ideas and thoughts from every team member. Here, I’ve learned to share early and often and to offer and receive feedback with a positive spirit. It has made all the difference. You can do the same by finding a group of peers or a mentor with whom you can practice growing more comfortable sharing around.

How to fix it:

I still haven’t entirely cracked the code on this one, but writing this post is a beginning. Here’s what I’m trying right now:

  • Doing other creative things: My house, at the moment, is littered with construction paper from an art experiment gone awry. That’s OK! Part of my new strategy is spending more creative time, even if there’s no direct result to it just yet.
  • Sharing more with others: In the past I would have been petrified to push publish on this post. This time around, I let my husband (himself a seemingly fearless creator) look at it right away. Feels much better!
  • Creating more meditative time: On bike rides, dog walks and quiet moments alone, I’m letting my mind wander more freely. No headphones, no logistical work thinking. Just wandering. A habit of meditation has made this possible, I think.
  • Allowing myself to be vulnerable: I’ll probably be working on this one the rest of my life—it doesn’t come easy to me. But sharing more with others, asking for help when I need it and being more open to feedback from others are the skills I’m working on right now to become more vulnerable.

Getting comfortable with sharing ideas—both my good and not-so-good ones—isn’t something that happened overnight. It’s a daily practice that I’m still working on and probably will be for some time. I’ve learned that the comfort zone is a nice place to visit, but being uncomfortable is where things really get exciting.

This article originally appeared on Buffer.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Careers & Workplace

11 Ways to Maximize Your Creative Brainstorming Time

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Creative brainstorming can lead to success — if you make time for it

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Question: How can leaders carve out time/space for creative thinking each week?

Walk Away

“Get out of the office and into nature, engage in a hobby or just go to the grocery store. Raise your head up to experience the world while you’re in it. The world has so much to offer you creatively — if you’re open to it. But it won’t present your best ideas to you while you’re on the computer or at your desk. It will present them while you are away from the grind. So, give yourself space.” — Corey Blake, Round Table Companies

Wake Up Early

“At the beginning of a day, all the responsibilities of work can have a very strong gravitational pull. It’s usually hard to break away once you engage. Waking up early and taking time to meditate, write and think of creative ideas is a great way to avoid the inertia of your work because, chances are, no one is trying to contact you at that time.” — Mark Krassner, Knee Walker Central

Put an ‘Hour of Power’ in Your Calendar

“One of the secrets to carving out time for creative thinking and goal setting is by physically scheduling it as a reoccurring weekly event on your calendar. I call it my “Hour of Power,” which takes place on Sunday evening, and I haven’t missed it in four years.” — Kristopher Jones, LSEO.com

Timebox It Every Week

“The only way that’s worked for me is putting a three-hour time block on my calendar every week and sticking to it. That’s easier said than done, but a way to make it even more real is to communicate it openly to your team and encourage them to do the same!” — Derek Flanzraich, Greatist

Meet With Thought Leaders

“It’s important to meet with a wide variety of thought leaders. Ask people you find interesting to meet for coffee before work. It’ll give you a different vantage point and will get your wheels turning. Being internal and insular within your industry or company creates tunnel vision and acts as a barrier to great ideas.” — Luke Skurman, Niche.com

Draw It Out

“Take out a big sheet of paper and simply draw out all your ideas for an hour per day or week. Don’t use a computer. Feel free to draw pictures of words or branch out tree limbs filled with every problem — business or personal — you have. By drawing out your ideas, you can find hidden solutions from your subconscious. Collect these papers, and review them regularly.” — Robert De Los Santos, Sky High Party Rentals

Take ‘Walkies’

“Me and my creative team go on walks for 10 to 15 minutes every day. We like to refer to these as “walkies,” and everyone in the office knows that it’s time to drop everything and go for a walk. Around half the time we are just talking about our lives and getting to know one another better. The other half of the time, we have the best creative thoughts. Our best ideas have come out of these walks.” — John Rampton, Due

Adjust Your Sleep Schedule

“Start going to bed and waking up an hour earlier. Don’t check your phone when you first get up. Use the extra time to work out for 20 to 30 minutes, have a healthy breakfast and then do some active thinking about your day/week. I like to take a walk or just pace inside if the weather’s bad. Make this a non-negotiable item on your schedule. Afterward, begin your normal morning routine.” — Nick Lavezzo, FoundationDB

Have ‘Think Tanks’

“One thing we do at GothamCulture is something we call “Think Tanks.” It’s not something that’s reserved for leaders. Anyone can call a Think Tank. If employees have an unusual situation they’re grappling with, they invite the entire team to an optional meeting where they provide the context and the need, and the participants collaborate to come up with creative solutions.” — Chris Cancialosi, GothamCulture

Make It a Priority

“Schedule weekly recurring blocks in your calendar to keep creative thinking a high priority by either working alone or with others. Working alone can be very productive, and collaborating with colleagues or professionals from different industries is a great way to absorb new perspectives. I schedule these sessions three mornings a week and consider it a win when one or more yield results.” — Lauren Perkins, Perks Consulting

Know Yourself

“First, everyone has different times and circumstances when their creativity is at its peak. Chart a week, and you’ll learn your peak times for strategic and creative thinking and your less-than-peak times for emails and administrative tasks. You will also learn what distracts you, so you can determine the best approach to staying in the creative zone.” — Suzanne Smith, Social Impact Architects

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

This article was originally published on StartupCollective.

