We Are All Creative by Design

Creative thinking is an innate ability we all have. The truth is that anyone with a normally functioning brain can dream up new ideas. It’s not more complicated than that. But many people believe that they cannot think creatively, no matter what they do. And you might be one of them.

But consider the child playing with a toy where she needs to fit small shapes into holes in a box. The holes only allow one of the shapes into each. One is shaped like a circle and another a square. If you leave the child alone to play, eventually she’ll figure out how to get the right pieces into the right holes, without any intervention from an adult.

Creativity in action is finding a solution by experimenting and playing

And yet, so many therapists believe they just can’t do it. When faced with a problem with their client they choose the default solution and, if that doesn’t work, eventually give up. They quit trying because they are convinced that they can’t innovate.

Where Many of Us Get Stuck

Most children are taught that being wrong or making a mistake is final. Once you mess up, you’re finished. Fail a class or don’t get that job you want, and your life is practically over. But as we mature and explore the world we realize that’s not necessarily the case. Most problems you can fail to solve, yet come out on top by finding a different avenue.

Unfortunately, because this realization is tempered by the belief that failing is so terrible, many people can’t accept that exploring is perfectly normal. So they never explore. When a new idea pops into their head, they brush it aside and instead grab the “known” solution. This immobilizing fear causes many people to think they’re not creative.

But anyone can be creative if he/she is willing to do the work and invest the time.

Here are secrets to help you innovate beyond your wildest dreams 

Becoming the Innovator of Your Dreams

1. Become More Comfortable with Fear

Many people believe that, in order to innovate, you must be fearless.

However, that’s not really true. Elon Musk puts it this way: “I wouldn’t say I’m fearless. In fact, I feel fear quite strongly. But if what I’m doing is important enough then I just override the fear.”

In her book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert writes, “Creativity is a path for the brave, yes, but it is not a path for the fearless, and it’s important to recognize that distinction…we have to be careful how we handle our fear—because I’ve noticed that when people try to kill off their fear, they often end up inadvertently murdering their creativity in the process.”

2. Don’t Discount Your Crazy Ideas

As kids most of us were just brimming with ideas—often quite ridiculous ones—that we knew we could make happen. We weren’t constrained by age, experience, how the world operates, or anything else. But as adults, we often discount our ideas. We tell ourselves, “It’ll never work.” “I don’t know how to do that.” “That’ll take way too long.”

However, those “crazy” ideas are where most of the world’s most successful innovations come from. And those who succeed in innovating revolutionary advancements do so because they allow themselves to believe that their crazy idea could work.

Musk, who currently runs Tesla and SpaceX, two of the world’s most successful companies, is a perfect example. During an interview in 2014, he admitted, “I thought both Tesla and SpaceX would fail at the beginning.” Yet Musk believed in them, so he went for them, throwing loads of money and time into these “crazy” ventures.

3. Learn About Anything and Everything

CEO and biographer Walter Isaacson said this about Steve Jobs: “He connected the humanities to the sciences, creativity to technology, arts to engineering. There were greater technologists, and certainly better designers and artists. But no one else in our era could better firewire together poetry and processors in a way that jolted innovation.”

But Jobs didn’t pull these connections out of a hat. He had to know about things—a lot of things. That’s why the best innovators are some of the biggest learners as well. And they don’t limit themselves to fields directly related to their work. They follow passions and interests outside their primary focus and dive into areas they know nothing about.

4. It’s No Paradox: Be Great and Be Humble

Although it is commonly believed that successful innovators are the recognized experts in their fields, the innovators themselves reject that contention. “I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better, and questioning yourself,” adds Musk.

Therapists need to operate with a “beginner’s mindset” and look for ways to develop fresh perspectives. Because many therapists spend considerable time and effort working toward some form of expertise, it can feel counterproductive to ‘think like a beginner.” But your expertise shouldn’t weaken your desire to adopt a fresh perspective.

5. Relax, Just Let it Happen

From the days of Vincent Van Gogh, the figure of the broody, tortured artist has captured the popular imagination. However, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s been found that many of the most important innovations often are born of relaxation.

History has many examples of famous inventors who have thought of novel ideas while letting their minds wander. In 1881, for example, the famous inventor Nikola Tesla had fallen seriously ill on a trip to Budapest. While in Budapest, his friend, Anthony Szigeti, escorted him on walks to help him recover. While one of these walks, as he watched the sunset, Tesla suddenly had an insight into rotating magnetic fields—which became foundational in the development of today’s alternating current electrical mechanism. Creativity happens when the mind is unfocused, daydreaming, or idle.

Building those Creative Muscles

First, make that long walk—without the phone—part of your daily routine. A 2014 study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, found that people who took daily walks were more creative thinkers than those who didn’t, and taking that walk outdoors stimulated the imagination more than walking on a treadmill.

When you read about highly successful innovators—the Steve Jobs, Marissa Mayer, or Elon Musks of the world— you may think that they were endowed with something that we weren’t. If not, how do they continuously come up with such great ideas that transform businesses and even entire industries? The answer is, they practice.

“It’s tempting to think of innovation as a rare skill belonging to a specific class of people—the visionaries, the creatives, the rule-breakers,” writes Neil Blumenthal, founder of one of the most innovative companies of 2015, Warby Parker. “But actually, it’s a muscle that we’re all naturally equipped with. We just need to get in the habit of using it.”