Ten Ways to Cultivate Personal Creativity

This is the last of three posts on innovation and creativity by Brent Darnell, Aff.M.ASCE, president and owner of Atlanta-based Brent Darnell International. For more information, email [email protected] or visit brentdarnell.com.

In the first post in this series, we talked about why it’s important for companies to promote innovation. The second post discussed 10 ways to do just that.

But what about you as an individual? How do you get your own creative juices flowing?

Again, many of these ideas may strike engineers as surprising. But that’s the entire point.

Give them a try and see what happens. Creativity is just a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it gets.

1. Get a little crazy.

Do something weird. Yell at the top of your lungs, or talk in a strange voice.

2. Know that everyone is creative.

Creativity is like a muscle; it can be developed. When you look at the typical profile for most engineers and construction folks, they score high in reality testing (black-and-white thinkers) and problem-solving and low in flexibility. This is not an ideal profile for creativity, but the good news is people can change.

3. Accept that more heads are better than one.

Bounce ideas off others. Brainstorm in diverse groups without any censorship. Different perspectives can generate amazing creativity.

4. Start writing things down.

Make lists. When you get an idea, capture it. Keep writing, even after you have exhausted all possibilities.

5. Reframe the problem.

Create an unusual solution, and then ask yourself, “Why is this a great solution?”

6. Use a ridiculous correlation.

Randomly put your finger in a book, look for the nearest noun and ask yourself, “How is this problem like a [fill in the blank]?” Brainstorming in this manner will help give you some perspective on the problem.

7. Stop saying “no” and “yes, but …” and “I tried that before and it didn’t work.”

Say, “Yes, and…” to build on the ideas generated.

8. Know you are truly unique.

Your brain is the only brain that thinks like you do. Celebrate that and promote that, and know that you can break through anything. Lack of experience can be an asset. Sometimes a master can’t see past how he’s always done it.

9. Get physical.

While you are thinking, do a physical activity: walk, stomp, shake, dance or run. It will help your brain work better.

10. Ask the right questions.

Instead of asking “paper or plastic?” ask “how would you like to carry your groceries home?” A canvas bag might be the “right” answer.

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  1. Nice points by Brent. I may add a couple more.
    1. Think outside the box and be the proud “sheep” who strays from the rest and be unique.
    2. If you think you have a special solution for a problem, work on it on your own even if your so-called superiors don’t give a rat’s ass. Develop it into an idea and maybe a white paper.
    3. Do not blindly accept that 2 + 2 = 4. Always be ready to ask “why?”.


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