MONEY second careers

How to Tap into Your Creativity to Build a Second Career

JamesRicePhotography.com Jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, 89, at left, with Ed Laub, 62.

Who says innovation peaks in your 20s? Some artists reach their prime in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s.

When we lived in Bremerhaven, Germany in the early 1960s, my younger sister and I eagerly shared the Little House series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The first one, Little House in the Big Woods, was published when the author was 65.

For the 50th anniversary of his class of 1825 at Bowdoin College, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem (Morituri Salutamus) which ran through a list of giants who did great work late in life—Cato, who learned Greek at 80, Chaucer, who penned The Canterbury Tales at 60, and Goethe, who completed Faust when “80 years were past.” Longfellow, then 68, exhorted his aging classmates to not lie down and fade. No, “something remains for us to do or dare,” he said.

For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.

The assumption that creativity and gray hair is an oxymoron is a widely held stereotype. What’s more, the notion that creativity declines with age is deeply rooted, but it’s also deeply wrong. Anecdotal and scholarly evidence shows overwhelming that creativity doesn’t fade with age—or at least it doesn’t have to.

Launching Innovative Second Careers

University of Chicago economist David Galenson has taken a systematic look into the relationship between aging and innovation, discovering that many famous artists were at their creative best in their 60s, 70s and even 80s.

Galenson’s favorite example: artist Paul Cézanne, who died at 67 in 1906. Cézanne was always experimenting, always pushing his art, never satisfied. Thanks to his creative restlessness, the paintings of his last few years “would come to be considered his greatest contribution and would directly influence every important artistic development of the next generation,” wrote Galenson in Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity.

The same holds for many others, including Matisse, Twain and Hitchcock.

“Every time we see a young person do something extraordinary, we say, ‘That’s a genius,’” Galenson remarked in an interview with Encore.org, a nonprofit helping people 50+ launch second acts for for the greater good. “Every time we see an old person do something extraordinary we say, ‘Isn’t that remarkable?’ Nobody had noticed how many of those old exceptions there are and how much they have in common.”

One of those “remarkable” people is Ed Laub, 62, a seven-string guitarist in New Jersey who plays with famed jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, 89. (Pizzarelli’s bass player is 95.) I caught up with Laub after a weekend gig in St. Louis and Denver and before the group took off to play in Miami.

Playing guitar is a second career for Laub. His grandfather was a founder of Allied Van Lines and Laub worked for some three decades in the business, alongside his father.

Laub started taking lessons from Pizzarelli when he was 16. When he neared 50, Laub realized that what he really wanted to do was play guitar full-time. His parents had passed away, so he sold the business in 2003 and began teaming up with Pizzarelli. They now perform about 100 times a year in all kinds of venues—auditoriums, jazz clubs, private parties and a regular gig at Shanghai Jazz, a Chinese restaurant/jazz club in Madison, N.J.

Laub told he me has used his business acumen to boost their pay. “What I found out is many creative types have no idea how to manage a business,” he said. “No matter how creative you are, if you do it for a living, it’s a business.”

Boomers Taking Career Risks

My suspicion is the old-aren’t-creative stereotype is a major factor behind the rise in self-employment among boomers. Many people in their 50s and 60s are eager to break away from their jobs if management won’t give them the opportunity to exercise their creative muscles.

Barbara Goldstein, 65, of San Jose, Calif., gets her creative juices flowing by promoting artists. She’s an independent consultant focused on public art planning with clients including the California cities of Pasadena and Palo Alto. “I have as many ideas, if not more, than I did in my 20s and 30s,” she said. “What happens over time is you learn things and you become much more effective in the work you do.”

Goldstein noted that with age, you realize if you want to get something done, you have to go for it—there’s no point in waiting because time is precious. To further broaden her horizons, Goldstein is a fellow at the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute, a new, one-year program helping older professionals think through the next stage of their lives.

“If you’re always doing the same thing it’s hard to be creative,” she says. (Incidentally, if you know someone 60 or older who’s just now doing great encore career work, nominate him or her for Encore.org’s 2015 Purpose Prize.)

Economists Joseph Quinn of Boston College, Kevin Cahill of Analysis Group and Michael Giandrea of the Bureau of Labor Statistics have found a sizable jump in recent years in the percentage of people who are self-employed in their 50s and 60s. “Older workers exhibit a great deal of flexibility in their work decisions and appear willing to take on substantial risks later in life,” they wrote. And, I’d add, they’re creative.

What can you do to stay creative in your Unretirement years?

