Adopt Daily Practices to Increase Creative Performance

April 1, 2014
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This is your brain (below left) after sitting quietly for 20 minutes. At right, you see your brain after 20 minutes of movement. Which brain scan do you believe exhibits the opportunity for more creativity? *


Brain scan from a 2009 University of Illinois study by Charles Hillman and Darla Castelli

Companies Clamoring for Creative Thinkers

Sitting at your desk working on your computer might not be the best activity for fostering creative thought. So how do you keep yourself in the flow when it is your job to sit at your desk eight or more hours each day? Movement and/or changing your activity is the answer.

Our culture admires creativity. We hold creative thinkers in high esteem. The Wall Street Journal publishes regular articles about encouraging creativity in the workplace. There must be something to this buzz about creativity and innovation.

Leaders are talking about creativity and innovation. Google’s creative playtime and play space is legendary. Companies try to imitate the creative environments of Clif Bar, Zappos and Starbucks. Yet, little creativity happens and leaders are left scratching their heads for reasons why.

Creativity is not about gimmicks. Innovation is not the result of forced playtime. True creativity occurs in a corporate culture that understands the messy nature of experimentation and exploration and allows it to happen anyway.

In a WSJ article by Justin Brady (Some Companies Foster Creativity, Others Fake It) writes, “Most leaders talk about creativity (or its cousin, innovation) without understanding what it is and how it happens. The process of real creativity is messy, chaotic, sometimes even disgusting, and it reeks of failure, experimentation and disorganization. Because of this, most leaders don’t actually want creativity, they just want the results of it.

Movement and opportunities to bump into other employees for casual conversations are a step toward creativity in the workplace. The physical act of going to the water cooler may be more than fodder for a cartoonist pencil.

“Designs for Google Inc.’s new headquarters, expected to be completed in 2015, set out to maximize casual employee conversations, which the firm says were responsible for innovations such as Gmail and Street View. ‘ We want it to be easy [for] Googlers to collaborate and bump into each other,’ says a Google spokeswoman.” From WSJ article The Science of Serendipity in the Workplace by Rachel Emma Silverman.


Carve Out a Daily Creative Practice

You can take control of your creativity by developing a few daily rituals, which promote ‘outside the box’ thinking. Begin by adding regular movement to your workday.

Here are some tips for adding movement:

  • Roll your chair away from your desk. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Rotate your shoulders back twice. Rotate your elbows back twice. Move your arms in a backward circle twice. Stand up and repeat the process.
  • Roll your chair away from your desk. Stretch your arms out wide, palms facing up. Turn your head to the right. Move your right hand and touch your right shoulder. Stretch it back out again. The left arm is still extended. Do this five times and repeat with your left arm.
  • Walk to the water cooler with intention. Think about where you are walking and what you are seeing. Focus on the water flowing into the cup. Drink and feel the water on your tongue and follow its path as you swallow. Stop and have a conversation with someone on the way back to your desk.
  • Take a brisk walk around the block.
  • Make an effort to engage employees outside your department for casual conversations.

* The brain scan above -from a 2009 University of Illinois study by Charles Hillman and Darla Castelli- compares the brain activity of 9-year-olds who took a brisk walk and those who didn’t take a walk. The walkers had far more activity in brain regions involved with focused attention and filtering out noisy distractions while they were taking a challenging test compared to the non-walkers.


Written by Rebecca Parsons

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