Not creative? Here are 10 easy ways to unlock your inner innovator

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How can we better tap into our creative side? Alexander McKay has a few guiding thoughts. Among them: Be open to the idea that things can be changed. Be willing to take some risks. And go for a walk. (Getty Images)

What good is creativity? For one, research shows that doing creative activities can help you recover from a stressful workweek, said Alexander McKay, Ph.D., assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business.

“Engaging in these creative activities can be a good benefit to feeling better and putting yourself in a positive mood,” he said. “That can really be beneficial going forward into the next workweek or, just in general, in life.”

That’s great for creative types, but what about those of us who are not particularly innovative? McKay said creativity can be learned. He offers the following tips to get you started:

Be open to the idea that things can be changed.

Always be mindful of ways that things can be improved on and done differently, McKay said. Just being mindful of that can have a big impact in terms of recognizing ways to be creative. “Sometimes it's just awareness of your environment … and being able to say, ‘this could be done differently and in a better way that makes life easier for other people or even me.’”

Be willing to take some risks.

Creativity often involves failure. “You're very rarely going to get it right the very first time,” McKay said. “It's a lot of trial and error. It's being able to accept failure when it occurs, but learn from it. … Fear of failure is a big thing and it holds people back, especially from really pushing themselves to engage in those practices where they'll probably fail. Start small. Start with small ways to do things and eventually you'll probably still fail at some of those, but learn from them and build confidence and be willing to reach out and try bigger accomplishments or initiatives.”

Get up and move around.

Don't be completely sedentary, McKay said. “Hold standing meetings or go out on walks and have meetings, get a standing desk,” he said. In general, research shows that with nonsedentary workspaces people get up and move around and talk to each other, engage with each other. It just increases the mood of the group overall, he said.

“That's a little different than open offices, which actually have been shown to not be as good for creativity,” he said. “It would be poor for collaboration because people still want their own space. But having some of those spaces where people can still interact and be more mobile, and with each other, can be beneficial as well.”

Take time to get out of the office and go on a walk.

“Most people discount the benefits of walking outside and being in nature and how that will impact your positive mood,” McKay said. “But people find that it does actually have a big impact in a positive aspect on how they're feeling and what they're engaging in. And it can be a really great way to just spend time thinking about what you're working on and just become a little happier. That will help increase your creativity.”

Get a new, fresh perspective.

“Reaching out to other colleagues and talking to them about different problems or aspects of projects you're working on, seeing information or ideas they provide, can help you make tweaks and really bring in a new idea that maybe you didn't consider or maybe you couldn't have even considered,” McKay said. “One way to really push yourself to challenge that — that can be really beneficial for the creativity of an idea — is to talk to people that you don't talk to normally who work in a completely different department and who look at problems from a completely different way.”

Keep a journal or history of what you're working on.

McKay and a few of his colleagues in the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship ask students in their creativity classes to keep a journal and write in it a few times a week, whether it’s ideas, thoughts or things they have engaged with. “It was nice to see that the students benefited from it, and seeing they were able to track their ideas and, even if it wasn't useful at that moment, it could be useful down the line to keep track of it,” McKay said. “Then you can maybe combine those different ideas together, or see how you can actually implement them later down the road. That can be a really great way to keep track of things and ideas that you have.”

Don't shut down your own or other people's ideas.

“Keep them open, keep them there,” McKay said. “Even if it's not feasible at that time, write it down in your journal or keep it on the back burner and see if maybe down the line you can actually implement it. It might have a benefit, it might just not be right at that time.”

Engage in play in the workplace.

Or as James T. Kirk posited: "The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play." Most people see play as the antithesis of work, McKay said, but when you engage in play, you're actually developing work skills.

“If you're doing it with other people, you're developing collaboration,” he said. “People become more engaged. They get into a better mood. It reduces the stress of their work and meeting deadlines and gives them an opportunity to step away. But they're still developing work-related skills in the same process and a lot of creative-thinking skills in that same process.”

Look outside your own department and company.

Look at how other companies are doing things, which can be a good template for what you could do differently. “Even if you can't do all of what that other company is doing, maybe you can implement small pieces and see whether or not that improves the practice or the products that you're developing within your own company,” McKay said.

If you're a manager, don't discount the creativity of your employees.

“Sometimes people hire these external consulting firms, which don't get me wrong, is an absolutely great thing, but sometimes it undermines the talent that you already have available to you,” McKay said.

Additionally, he said, you run the risk of potentially making your own employees feel undervalued.

“Giving them an opportunity to have a voice and throw out ideas can be beneficial in terms of making them feel part of the process,” McKay said. “Also, you get to see and hear their ideas and engage with them.”

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