  • Don’t isolate yourself. Be willing to engage with people from diverse backgrounds and of different ages, as Goldstein does.
  • Try something new, experiment, take a leap. That’s what Laub did, going from moving van boss to professional guitarist.
  • Go back to school to pick up new skills.
  • And when someone disparages older people for their lack of creativity, tell them about Cezanne and Matisse.

With time, the Unretirement movement will demolish yet one more stereotype holding people back.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the new book Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He writes twice a month about the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications of Unretirement, and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Send your queries to him at cfarrell@mpr.org or @cfarrellecon on Twitter.

More from Next Avenue:

Transforming Life As We Age

Who Says Scientists Peak By Age 50?

Unexpected Success Is Worth the Wait

TIME Innovation

7 Rituals You Should Steal From Extremely Creative People

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Observe your mentors and study the work of other masters

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it; they just saw something and connected the dots. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”
―Steve Jobs

Over the years, through our coaching practice and premium course, Angel and I have spoken with dozens of entrepreneurs, artists, and creative types about their unique rituals and routines. The really nice thing is that we often learn just as much from our clients as they do from us. They tell us about some of the most incredibly creative ideas and projects imaginable, and we teach them how to fine-tune the process of getting from where they are to where they want to be. A good coach/client relationship is truly a win-win.

Today, I want to share seven of the most common rituals we’ve seen repeated by the most creative people we’ve worked with.

It’s often said that creativity can’t be contained. That creative inspiration and ideas arise suddenly out of nowhere and then fail to show up when we need them most. And while that may be true for a specific idea, when you look at the broader picture, you realize that sustained creativity – having lots of creative ideas over time – doesn’t come from a flash of brilliance or a single moment of inspiration. It comes from a consistent set of rituals that serve as the bedrock for getting remarkable things done.

1. Engage deeply in meaningful pursuits.

Marcus Aurelius once said, “Stop whatever you’re doing for a moment and ask yourself: Am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do this anymore?”

One of our coaching clients brought this quote to my attention about a decade ago. Today I have it pinned to the bulletin board in my office. It stops me from squandering my most precious resource: my time.

Creativity as both a lifestyle and a profession is a daring adventure, and a trulyrewarding one. To thoroughly love what you do while also being fulfilled financially and emotionally is an aspiration and a challenge. That aspiration can become a reality, but it takes lots of hard work, dedication, and some luck that eventually comes from persistently doing the right things. Which is why you must remind yourself on a daily basis of what’s actually meaningful to you, and fully commit to the actions that yield progress in that area of your life.

2. Set up triggers that get you into the rhythm for a routine of creating.

Maya Angelou only wrote in small hotel rooms. Jack Kerouac made sure to touch the ground nine times before sitting down to write. And many of the artistic clients we’ve worked with over the years have done everything from meditating, to singing, to running, to even doing two-hour long workouts immediately prior to working on their creative projects. For example, take a look at our client Fay’s morning routine. Here’s what she recently told us:

“I begin every day with one simple ritual: I wake up at 6 a.m., put on workout clothes, walk outside my downtown San Francisco home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to my gym. I workout for an hour and forty-five minutes, and then I take a leisurely fifteen-minute jog back home. The important part of the ritual is not the training I do at the gym; what’s important is getting in that cab every morning and getting the day started in the right direction. The rest just falls into place. I get home feeling good and ready to work.”

Think about your days. How are they structured? What triggers your creative (and productive) mind? Are you consciously structuring your days with this trigger in mind?

Whether it’s waking up early, working in a specific location, or hitting the weights first thing in the morning, you need to find a trigger that gets you into rhythm – your rhythm. When you design a healthy daily routine that starts automatically every morning, you save lots of mental energy for the creative thinking that comes naturally when you find yourself in your rhythm. Through this personalized routine you will bring out your most intuitive work.

Of course, your routine will change occasionally due to evolving circumstances. The idea is that you make the necessary adjustments and maintain a routine that works – one that maintains the necessary triggers and rituals to develop and nurture your creative mind, and to ultimately do the work necessary to get you from where you are to where you want to be. (Read The War of Art.)

3. Spend daily downtime daydreaming.

Creative types know that, despite what their grade school teachers likely told them, daydreaming is anything but a waste of their time. While structured routines are important for the actual process of creating, our minds need downtime filled with the freedom to wander.

Neuroscientists have found that daydreaming involves the same brain processes associated with imagination and creative thinking. According to psychologist Rebecca L. McMillan, who recently co-authored a research paper titled Ode To Positive Constructive Daydreaming, daydreaming can aid in the “creative incubation” of ideas and solutions to complex problems.

Perhaps that’s why we sometimes get our best ideas while taking a long, hot shower.

4. Schedule in new experiences.

When they’re not daydreaming in their downtime, creative types love to expose themselves to new experiences, sensations and states of mind. This willingness to stretch themselves is a significant predictor of their creative output. Because creative growth always begins at the end of your comfort zone.

