Where creative thinking comes from (or doesn’t)

If you’re like me, you probably consider yourself some sort of closeted genius who never thought they’d end up in an office from 9-5. You’re creative, you know you have better ideas than anyone else in the company, even if you can’t type as well, and you don’t neurotically print out dozens of copies of powerpoints before you try to share in a meeting.


So, it’s frustrating to find that your creativity is treated like a machine that can just be turned on and off Monday to Friday. You’re expected to walk in the door and just have ideas, constantly, until you leave. Well, that’s not even remotely how the brain actually works. Now that I’m in a slightly higher position, I can afford to be kind of cavalier about how I work in my office. I take lots of breaks, do lots of reading, and I doodle when I need processing time. I’ve noticed the more I let go, the more I’m actually productive. It’s when I’m sitting there racking my brain that nothing happens.

Well, as usual, I’ve been proven right by science. I’ve been reading an article about how creativity really isn’t a traditional skill that can be used steadily for a normal workday, and it’s definitely a reassuring read if you’re someone like me who’s never really fit into your average corporate atmosphere.


Basically, it makes the point, using studies and individual cases of companies and leaders, that it’s not about tricks or specific ways to “try” to be creative. There aren’t shortcuts to great ideas, and it’s not a gimmick that you can manipulate that easily. What it’s about is giving your brain the space to be creative without exerting too much pressure in a linear way. So, going for a walk is always better than staring blankly at your computer screen. Having lots of whiteboards and doodle pads is a better way to think of things than to sit at a conference table and nervously avoid eye contact with the facilitator.


Most people who study creativity and creativity in the workplace say that you should shake things up and focus more on absorption and processing time than “creating” time, because the actual inspiration is about 1% of the brain work. So, instead of trying to make that the focus of the workday, your work space and schedule should be about facilitating that 1% as fruitfully and frequently as you can.

The most successful companies that use creative people, like tech firms or design firms, have “breakout” spaces and lots of break rooms with games, toys, boards, instruments, basically anything to inspire you and get the other half of your brain working. They look at creativity as a process, where the absorption and processing phases are the things you can easily facilitate, not the actual inspiration itself, which is what’s always felt right to me.
Anyway, this is a great read, and there’s a list of 8 dynamics at the end of it that facilitate creativity and I’d love to compare notes if anyone feels like starting a comment discussion.