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Outstanding UX and amazing products come from creative endeavors. You can’t 10-step your way to an outstanding user experience. Therein lies the challenge that comes with integrating a technical, methodical process with one that requires more ambiguity, less certainty, and much more interaction. Creativity dies under time ultimatums. Yet product teams have deadlines. They cannot simply wait for the creative genius to strike. So what is a product team to do?

Who should creativity come from?
Another way to ask this question, is to ask, “Who is a creative?” Certain people self-identify as a creative — artists, musicians, designers. The real answer is that anyone can be A Creative. There is no magic potion that creatives take deeming one person specialized in creative endeavors and another person, not so much. Individuals viewed as creative have figured out how to access the creative elements of their brain. This is no small task and it may be easier for some than others, but it is most definitely a skill that can be learned. It’s important to begin with the proper foundation. If not, we may be limiting the creative potential of the team. So where should creativity come from? — from the whole team. In fact, outside of the team is a superb place to find creative inspiration.

Where does creativity comes from?
Individuals can be creative anywhere, but setting up creative environments, creative processes and creative triggers can go a long way towards getting the creative juices flowing.

Creative Environments
Creative environments can be different things to different people, but there are some common elements. White, sterile environments, typically do not unleash creative power. There is an exception if your mind feels cluttered or overwhelmed. In that case, stark might just be what you are looking for. Outside of that, typically elements of warmth are helpful in relaxing your mind and therefore instantiating a free flowing nature of your ideas. Consider environments that have more than one seating option, some open elements or spaces and inspirational elements that are displayed in an uncluttered manner.

Creative processes
For a creative process, many aspects can work. A few short yoga poses, a 5-minutes meditation, or perhaps a few long deep breaths. If you are not a yogi or practitioner of meditation these may seem outside of your comfort zone. Keep it short and simple. Small actions can have a big impact on your creativity. Try a few things and see what works. Trying something outside of your comfort zone is preferred as it will help you create new neural connections. Once you find something that works for you, continue to practice this before you begin your creative process. Your mind will be primed to think creatively because you have trained it to do so.

Creative triggers
Creative triggers are much more personal. Some use food or drink to bring about the creative process, but there are techniques that are just as effective and not tied to calorie intake or meals. Consider the other four senses and what elements of sight, sound, touch, and smell instigate a creative experience. The possibilities are infinite but here are a few you might want to try out if you are unsure of where to start.

  • Sight: A favorite heirloom or artifact from your family placed by your computer or writing pad.
  • Sound: This might be obvious, but some classical music could start those neurons rocking. One insight would be to reserve this music (playlist, etc.) specifically for creative endeavors so if you typically listen to classical music, you might pick something you listen to less frequently. Additionally, consider listening to something that you find pleasant but not enthralling. If you are too entwined in the music, it will draw your focus away from the task at hand. I find it hard to enter the creative state with any songs that have lyrics, but others find that listening to their favorite heavy metal band puts them in the zone. Find what works for you.
  • Touch: The items here are endless with stress balls and fidget spinners found on every $1 shelf, but consider find something more personal in nature such as your child’s teddy bear, a handmade scarf, or something made from a natural material such as wood.
  • Smells: Smells could be a bit more challenging in an office environment as not everyone wants to smell your patchouli oil. If you have free reign of your land, a simple candle will do. If not, pulling out a flavored chapstick or a small piece of chocolate will do the trick. Smell inspirations are why creatives flood coffee houses!

Gaining Access to a Creative Mindset
Now you recognize yourself as a creative and have set up an environment in which creativity will be promoted in your brain, what steps can we take to actually come up with creative ideas? The goal is to enter a flow state. Flow state will get you in the mode in which time disappears (hence the idea to set artificial time parameters). Flow state is quite literally why the phrase, “time flies when you’re having fun” came to be. Not everyone knows how to access their creative thoughts quickly. It doesn’t come natural to all of us, but there are strategies that we can promote a creative mindset.

Barb Oakley teaches THE most popular MOOC of all time! Her course Learning How to Learn found on the Coursera platform engages learners in breaking learning down into actionable steps that are exceedingly relevant. In regards to creativity Barb has the following advice:

Getting your mind completely OFF the topic at hand can be one of the best ways to move forward creatively on it. As long as you’ve first focused intently in an effort to solve or understand the topic, you’ve done the preliminary part. That is, you’ve “front loaded” the material into your brain. Getting your mind off the topic is what then allows subconscious circuits to get to work on it. When you later return your focus to the topic, you’ll find your subconscious, “default mode” networks will have provided a start towards the solution.

Barb Oakley

Barb’s ideas around creative solutions are the basis for the recommendation to have an introductory meeting on a challenge in which you do not attempt to solve the challenge. You simply introduce it. After introducing the challenge, allowing individual time as well as group time, and then circling back to iterate through ideas will promote the best, most creative ideas. I discuss this process in context in the blog Keys to Designing Incredible UX.

Creative Mindset in Action
Creativity includes problem solving. Ask any developer if they have ever had an epiphany for a problem they couldn’t solve while in the shower? This is because they are able to access the diffuse part of their brain. Likely the brain has been working on the issue overnight while he/she slept. Then in the shower your mind starts moving a little bit; the gears start turning. That is when the solution comes to the conscious mind. The same thing is required for creativity.

Mastering Creativity
Elizabeth Gilbert is the famed author of Eat, Pray, Love that reached stardom and it was made into a movie with the same name starring Julia Roberts. Gilbert also wrote (among others) a book about creativity called, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. In it she says, and I agree, “…your life is short and rare and amazing and miraculous, and you want to do really interesting things and make really interesting things while you’re here…” She adds, “And you have treasures within you.” Remember to provide the space and time for creativity, set up your environment for creativity, and use those triggers to set up a creative mindset. You will be amazed at what you are able to create!

Happy creating!

A BIG thank you to Barb Oakley for taking time to contribute her thoughts while under book deadline for her new book Learning How to Learn. I’ve already preordered my copy!

Barbara Oakley
Web site

Learning How to Learn



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