Of course, a big part of this happens inside a routine when you’re “in rhythm” and working hard to stretch your creative and intellectual muscles. But new experiences help balance out your routines. They force you to think differently. So make an effort to try something new at least once a week. It can be a whole new activity or just a small experience, such as talking to a stranger. Once you get the ball rolling, many of these new experiences will open doors to life-changing perspectives you can’t even fathom right now.

And with a strategy of continuous small, scheduled steps into new experiences, you are able to sidestep the biggest barrier to thinking outside the box: Fear.

5. Observe your mentors and study the work of other masters.

If you study the lives of enough successful creators, it becomes obvious that most world-class performers in all fields – musicians, entrepreneurs, artists, dancers, etc. – had incredible mentors, coaches or role models who made the activity of practice worthwhile and rewarding.

If you can speak with a mentor face to face, that’s incredible – do so! But keep in mind that just observing a mentor works wonders too. When we observe someone we want to learn from, and we have a crystal clear idea of what we want to create for ourselves, it unlocks a tremendous amount of motivation. Human beings are socially inclined, and when we get the idea that we want to join some elite circle up above us, that is what really motivates us to achieve greatness. “Look, they did it. I can do it too!” It may sound overly simplistic, but spending time studying people who are great can be one of the most powerful things you can do for yourself.

In his book Mastery, Robert Greene emphasizes the importance of studying the work of others using Mozart as an example. This is an essential building block for mastering your craft and cultivating your creativity at the same time:

“Throughout his career, Mozart never asserted any particular opinions about music. Instead, he absorbed the styles he heard around himself and incorporated them into his own voice. Late in his career, he encountered for the first time the music of Johann Sebastian Bach – a kind of music very different from his own, and in some ways more complex. Most artists would grow defensive and dismissive of something that challenged their own principles. Instead, Mozart opened his mind up to new possibilities, studying Bach’s use of counterpoint for nearly a year and absorbing it into his own vocabulary. This gave his music a new and surprising creative quality.”

The bottom line is that studying mentors and other masters can help you diversify your own creative output. Doing so facilitates the process of cross-pollinating ideas and strategies, introducing you to new approaches and ways of thinking. Not everything others do will be relevant to you, of course, but it will help refine and develop your style and tailor it to your own unique creative goals.

6. Lean heavily on your intuition.

Intuition is very real and something that is never wise to ignore, because it comes from deep within your subconscious and is derived from a combination of your previous life experiences and core perceptions about the present. If everyone else is telling you “yes” but your gut is telling you otherwise, it’s usually for a good reason. When faced with difficult decisions, seek out all the information you can find, become as knowledgeable as you possibly can, and then listen to your God-given instincts.

Creative people know that trusting your intuition is equivalent to trusting your true self; and the more you trust your true self, the more control you have of making your biggest goals and wildest dreams come true, just the way you envision.

7. Gradually turn life’s obstacles around.

Many of the most iconic novels, songs, and inventions of all time were inspired by gut-wrenching pain and heartbreak. Therefore, the silver lining of these great challenges is that they were the catalyst to the creation of epic masterpieces.

An emerging field of psychology called Post-Traumatic Growth has suggested that most people are able to use their hardships and traumas for substantial creative and intellectual development. Specifically, researchers have found that trauma can help people grow their long-term contentment, emotional strength, and resourcefulness.

When our view of the world as a safe place, or as a certain type of place, has been shattered, we are forced to reboot our perspective on things. We suddenly have the opportunity to look out to the periphery and see things with a new, fresh set of beginner’s eyes, which is extremely beneficial to creativity and personal growth. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Adversity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)

Afterthoughts

Walt Disney once said, “Around here, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious – and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

This is one of my favorite quotes. It inspires me to write and create. And to move on to my next piece of work, even when I catch myself judging my last piece of work as “not good enough.”

For nearly a decade, I have been publishing new articles every week on marcandangel.com. Sometimes the ideas and words come easier than others, and there have been plenty of times when I’ve felt like my work was sub-par.

“I thought this was a great article. Why aren’t people reading and sharing it?” Or I’ll feel like I fumbled through an article only to watch it receive 25,000+ shares on Facebook. Regardless of which outcome I’m dealing with, I’ve realized one thing: As human beings, we are often terrible judges of our own work. We are just too self-critical to see the truth most of the time.

And not only that, it’s not our job to judge our own work. It’s not our job to compare it to everyone else’s work, or to how we thought others would perceive it. There’s no use in doing that.

Instead, it’s our job to create. Our job is to share what we have right now in this moment. Our job is to come as we are and give it our best shot.

There are people in nearly every career field who make each day a work of art simply by the way they have mastered their craft. In other words, almost everyone is an artist in some way. And every artist will have the tendency to judge their own work. The important thing is to not let your self-judgment keep you from doing your thing and sharing your creative gift with the world.

Just like Walt said, the key is to “keep moving forward.”

This article originally appeared on Marc and Angel Hack Life.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

These Are the Top Six Books That Will Make You More Creative

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

If you read What are the four principles that will lead you to breakthrough creativity? and want more information, look no further.

