Office Hours with Jeff DeGraff is a video series where the Dean of Innovation interviews thought leaders on the broad subject of innovation. These thought leaders come from various background but all share insight from their personal and professional experience that can be adapted to foster innovation either in a business setting or in your personal lives.

In this first episode, Jeff interviews Andy Molinsky, a Professor at Brandeis University’s International Business School. Andy received his Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and M.A. in Psychology from Harvard University. He authored Global Dexterity and Reach. As Andy is an expert in cross-cultural matters, the conversation naturally revolves around the concept of global dexterity and how we can become better at adapting to new cultures.

 


 

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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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The gifted amateur as a heroic innovator is one of the great American myths. Stories about Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, and even Steve Jobs conveniently overlook their unique brilliance and years of experience. If anyone could do it, they would. We learn by doing and all learning is developmental. The same holds true for creative brainstorming. Research on creative thinking gives us three simple suggestions that will greatly aid in generating great ideas in a short period of time.

  • Fluency: Whoever said that one good idea is better than a thousand mediocre ones probably never invented anything. More is better. One of the inhibitors of creative thinking is your voice of judgment that kicks in when you think too long about the viability of your idea. The key is to generate ideas faster than you can evaluate them. This will produce some unusual and impractical ideas that will serve as triggers for novel ideas that work.
  • Flexibility: Steve Jobs remarked, “Creativity is just connecting things.” Creating a breakthrough idea may simply be a matter of reapplying an idea from one situation to another. For example, to improve their patients’ hospital stay experience, a medical center sent their doctors to live in a posh hotel one week and their own hospital the next. The center simply applied the practices of the hotel to the hospital to completely transform the patient experience.
  • Flow: Most of us have experienced a feeling of effortlessness and timelessness when doing something creative like painting. Researchers call this our flow state: when we are the most creative and “in the zone.” Some people are creative in the morning, while others are more so at night. Some people are most creative when listening to music while others need contemplative silence. The key is to find a time and a place where you typically enter this flow state.

Be an anthropologist and keep track of your life for a couple weeks. Pay attention to where and when you are most creative and the people you are most creative with. That will tell you how to be more creative.

I have a number of strategies and articles on creativity on my blog at Inc. Magazine. Also check out the following YouTube video about how to improve your brainstorming techniques: How to Improve Brainstorming – The Dean of Innovation


 

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.

Learn More