7 habits of highly creative people

In 1989 Stephen Covey published the book ’7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ which up until today has sold more than 25 mio. copies. In the book Covey suggests how one can become more efficient at home as well as professionally by following 7 rules. Efficiency, however, seems like an unnuanced goal to strive for in the time we live in. With the future we are looking into we suggest that creativity will be a key, if not the most importance competency. We therefore present an ”up-to-date Covey”: ’7 Habits of Highly Creative People’.

In a more digital and automated future, creative skills will increase their value in the labour market. We need creativity more than ever in order to solve some of the big challenges we are facing. Why? Because the problems of the future cannot be solved solely with the solutions of the present.

Opposed to efficiency, which according to Covey is a competency everyone can teach themselves, only requiring individual training of the 7 habits, creativity is often described as something you either have or not. People often use the phrase ”I am not very creative” or ”I will leave that up to the creative people”. Imagine the same phrases used when talking about efficiency. Not very likely. Creativity, however, we would argue, just like efficiency, is a skill one can build up, like a muscle. A muscle which might not have been used a lot since childhood. A way to train creativity is to train good habits which supports creative thinking.

In the following we have listed 7 good habits for becoming more creative:

1. Leave your desk

Very few good ideas were created while you were sitting in an office chair at your desk. Challenge yourself on a daily basis to seek perspectives that are new to you: Visit a museum, a bowling alley, sneak in on a university lecture or engage in conversations with strangers, travel. When you travel, you are more likely to be open to new input and you are prompted with new perspectives to inspire you upon return. Remember to make room for silence and go to places where you can let go. Be that in a forest or in a bathtub.

2. Be childish

Children are naturally open minded and have not yet organised their world into categories and boxes of thinking. This is why children constantly ask ”why?”. In order to train our creativity, we must look at the world as if we saw it through the eyes of a child. And allow ourselves to be naive, wonder and question everything. Imagination starts with a question: What if…? Sometimes the seemingly most stupid question is the best.

3. Make mistakes

Mistakes are not to be avoided at all costs. They form part of the working condition when being creative. The fear of failing on the other hand is a limitation for creativity to strive. In the early phases of a creative process, mistakes guide the direction going forward, ensuring that less mistakes are made later in the process, where failings will have much bigger (often economic) consequences. So, embrace the mistakes in the initial parts of a project, experiment and test out ideas, and remember that a mistake is not a mistake if you learn from it.

4. Love your limitations

Take the time to understand the real problem which you are trying to solve. Typically, we spend way too little time understanding the problems at hand and too little time defining the framework for the future good solution. Therefore, it is problematic when people ask you to think “outside the box”, because in reality it is often better to think inside it. Knowing the framework, challenging the boundaries and sometimes crossing them makes us even more conscious of the value of a future solution. Creativity strives under constraints.

5. Steal from the best

All good ideas are based on something else. When it comes to creativity there is no shame in borrowing from others. When it comes to creative processes, I often experience an anxiety to steal, as if creativity is only valid if it comes in the shape of an isolated piece of genius. Nothing could be more wrong, and we must let it become a habit to steal, link, sample, borrow and associate from wherever we can think of. Go beyond your industry and seek inspiration from the masters at what they do.

6. Find your play mates

Creativity is no one-man sport. It strives with the input of multiple perspectives.  Historically speaking creative environments always outperform ’the lone wolf’. If you do not have a fantastic team or network around you, at least let it become a habit to talk about your ideas with friends and colleagues or share your ideas with your clients and test them among your users. Most often, it is easier than one might think. What it takes is to overcome the fear of someone else stealing your idea or even worse: make fun of it. This is a risk one must take in order to be more creative.

7. Go for quantity

’Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration’, Thomas Edison is known for this phrase and it seems obvious that the most creative people have a large output capacity. Screen writers always keep projects in the drawer which never makes it big. Artists paint pieces which never make it to the galleries and keep sketch books full of drawings and ideas. Most of us would not be able to simply sit down and think of one great idea. Instead, I suggest you make it a habit to come up with 100 ideas, even if you only need one. Simply because it increases the potential of one of them being a good one.

Of course, I know that we are up against stronger forces than what a simple implementation of a few habits can solve. When I suggest carving out space for more creativity in our (work)lives I also challenge a management paradigm of efficiency which stretches several centuries back in time. What is needed is a cultural change at a large scale. But cultural change starts with ourselves. And requires of us to change our habits in our everyday lives and prove that there are alternatives to qualifying work by efficiency. The benefit of the change will be on a large scale as well as on an individual level; a more fun and engaging work life.