Six of the best sources I came across are below, with links and descriptions:

1) Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention

Drawing on 100 interviews with exceptional people, from biologists and physicists to politicians and business leaders, poets and artists, as well as his 30 years of research on the subject, Csikszentmihalyi uses his famous theory to explore the creative process. He discusses such ideas as why creative individuals are often seen as selfish and arrogant, and why the tortured genius is largely a myth.

Check it out here.

2) Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

Steven Johnson’s answers are revelatory as he identifies the seven key patterns behind genuine innovation, and traces them across time and disciplines. From Darwin and Freud to the halls of Google and Apple, Johnson investigates the innovation hubs throughout modern time and pulls out applicable approaches and commonalities that seem to appear at moments of originality.

Check it out here.

3) Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

Based on deep and extensive research, including more than 200 interviews with leading innovators, Sims discovered that productive, creative thinkers and doers—from Ludwig van Beethoven to Thomas Edison and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos—practice a key set of simple but ingenious experimental methods—such as failing quickly to learn fast, tapping into the genius of play, and engaging in highly immersed observation—that free their minds, opening them up to making unexpected connections and perceiving invaluable insights.

Check it out here.

4) Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

It’s a fast-paced tour of success stories (and failures)–the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who drank a glass of bacteria to prove a point about stomach ulcers; the charities who make use of “the Mother Teresa Effect”; the elementary-school teacher whose simulation actually prevented racial prejudice. Provocative, eye-opening, and often surprisingly funny, Made to Stick shows us the vital principles of winning ideas–and tells us how we can apply these rules to making our own messages stick.

Check it out here.

5) Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Ghandi

…Gardner examines seven extraordinary individuals—Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky, T.S. Eliot, Martha Graham, and Mahatma Gandhi—each an outstanding exemplar of one kind of intelligence. Understanding the nature of their disparate creative breakthroughs not only sheds light on their achievements but also helps to elucidate the “modern era”—the times that formed these creators and which they in turn helped to define. While focusing on the moment of each creator’s most significant breakthrough, Gardner discovers patterns crucial to our understanding of the creative process.

Check it out here.

6) Uncommon Genius: How Great Ideas are Born

“Drawing on interviews with 40 winners of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship—the so-called “genius awards”—the insightful study throws fresh light on the creative process.”

Check it out here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

The Reason Your Child Might Be Less Creative

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Our schools and workplaces claim to love creativity — but the research shows they don’t reward it. In fact, they punish it.

“…students with the highest GPA’s were the ones who scored lowest on measures of creativity and independence…”

“…supervisors judged their workforce the way teachers judged their students. They gave low ratings to employees with high levels of creativity and independence…”

Via How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character:

Teachers rewarded repressed drones, according to Bowles and Gintis; they found that the students with the highest GPA’s were the ones who scored lowest on measures of creativity and independence, and the highest on measures of punctuality, delay of gratification, predictability, and dependability. Bowles and Gintis then consulted similar scales for office workers, and they found that supervisors judged their workforce the way teachers judged their students. They gave low ratings to employees with high levels of creativity and independence and high ratings to those workers with high levels of tact, punctuality, dependability, and delay of gratification. To Bowles and Gintis, these findings confirmed their thesis: Corporate America’s rulers wanted to staff their offices with bland and reliable sheep, so they created a school system that selected for those traits.

Teachers often say they love creative students. They don’t:

Judgments for the favorite student were negatively correlated with creativity; judgments for the least favorite student were positively correlated with creativity. Students displaying creative characteristics appear to be unappealing to teachers.

Are you a creative person? Want to be a CEO? Good luck. You’ll need it:

In sum, we show that the negative association between expressing creative ideas and leadership potential is robust and underscores an important but previously unidentified bias against selecting effective leaders.

(To learn the secrets to increasing your child’s creativity, click here.)

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Hong Kong

A Tourist’s Guide to the Hong Kong Protests

Travelers, families and office workers rub shoulders with students and democracy activists in Hong Kong's city center protest site

Tens of thousands of people, mostly students, have occupied key locations in downtown Hong Kong over the past two weeks in order to demand democratic reform.

But surrounding the protest camps are some of the city’s most famous landmarks. Around the Central Government Complex in Admiralty thousands of yellow ribbons, banners and posters have been plastered all over the streets and buildings. Families, tourists and workers in their spare time are flocking to the protest site to soak up the creative atmosphere.

While the protest areas are currently safe, please be aware that the situation can change rapidly. Follow the travel advisories of your home government and pay attention to the news if you are planning to visit.

TIME Creativity

Geography of Genius: New Data About MacArthur Fellows Shows Creative People Move More

The next MacArthur genius grants will be announced September 17—here's what sets these remarkable individuals apart

Courtesy MacArthur Foundation

I was not sure where playwright Tarell McCraney would be when I called to tell him that he had won a MacArthur Fellowship and an accompanying stipend of $625,000 with no strings attached. McCraney grew up in Miami, went to college in Chicago, and had no permanent address last September when I was to share the news with him. McCraney is one of the 897 exceptionally creative individuals who have been recognized by the MacArthur Foundation since 1981 and, among our Fellows, his story is not unique. MacArthur Fellows turn out to be a highly mobile population, prompting us to ask, “Do highly creative people move more than others, or does moving make people more creative?”

