THE BLOG
08/11/2010 11:04 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

6 Invisible Secrets to Fostering Your Creativity

When IBM recently polled 1,500 CEOs across 60 countries, they rated creativity as the most important leadership competency.

Eighty percent of the CEOs said the business environment is growing so complex that it literally demands new ways of thinking. Less than 50 percent said they believed their organizations were equipped to deal effectively with this rising complexity. Fortunately, even if our work environments are not as accommodating as they could be, we as individuals have the power to train our own creativity, the same way we would any muscle.

Here are the six fundamental moves you can make to fuel your own creativity:

1. Meet Your Needs. Recognize that questioning orthodoxy and convention -- the key to creativity -- begins with questioning the way you're working. The more we are preoccupied by unmet needs, the less energy and engagement we bring to our work. Take The Energy Audit to find out how you're doing. You can't change what you don't notice.

2. Train Creativity Systematically. It isn't magical and it can be developed. There are five well-defined, widely accepted stages of creative thinking: first insight, saturation, incubation, illumination and verification. They don't always unfold predictably, but they do provide a roadmap for enlisting the whole brain, moving back and forth between analytic, deductive, left-hemisphere thinking, and more pattern-seeking, big-picture, right-hemisphere thinking. The best description of the stages I've come across is in Betty Edward's book Drawing on the Artist Within. The best understanding of the role of the right hemisphere, and how to cultivate it, is in Edwards' first book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

3. Nurture Your Passion. It is often difficult to feel creative when we are in roles that don't excite our imagination. Think of the aspects of your job that you find most challenging, enjoyable and meaningful. What specific steps could you take to spend more time engaged in these activities?

4. Make Your Work Matter. Human beings are meaning-making animals. Money pays the bills but it's a thin source of meaning. We feel better about ourselves when we're making a positive contribution to something beyond ourselves. It's a source of fuel not just for higher performance, but also for thinking more creatively about how to overcome obstacles and generate new solutions. How can you focus more of your energy at work on contributing to others?

5. Make the Time. Creative thinking requires relatively open-ended, uninterrupted time, free of pressure for immediate answers and instant solutions. Ironically, the best way to nurture creativity is to schedule sacrosanct time for it. The first step is to set aside least an hour a week for reflection, uninterrupted by the ping of your email or the ring of your phone. Often our most creative breakthroughs occur when we step away from a problem we're trying to solve and let our unconscious work on it. Try taking a walk, or listening to music, or quieting the mind by meditating.

6. Value Renewal. Human beings are not meant to operate continuously the way computers do. We're designed to expend energy for relatively short periods of time -- no more than 90 minutes -- and then recover. Movement -- especially exercise that raises the heart rate -- is another powerful way to induce the sort of shift in consciousness in which creative breakthroughs spontaneously arise.