The greatest misconception about innovation and creativity is that they can be generated on demand. Creativity will never be an item on a pull-down menu you can click to activate when you need it. But that doesn’t mean you should just sit around waiting for a creative impulse.

In a world where a single touch on a screen can bring us any service or product imaginable whenever we want it, creativity still runs at its own pace. It’s the one thing we’ll never be able to get on-demand: the spark of inspiration that puts us into a creative mindset. Even the most brilliant artists and writers don’t decide when they are at their most creative. Rather, they understand the internal and external dynamics that shape their productivity and adjust their processes accordingly.

There are times of the day, outside of our control, when we enter states of being conducive to intense creativity. These are called flow states, famously identified and described by University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Some of us work best early in the morning, while others come up with their greatest ideas late at night. But just because we’re slaves to our own biorhythms when it comes to achieving the perfect innovative state of mind, doesn’t mean we can’t control our own creativity habits. Here are three things you can do to facilitate and take advantage of your flow states:

Build flow states into your day. Incorporate breaks for reflection and rest in your everyday work habits. Even brief periods of relaxation–a pause for meditation or a short nap–can encourage creative behavior. Try closing your door and putting your head down on your desk for fifteen minutes. You’ll emerge recharged, rejuvenated, ready to look at your world anew.

Get up and go outside. Just as regular relaxation is a proven catalyst for creativity, so too is stimulation. Goethe and Kant used to take afternoon constitutions–midday walks to break up their thinking and writing. Energizing yourself and getting adrenaline pumping is a great way to reset and see a problem from a fresh perspective. It’s not about merely performing these stimulation or relaxation activities. It’s about understanding the rhythms of your flow states and seeing where and how these exercises can enhance them.

Recreate the environments you’re most creative in. Once you become attuned to the environmental factors that trigger your creativity, you can recreate them and integrate them into your natural workspace. Whether it’s sunlight or darkness, cool spaces or warm spots, music in your earbuds or total silence that gets your creative groove going, find it and capture it. These minor adjustments in ambience can make a major difference in your innovation flow.

Creativity will never be an item on a pull-down menu you can click to activate on-demand–creativity demands you. That doesn’t mean you should just sit around waiting for a creative impulse. You may not be able to control the arrival of your flow state, but you can build your routine around it. This way, when it does come, you’ll be ready for it.

I go more into detail in other articles from my blog . You may also want to take a look at this YouTube video about the myth of creativity on demand.


Discover the power of constructive conflict and how it can help foster innovation. By reading The Innovation Code, you will learn how to harness tension and transform it into positive energy to successfully implement your innovation projects.

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145: Encouraging Innovation Through Conflict with Jeff DeGraff

Professor Jeff DeGraff shows how to stir up some constructive conflict to encourage innovative thinking in the workplace.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The extraordinary value of arguing
  2. Who are the four types of people at the workplace and what creative tensions emerge among them
  3. Effective ways to create constructive conflict at work

About Jeff

Jeff DeGraff is called the Dean of Innovation because of his influence on the field. Dr. DeGraff is a professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan. He has advised hundreds of the world’s most prominent firms. He has founded a leading innovation institute, Innovatrium, with labs in Ann Arbor and Atlanta. Jeff’s thoughts on innovation are covered by Fortune, Wired and the Harvard Business Review to name a few. Jeff writes a column for Inc. magazine and has a regular segment on public radio called TheNext Idea. He is the author of several books.

Listen to the podcast Here


Items Mentioned in this Show:

It’s easier to start from scratch than it is to get out of a creative rut. That’s because we know a lot more about what sparks creativity than we do about what blocks it. The Greeks believed that inspiration came to us through muses who literally visited us. Freud insisted that creativity was a kind of sublimation, a way of dealing with repressed inclinations. Jung theorized a collective unconscious, structures of mind that all people have in common. Today, psychologists like Kay Redfield Jamison describe creativity as a mood disorder, a mild form of madness.

We have countless answers to the question of what drives people to be creative, but the better, tougher–more elusive–question is its opposite: what stops people from being innovative? Why do so many of us have trouble overcoming creative dry spells? There are, of course, tons of studies attempting to address just that, yet many of them are biased by fundamental attribution errors. That is, these theories attempt to impose orderly patterns on complex, ineffable cognitive phenomena. For example, recent reports reverse-engineer the lives of geniuses like Einstein and Edison and identify the qualities that made them creative as symptoms of disorders like dyslexia. To attribute these late visionaries’ talents to psychological conditions is to suggest something improvable and to falsely assume causality. Further, it is to give a tidy explanation for what are, in actuality, the messy realities of the human mind. (more…)