We recently compared data on the geographic distribution of MacArthur Fellows at the time of the award to their distribution by place of birth. This is the first time that these data have been compiled and made available publicly. MacArthur Fellows are a distinctive demographic, people identified as “creative,” “talented,” “innovative,” and “intelligent” in a survey of thought leaders conducted for a recent program review. The data may shed light on the environments that nourish creative people.

We learned that MacArthur Fellows are more mobile than the general population. Of the 701 individuals born in the United States who have been named Fellows, 79% lived, at the time of the award, outside the state where they were born. According to recent U.S. Census Bureau data, approximately 30% of the general population and 42% of the college-educated population live outside the state where they were born.

Courtesy MacArthur Foundation

This pattern of mobility of MacArthur Fellows resembles that of exceptionally creative and innovative people throughout history. In a recent paper in Science, Maximilian Schich and his collaborators observe that notable antiquarians of the eighteenth century were born all over Europe but died in cultural centers such as Rome, Paris, or Dresden. Fellows display an analogous tendency to congregate in cultural centers. Comparing birthplace to location at the time of the award, the most popular destination state for Fellows was California, followed by New York. For example, 2009 Fellow Camille Utterback, born in Indiana, and 2008 Fellow Walter Kitundu, born in Minnesota – both artists – lived in San Francisco at the time of the award.

People move for a variety of reasons, but one driving factor is economic opportunity. Scientists tend to cluster near the research universities and high-tech corridors of Massachusetts and California. For those in the arts, the concentration of potential employers and prospective customers in New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco makes these urban centers attractive places to live. In addition, there are spillover benefits of being surrounded by other artists – the density of artists makes it possible for supporting services such as art supply stores or instrument repairers to prosper.

But the factors that affect location decisions are not purely economic. Richard Florida, an economist who has written extensively on the creative class, argues that talent is attracted to cultural amenities and to a high degree of openness to diversity. And the economic benefits of cultural centers are sometimes counterbalanced by their high cost of living. These factors might explain why, when we adjust for population, the states that most MacArthur Fellows call home include New Mexico, Alaska, and Vermont.

Our information on location at the time of the award is based largely on place of employment, but some Fellows worked in one state and lived in another. There are also Fellows who are difficult to assign to a single “home,” and Fellows for whom the spiritual home might be very different from the place where they live. Author and 2013 MacArthur Fellow Karen Russell was born in Florida, lives in New York, but was teaching in Camden, New Jersey, at the time of the award. Many of her stories take place in the Florida Everglades.

The data also highlight the contribution of immigrants to the creative culture of the United States. Nearly a quarter of MacArthur Fellows were born outside of the country. Though Fellows must be citizens or residents of the United States, their countries of origin span the globe. Historian and 2003 Fellow Anders Winroth was born in Sweden and was teaching at Yale University in Connecticut at the time of the award. Economist and 2012 Fellow Raj Chetty was born in India but attended college and now works in Massachusetts. Atomic physicist and 2013 Fellow Ana Maria Rey was born in Colombia, earned her doctorate in Maryland, and now lives in Colorado.

Courtesy MacArthur Foundation

It may be, as suggested in a 2012 article in Nature, that research money is the driving force behind the global migration of scientists – exceptionally creative scientists move to the United States because of its science and technology infrastructure. However, it is also possible that the scientists who move to the United States become more creative because of the move. In a series of studies, social psychologists Adam Galinsky and William Maddux found that time spent living abroad increases creativity. The theory is that living abroad exposes individuals to diverse, multicultural experiences and these experiences contribute to the production of new ideas. A similar dynamic might explain why even MacArthur Fellows born in the United States are highly mobile.

We aspire to have the MacArthur Fellows represent American creativity in all its dimensions. Geography is an important aspect of that diversity, and it is revealing not just about the Fellows but about the movement of creative people generally. We strongly believe that creativity exists everywhere, and one of our continuing goals will be to recognize and inspire others to embrace that creativity, in all of its many manifestations, both inside and outside traditional, expected locations.

Cecilia Conrad is the Vice President of the MacArthur Fellows Program. The data behind this project is available here.

TIME Careers & Workplace

9 Ways to Become More Creative in the Next 10 Minutes

Creativity is developed; it's not a birthright

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published atInc.com.

By Larry Kim

Modern culture often labels creativity as natural gift. Artists get showered with praise and proclamations of “you’re so talented,” but truthfully, talent has little to do with it.

Creativity is a skill to be learned, practiced, and developed, just like any other. Juggling takes practice, as does surfing, coding, and driving a car. Creativity is no different. The more you make creativity part of your daily life, the more it will grow.

So how do you make creativity part of your daily life? Here are 9 suggestions–and guess what? You can get started on them all in the next 10 minutes.

