How to stay creative in a sea of corporate boredom

First, try this, right now: Think of a person who you consider to be creative.

I’m willing to bet you didn’t think of yourself.

Very few people think they are creative. Most believe it’s a magical gift which is bestowed upon the smartest, wildest, or best looking*.

*The fact that I am creative AND good looking is merely coincidence 😉

“Oh, I’m not creative,” said my intern as she swiftly built an eCourse from scratch.

“I wish I was creative!” said one of my friends sitting around a pile of things she sewed that morning.

“You, Todd, you’re creative,” said a cousin who is the best gift giver I’ve ever met.

Here are the criteria to see if you are a creative person or not:

  1. Can you think of any problem in the world?
  2. Can you think of at least one solution to that problem?

Congratulations! You’re creative.

Now let’s talk about how to be more creative:

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A) Quit trying to fit in

This disaster of a conversation happens every day:

“Hey I have all these new ideas!”

“Ooh, that’s not really how we do things here”

“Oh, okay.”

This message is passed like a virus from new hire to new hire, from department to department. Some companies have it even if they pretend they don’t.

I have a friend who was hired to “disrupt the organization.” The company was so proud when he came on board: “Look at us! We’re innovators!”

Guess what happened when the disruption started? My friend received curse-littered emails from 4 of the 9 executives for what he’d done. Cool as ever, he didn’t apologize and let the results play out.

The result was major mainstream media for his company’s project and millions of dollars in potential revenue.

You may not be in a position to bring in millions of dollars to your company, but stand your ground when you are right. Use these magic words:

“Let’s just try it and see if it works. We can always switch back if it doesn’t.”

B) Always be looking out for problems

Although it’s counterintuitive, this is the first step to being creative. Even traditional artists, (writers, painters, etc.) usually create in response to conflict in the world.

KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT about the problems you find. At least, until you:

C) Bring solutions to those problems

I don’t care what you think your job title is. From this point forward, you are now a full time problem solver.

See an open position online and know someone who would fit it perfectly? Refer them.

See something missing from your favorite blogger’s website? Find them a plugin which would fix it.

See a letter which fell off a sign? Put it back.

Solve problems. Watch how everything falls into place. It’s like magic.

D) Find ways to grab people’s emotions

Here is one of my favorite stories:

In 1992, Robyn Waters started working for Target. She was given a pretty lowly job, and hated what she was working with. As a former fashion snob, she got sick of Target lagging behind the market and putting out clothing designs a year after everyone had moved on from that trend.

She begged that more money and attention be given to the women’s clothing department. Nobody listened.

So Target kept cranking out bland, old, boring trends.

But when the fashion industry made a switch from neutral khaki to bold color, Waters realized she had to do something differently.

She went to a candy store in New York, bought the brightest colored M&Ms she could find, placed a crystal bowl in the middle of a conference table.

She waited.

As people filed into the room, Waters opened a bag of M&Ms and poured them into the bowl. Turquoise, pink, red, and yellow candies splashed and spilled into the bowl.

Then she dumped in another bag.

Then another.

The effect mesmerized the room. People couldn’t look away.

“Do you see?” she asked them. “Do you see your reaction to color?”

We all know the rest of the story. Target’s bullseye is one of the most recognizable icons on the planet, and they remain a real presence in the fashion world.

None of that happens if Waters simply tried to explain where she thought trends were headed.

You think the world is made of rules. It isn’t.

The world is made of people.

People are made of emotions.

The more you can make people feel, the better chance of getting your ideas into reality.

E) Learn everything

About your company. About your industry. About your craft. About your coworkers.

Creativity is often simply combinations of existing ideas.

F) Stay healthy

At 24, my gut was a wreck. In one year, I was carted to the emergency room twice, missed nearly a week of work for stomach issues alone, had an upper GI and a colonoscopy. My weight dropped under 130. Doctors couldn’t tell me why my body was revolting.* Needless to say, when I was curled up on the bathroom floor trying not to vomit, it was difficult to come up with new ideas.

No health, no creativity.

If you’ve never been into health before, don’t start some complicated diet. Do these things instead:

  • Drink 1 glass of water before you do anything else in the morning.
  • Eat 1 raw vegetable serving every day (not salad. Salad is the worst).
  • Walk or Run until your heart starts beating hard 1 time per day.
  • Do 1 mental health exercise per day.
  • Listen to 1 health podcast per week. Start with this one.

*If you’ve ever been told “you’ll just have to live with this” by any doctor, challenge that. The body is more powerful than you think.

G) Experiment

You know when I talked about the magic words up there — “Let’s just try it and see if it works?”

Yeah, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it blows up in your face. And that sucks. I’m not one of those writers who will tell you failure is awesome because it’s not.

However, the height of your creative ability is proportional to your ability to live with failure. It is the creative person’s imperative to try things, even (especially) if they might not work.

Experiment. Adjust. Repeat forever.

H) Start micro journaling

At the start of every morning, do these things:

1) List the day.

This will remind you, you only have one shot to live the day you are about to live. I’m publishing this on June 21, 2016. I will never have another opportunity to live June 21, 2016.

2) Write 10(ish) ideas for something

This can be anything from what to get your spouse for Christmas to how to invest your money to why Mark Zuckerburg would make a good politician. I say “10(ish)” because your whole goal gets to the point where you can’t think of any more ideas.

Then write 5 more ideas.

3) Write one thing you are grateful for

You don’t have to be particularly clever or wordy with this. Plenty of my entries just say “Kate” or “roof.” Gratitude promotes abundance thinking. When you appreciate what you have, more comes.

It’s the same with ideas.

— — —

The final secret …

… is so simple it’s almost annoying.

True creative people never quit

This article first appeared on Medium.