Recently, I was introduced to Michael Michalko and Roger von Oech who both have written a number of books on creativity. Michael Michalko is the best selling author of Thinkertoys and Roger von Oech is the best selling author of A Whack in the Side of the Head. I have to say that I have been thinking a lot about creativity and lateral thinking ever since I was engrossed in lateral thinking puzzles as a young child and I think it is an area where I have a specific strength even though it is something that I rarely used in my work.
The interesting thing about management consulting is that even though we are paid to think for our clients, my experience on projects is that we rarely think of new ideas or strategies unless we are paid specifically to do so (which as I mentioned is rare because the client would likely already be the expert in their sector or industry).
I strongly believe that creativity can be applied to many areas of our lives and I’d like to share ten ways that I have introduced creativity into my life:
Cooking and recipes
Naturally, cooking and adjusting recipes is an easy way to introduce some creativity into our lives. I am often combining different ingredients together in different ways to create new dishes. For example, I remember coming up with a so-called ‘white’ dish – it would be a dish of all white ingredients – scallops, chestnuts, rice cakes, white mushrooms. The ingredients would all look similar but each have different textures. I also had an idea of creating a menu where all the names were puns so I thought of a dish called “beard cream” where I would put white sauce on razor clams (simulating the white foam that often results from razoring your beard) or “bloody chicken” where I cook chickens in tomato sauce.
We are creatures of habit, and for good reason. Can you imagine having to take a different route to work every single day? It would be exhausting and would leave us exhausted by the time we get to work. Routines help us automate our thinking so that we are not constantly thinking and evaluating the things that we do. On the other hand though, routines are not very good. I have been watching The Office and there’s an episode where Stanley is doing his crossword and not paying attention to anything around him, so his coworkers cook up more and more elaborate things to see whether Stanley notices or not, to the point where Dwight brings a pony into the office and Stanley leaves without even noticing. That’s what routines can do to us! It can make us ignore things that have changed.
What does this mean for you though? It means that if you always hang out at a specific coffee place or go to the restaurant where you know the food and service are good, change it up every once in a while. When you go grocery shopping, sometimes go to a different place to shop. Or if you go to work always taking the same route, change it up once in a while when you’re not in a rush to see what is different.
In previous posts, I talked about trying out new sports, such as boxing. Even though I don’t regularly go boxing, I was open to trying new sports because it teaches me new skills, hand-eye coordination and it makes me feel like a beginner again. As much as I like to go into something as an expert or to not look like a complete newbie, I also try to find ways to humble myself to make sure that I am constantly growing, learning and improving. New sports will definitely do that to me and I know it can do that for you. Here are some sports or exercises to try out that you may not have tried before: brazilian jiu jitsu, rock climbing, boxing, kettlebell exercises.
Books and magazines
I almost never struggle to find books to read (my home library and my bookshelves have many books I have not even opened, let alone read), but sometimes I do feel like I should go outside of the authors and books that I know to understand what other authors or books have to say on the subject. There’s a certain amount of fear I have of not exposing myself to a wide breadth of thinking and topics that might make me narrow-minded, so every couple of months or so, I will head to my local library and browse the shelves for interesting books. This is also a great way of finding ideas for books, articles or blog posts and I will note down the things that have caught my attention as I walk through. The airport can also be a good way of finding new books, though typically the airport bookstores have books that are popular and more likely to sell rather than the obscure titles.
When ProductHunt came out, it became incredibly popular really quickly. There was something about a site that curated some of the best products, services and websites that was missing on the Internet and even though I have since not used the site for a while, I like to visit from time to time to see what is new. Another great way to find new and interesting articles is Reddit or other forums where people curate the top content for you. Maybe you always go to the same sites to look for the news or to find investment advice or whatever it is that interests you – try out something new, say every Friday, and maybe you will discover something interesting.
The tool of choice for management consultants is often joked about, but it is true, it is PowerPoint. One of the key strengths I had was that I was never complacent about PowerPoint slides. Even when the content was the same from client to client, I would always look for ways to improve on the design, messaging and the graphics that was presented and I would try to never present the exact same slide twice, unless I had to.
One way to find new designs for PowerPoint: search on Google! My favourite ways to borrow (well steal) ideas was to google search for the topic that I was working on and then ‘infographic’ or ‘cool slides’ and to see what others have created or designed. Some ideas were directly related while others inspired new designs or ideas for my slides.
It is hard to be creative at restaurants, but when I was working a co-op term and having lunch with some of my fellow co-op students, I found that there is a way to be creative. We go into restaurants with food that we typically know and enjoy. Japanese food -> sushi or ramen. Chinese food -> dim sum or dishes that we like. Greek food -> souvlaki or lamb shoulder. Those are the things that I enjoy and the things that I would typically order about 90% of the time. So creativity in this case means ordering different things that you would not normally order. Tim Ferriss has an interesting suggestion on this. He says to go to a restaurant and ask the waiter to bring you the most popular food item on the menu and another dish that the chef thinks is good but is rarely ordered. Or you can do what my co-op coworker did which was to order straight down the menu one by one each time he went to the same restaurant. He would order #1 first. Then the next time he went, #2. And on and on. In this way, he did not have to make a decision on what to order and he was automatically exposed to new things he may not have normally ordered if he stopped and thought about it.
The first thing here is to develop and establish a rapport at a coffee shop that you like to go to. This means going there on a regular basis, maybe even ordering the same thing each time. Over time, if the same staff work there, they will remember who you are and what you order. Once you have established that rapport, you can then ask them for recommendations. I like to ask them for what they think is good on the menu but that people rarely order (like how Tim suggests for restaurants).
Back when I was single, I thought about different ways to meet other people. The best thing that I found was to do the things that I liked doing normally. I liked playing badminton. I liked going to Toastmasters. I liked reading. I didn’t want to go to something just so that I could meet someone (for example, one of my family friends recommended I go to church! Except I didn’t like going to church so going to church just to meet someone could horribly backfire.)
How do you find new people outside of your social circles? Dating apps can be a good way to find people that are outside of your social circles. They are people that you most likely would not normally meet or run into and can be a good way of ‘injecting’ some new people into your life.
Do you do the same thing every weekend? Or do you do nothing on the weekends? Locally, we have a site where people can post different events that are going on, when they happen and where they occur. Events such as farmer’s markets, speakers that may be flying in to give a talk, open conferences, outdoor events, family fun, and more. The events calendar can be a great way to find things that are happening in your city that you may not be aware of and to do something other than sitting on your couch in front of your TV on the weekend.
What about you? How do you inject creativity into your life? How do you get yourself out of your routines? How do you find new things to do and enjoy?