1. Doodle Something

Although we may have been reprimanded in school to “stop doodling and pay attention,” it’s time to bring back the doodle. Doodling, contrary to popular opinion, does not demonstrate a lack of focus. In fact, doodling can help you stay present and engaged during an activity in which you might otherwise find your mind drifting.

Suni Brown, author of The Doodle Revolution, notes that some of the greatest thinkers–from Henry Ford to Steve Jobs–used doodling to jump-start creativity. Doodling can enhance recall and activate unique neurological pathways, leading to new insights and cognitive breakthroughs. Some companies even encourage doodling during meetings!

9 Ways to Become More Creative in the Next 10 Minutes

2. Sign Up for a Class in Something You’ve Never Done Before

Creativity flourishes when you push yourself outside of your comfort zone and learn something new. Many communities offer evening adult education classes. These classes are often very casual, with plenty of beginner offerings. Try painting, pottery, or woodworking. How about learning a new language, picking up a new instrument, or taking a cooking class?

3. Create the Right Environment

The truth is that every single individual (yes, even you) can be creative. You simply require the right environment, stimulus, and support. Kids are awash with creative energy in part because they have not yet learned to fear the criticism of their peers or experienced embarrassment from failure. This is now why failure is lauded in adults–it reflects creative, risk-taking endeavors. Though not all creative ventures will work out, ultimately some will (and be very, very successful).

This is why Google goes to great lengths to provide employees with fun perks such as beach volleyball courts and free beer, a setup almost resembling an adult playground. The goal is to create an environment that lets employees feel relaxed and comfortable with vocalizing creative, even wacky, ideas. Businesses that value creativity need to do their best to foster a creative, safe space where unusual ideas are celebrated and where creativity is nurtured.

4. Pause the Brainstorming and Move Your Body

Though old-school business practice dictates group brainstorming as a powerful way to generate creativity, modern research has found that the group collective isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

Instead, try new approaches to creative problem solving. Go for a walk. Physically move your body and consider your project problem from different locations. Physical movement has been shown to have a positive affect on creative thinking, just as theater pros suggest practicing lines in different poses and positions to generate new character approaches.

5. Start a Sketchbook

Sketching is a great way to preserve memories and make constructive use of time that might otherwise be spent fiddling on a phone. Buy a small, lightweight sketchbook that can easily fit in your bag. Start sketching whenever you have even a few spare minutes–draw the salt and pepper shaker on your table while waiting for your coffee, or the crumpled pile of newspaper on the subway.

Though you may be disappointed in your sketches at first, the more you draw, the better you’ll get. Don’t overanalyze your results–simply draw for the enjoyment of the process, not the end piece. Creativity seeps across activities, so sketching just a few minutes a day can result in a major boost of workplace creativity.

6. Keep Toys on Your Desk

Many creative design companies encourage employees to keep toys on their desks–from Legos and Lincoln Logs to Play-Doh and origami paper. Building something physically with your hands, as opposed to typing on a keyboard, can be just the creative jolt you need.

7. Engage in Flash Fiction

Flash fiction is a form of writing consisting of extremely short pieces. There are many flash fiction writing groups online in which members write 100-word stories based on a provided prompt. That’s right, just 100 words. No one can say that’s out of their league.

Have your own try at flash fiction writing. Join a community online, or start your own at work. No pressure, no need to share; it’s just a chance to get those creative juices flowing!

8. Try the 30 Circles Test

This great creative exercise comes from researcher Bob McKim, and is featured in Tim Brown’s TED talk Creativity and Play.

Take a piece of paper and draw 30 circles on the paper. Now, in one minute, adapt as many circles as you can into objects. For example, one circle could become a sun. Another could become a globe. How many can you do in a minute? (Take quantity over quality into consideration.)

The result: Most people have a hard time getting to 30, largely because we have a tendency as adults to self-edit. Kids are great at simply exploring possibilities without being self-critical, whereas adults have a harder time. Sometimes, even the desire to be original can be a form of self-editing. Don’t forget–good artists copy, great artists steal.

9. Role-play Away

Role-playing isn’t just for the geeks at Comic-Con (no judgment; we love you guys). Role-playing can help you develop new solutions to existing problems by putting yourself in the shoes of a client or customer.

Even if you’ve already made efforts to enter the client’s mindset, physically role-playing situations with co-workers can generate powerful revelations and project solutions. As children, role-playing is how our imaginations thrived, from baking mud pies and playing house to fighting off baddies and exploring the jungles in our own backyards. It’s time to bring back the power of play.

TIME psychology

Creative Thinking Exercises: 8 Steps to Workplace Creativity

A while back I rounded up a lot of the research and posted my four fundamental rules for increasing creativity.

But those aren’t all easy to do at the office.

The list includes getting drunk, taking naps and showers, and other stuff that could lead to a visit from the HR Hitman.

What are some research-backed creative thinking exercises that address the challenges of the modern workplace?

Here are 8. They’re unconventional, but they work.

