Every other Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal development, personal productivity, or career book.
At almost every job I’ve ever worked at, from a minimum wage service job where I helped people print documents to a full time job in a research lab, creativity and initiative have been rewarded. A person who is a source of good ideas becomes valuable to their coworkers and to their supervisors – and that value often translates directly into financial and other rewards.
That’s the reason I enjoy reading books on encouraging one’s creative thinking, and Stimulated! (by Andrew Pek and Jeannine McGlade) is a prime example of this genre (along with some of my favorites, The Creative Habit and The Path of Least Resistance). Subtitled “Habits to Spark your Creative Genius at Work,” Stimulated! focuses directly on creativity in the modern workplace – spawning ideas that will solve problems that directly help the bottom line of your organization (and, indirectly, help your own bottom line).
Does Stimulated! offer any useful insights that go beyond other readings, or are we better off just sticking with The Creative Habit and The Path of Least Resistance? Let’s dig in and see what Pek and McGlade have to offer.
Introduction: Awaken Your Creative Genius
If you want to be creative, you need to have a good platform for creativity. That means you need to be healthy and have a lot of sources for ideas. Some tactics for getting there include changing your daily routine, exposing yourself to new ideas constantly, visualizing your future in a positive way, eating well, getting plenty of sleep and some exercise, and laughing often. Your first step towards building a more creative life should be along those lines. Get a full night of sleep. Eat healthy. Start an exercise routine. Make a major change to your daily routine. Spend some time each day absorbing new ideas (reading is a good way to do that). Find opportunities to laugh regularly.
Stimulus: The Catalyst for Creative Genius
The “spark moment” is what we’re looking for – that exact moment when a fresh new idea pops into your head. That idea is usually borne by some sort of stimulus, either directly or remembered. The key, then, is to have lots of different kinds of stimuli in your life. Surround yourself with as many ideas and experiences as possible, focusing on your area of interest but often branching out into any number of related areas. Beyond that, simply enjoy a wide variety of experiences in your own life. Eat a wide variety of meals. Go to a wide variety of places. The more interesting stimuli you have in your life, the more likely you are to have a “spark moment.”
Eyes Wide Open: Scouting for Spark Moments
How can you actively seek to create these spark moments, though? Stimulated! points towards conscious observation – in other words, carefully observing the things you see, taste, hear, smell, and touch in the world around you. The book goes a step further than that, discussing the difference between describing and interpreting the things that you observe – and pointing out that describing what you observe is a far more powerful source of spark moments. Other keys include taking regular breaks (to let your mind subtly work through all of the inputs) and keeping a notepad with you at all times (so you can jot down spark moments as they occur).
Spaces and Places: Cultivating Spark Moments
Obviously, each of us has certain environments where we tend to think well. I tend to think best in small groups, actually – I come up with a lot of ideas at the dinner table with my family. I also find that listening to very rhythmic music helps as well – many of my best ideas actually pop out to the music of The Beach Boys – and changing environments sometimes helps, so I often go to the library or simply go out in the yard with a notebook in hand. Stimulated! recommends trying a wide variety of settings, music, visual elements, and so forth in your primary work area with the goal of finding the elements that seem to make ideas pop out of your head. If you find something that works, stick with it – but riff around it (don’t just play the same album over and over, for example).
Amuse Yourself: Playing with Possibilities
Play. That’s the advice of this chapter. Play a game (both physical and otherwise). Make a sand castle. Do a crossword puzzle. Play a musical instrument. Play with children (and/or watch them play). Play allows you to knock down many of the walls that surround your normal activities and almost forces you to think in a different way about the world around you in a very relaxed manner. I think this is part of the reason I find myself often writing about my children – I’m constantly inspired and filled with ideas when I play with them.
Make the Leap: Venturing into the Unknown
Many people avoid creativity because they view it as “risky.” Creative ideas rock the boat. They often force the person that creates them out of their comfort zone – and for many, that’s not a comfortable place to be. So why do it? The people and events that rock the boat are the people and events that really make things work. Instead of hiding, now is the time to be confident and courageous. Visualize the potential outcomes of making a suggestion that really rocks the boat but really helps the business – you’re seen as visionary, or at least as creative and focused on making the business better.
Real Results: Harvesting Creative Action
You have a spark – a very simple but very creative idea – but it needs work. How do you translate that little spark into a roaring great idea? For starters, ask questions about that spark. Throw every question at it that you can. A good question takes an idea and forces it to grow. Another tactic: keep track of your sparks as they grow in something of an “idea journal” that you can turn to when you need to get your juices flowing. Another great tactic is to share your burgeoning idea with others and ask them to throw questions at it and criticize it, then absorb those questions and criticisms.
Keeping in Swing: Sustaining Your Creative Genius
So how do you sustain this forward progress? The key to getting better at anything – and generating creative sparks is just one example – is to practice it every day. Set aside some time for creativity on a daily basis. Engage in activities that get your juices flowing, keep a notepad or a journal with you, and jot down ideas as they come to you. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.
Is Stimulated! Worth Reading?
Stimulated! takes many of the great ideas found in books like The Creative Habit and The Path of Least Resistance and condenses them down into something of a “recipe” format. While the other books tend to ramble on occasion, Stimulated! does a great job of providing a clear description of how to make the creative process work in your life.
Having said that, The Creative Habit and The Path of Least Resistance provide a lot of stimulation in their “sidebar” moments. It’s often the unrelated things that really got my juices going, and Stimulated! more or less lacks those sidebars.
I think I know what the difference is. Stimulated! is a better book for creativity for those that need structure for that creativity. Some people simply crave a straightforward process, and Stimulated! provides it. On the other hand, if your creativity seems much less process-oriented (and I’ll say that mine usually does), The Creative Habit and The Path of Least Resistance are probably better reads.
I quite enjoyed Stimulated! – there are a lot of great ideas inside the covers, and it’s perfect for people in a large organization.