Boosting Creativity through Connectivity

By Pamela M. Olson

November 10, 2015

It’s fair to say creativity lies at the base of all entrepreneurial success. But how does creativity happen? We all want to know how to harness the creative beast—to either unleash natural ability or to become a more creative person. But how?

Before you can apply any strategies or establish any habits to foster creativity, acknowledge two things. First, innovation doesn’t happen inside one’s little bubble. Great ideas form when you inhabit a diverse, dynamic environment. Second, big ideas, despite myths to the contrary, almost never happen because of an “a-ha!” moment. Creativity takes time, determination, and trial and error. 

Interact and Collaborate

Keith Sawyer, a leading expert who has researched creativity for 25 years and published 14 books on the subject, says fostering creativity takes a special kind of leadership. “The best creativity emerges, unpredictably, from people and teams … not from the senior leadership, but from interactions among your employees. The way to build an innovative organization is to encourage people to meet and exchange ideas across the entire organization, to give them time to explore ideas, to expect that there will be dead-ends and failures.”

In the workplace, Sawyer says we must remove the things that “block collaboration and conversation.” For example, “If everyone’s working alone at their desks, focused on meeting deadlines, they’re unlikely to have the small-talk conversations that foster creativity … Many of the most effective creativity exercises are designed to bring together very different types of ideas and very different types of people. The most surprising new ideas are usually combinations of really different knowledge—such as between sales and engineering. Or even connections outside your organization and your industry.”

Angela Brown is known in Utah as a leading creative influence, fostering underground musicians, artists and events for 15 years as editor of SLUG magazine and now laying the groundwork for a generation of creative entrepreneurs through the highly successful festival she founded in 2009, Craft Lake City. Brown, also vice chair of the Utah Art’s Alliance, embraces the concept of creativity through collaboration and connectivity.
“I find that talking with other creatives sparks my own process,” she says. “I get feedback on what we lack in our community and what opportunities would they like to see. I let these ideas incubate and marinate and then look at logistics.”

Brown, whose Craft Lake City festival has launched hundreds of businesses and developed its own economic engine in Utah, has immersed herself in what she loves for decades, a key to creativity, according to research. Before SLUG, Brown worked in the music industry and thrived on creating events. She has since branded numerous successful events in addition to Craft Lake City including Localized, a monthly music festival showcasing Utah bands; the SLUG Games Ski and Snowboarding series and the Summer of Death skateboarding series.

Incubate Ideas

Experts on creativity suggest exposing yourself to different environments and settings. Shake up your normal routine, go for a walk, get out in nature. Brown finds inspiration in travel. “I like to see what people are doing in other markets, then localize it,” she says. “I visit other cities and figure out what is inspiring to me and how can I take it back home.”

Brown has also found that running, besides being great exercise, is powerful for allowing untethered thinking. “Once I pass mile two, once I’m past thinking about the pain, my brain is free to think about other things. I always have a small notebook and pen so that I can write ideas down immediately. Write everything down when it’s just a whimsical idea. Later you can find a balance between what is practical and playful.”

Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From, calls this approach the “slow hunch.” In a 2010 TED talk, he explains that most ideas take a long time to develop, sometimes two to three years or much longer. The “slow hunch” he says, leads to the collision between smaller hunches, to something bigger than themselves. You must hold on to your ideas, keeping them accessible and giving them time to incubate. In this state, Johnson suggests, one should create systems that allow the hunches to come together, such as the coffee houses in the age of enlightenment and Parisian salons of modernism. These were engines of creativity, spaces “where ideas could mingle and swap and create new forms.”

Today, the world is our salon, the vast corners of the internet our conduit to inspiration. Just as important, we have mentors, peers and collaborators as bouncing boards and catalysts for our best ideas. All paths offer promise to greater creativity because as Johnson says, “chance favors the connective mind.” 

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