 

#1) Hide From The Boss

Yeah, you heard me. Creative thinking exercise #1 is run and hide from your boss.

Not 24/7, mind you, but definitely when you’re trying to knock out something new and original.

As Stanford MBA school professors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Bob Sutton point out,bosses can hurt creativity.

Via Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-based Management:

…when a group does creative work, a large body of research shows that the more that authority figures hang around, the more questions they ask, and especially the more feedback they give their people, the less creative the work will be. Why? Because doing creative work entails constant setbacks and failure, and people want to succeed when the boss is watching–which means doing proven, less creative things that are sure to work.

 

#2) Actually, Hide from EVERYBODY

Research shows that individuals who generate ideas on their own and then meet with a group afterward come up with more (and better) ideas.

Via Imagine: How Creativity Works:

Not only did the solo students come up with twice as many solutions as the brainstorming groups but their solutions were deemed more “feasible” and “effective” by a panel of judges. In other words, brainstorming didn’t unleash the potential of the group. Instead, the technique suppressed it, making each individual less creative.

As group size goes up, creativity and effectiveness goes down.

Via Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking:

The “evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups,” writes the organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham. “If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.”

 

#3) Be Creative At The Office By Not Being At The Office

You’re more creative when you work from home.

If you can do creative projects there, you might be up to 20% more productive:

On the uncreative tasks, people were 6% to 10% less productive outside the lab. The fall-off was steepest among the least productive third of workers. (People who reported procrastinating on their homework were also, unsurprisingly, poor telecommuters—as were men.) On the creative tasks, by contrast, people were 11% to 20% more productive outside the lab.

 

#4) Mess Up Your Desk

Research shows an organized office might make you behave better but a messy office can lead to more creative breakthroughs:

Experiment 2 showed that participants in a disorderly room were more creative than participants in an orderly room.

 

#5) Do Not Procrastinate

What’s that you’re saying? You work better with that last minute time pressure?

Harvard’s Teresa Amabile says no, you don’t:

We found that on days of the most extreme time pressure, the professionals in our study were 45 percent less likely to come up with a new idea or solve a complex problem. Even worse, there’s a kind of “pressure hangover,” with lower creativity persisting for two days or more.

(Here are more tips on beating procrastination.)

 

#6) Relax, Get Happy, And Daydream

Watch comedy videos on YouTube. Seriously, it works.

(Tell people it’s another one of your “very serious creative thinking exercises.”)

Via Imagine: How Creativity Works:

After watching a short, humorous video— Beeman uses a clip of Robin Williams doing standup— subjects have significantly more epiphanies, at least when compared with those who were shown scary or boring videos.

More happy = More creative.

Via The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work:

Our diary study revealed a definitive connection between positive emotion and creativity. We looked at specific emotions as well as overall mood (the aggregate of a person’s positive and negative emotions during the day). Overall, the more positive a person’s mood on a given day, the more creative thinking he did that day. Across all study participants, there was a 50 percent increase in the odds of having a creative idea on days when people reported positive moods, compared with days when they reported negative moods.

People whose minds frequently wander are more creative and better problem solvers.

Via 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People:

Mind-wandering allows one part of the brain to focus on the task at hand, and another part of the brain to keep a higher goal in mind. Christoff (2009) at the University of California, Santa Barbara has evidence that people whose minds wander a lot are more creative and better problem solvers. Their brains have them working on the task at hand but simultaneously processing other information and making connections.

 

#7) Record Good Ideas In A Notebook

“Eureka!” moments are bunk.

Research shows strokes of genius emerge over time, and the greats often kept track of them in notebooks.

Via Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity:

Creativity started with the notebooks’ sketches and jottings, and only later resulted in a pure, powerful idea…Instead of arriving in one giant leap, great creations emerged by zigs and zags as their creators engaged over and over again with these externalized images.

And don’t write down every idea “no matter how crazy.” Rules help.

Focusing your efforts on being as creative as possible reduces the number of ideas but increases the number of good ideas.

Via Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration:

Researchers next looked for idea-generating rules that would work even better than Osborn’s. They told their subjects: “The more imaginative or creative your ideas, the higher your score will be. Each idea will be scored in terms of (1) how unique or different it is— how much it differs from the common use and (2) how valuable it is— either socially, artistically, economically, etc.” These instructions are very different from those given for classic brainstorming because people are being told to use specific directions in judging which ideas they come up with. Groups working with these instructions have fewer ideas than brainstorming groups, but they have more good ideas.

 

#8) Present Your Ideas To Colleagues — and FIGHT

This might be the shift from “creative thinking exercises” to “creative shoutingexercises.”

Don’t be open and accepting. When people debate, they’re more creative.

Via Imagine: How Creativity Works:

Which teams did the best? The results weren’t even close: while the brainstorming groups slightly outperformed the groups given no instructions, people in the debate condition were far more creative. On average, they generated nearly 25 percent more ideas.

(Here’s more on why everything you know about brainstorming is wrong.)

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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