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Using Creativity to Navigate Tough Times

Natalie Nixon, PhD, a globally renowned expert in creativity, innovation, and the future of work provides invaluable insights into harnessing creativity during challenging times.

Natalie Nixon, PhD, a globally renowned expert in creativity, innovation, and the future of work provides invaluable insights into harnessing creativity during challenging times.

Throughout your life, times of ambiguity or crisis are a given. Things like a job layoff or an illness mean we need to adapt, and we all know how hard it is to embrace change. But I believe your creativity competency is the best way to be resilient

Creativity is our ability to toggle between wonder and rigor to solve problems. Times full of volatility are the ideal days for you to exercise your creativity. There’s a reason why there were record numbers of people learning to bake bread, play an instrument, and embarking on other creative endeavors throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. A WeTransfer 2020 Report found that despite the challenges people faced during the pandemic, 45% of those surveyed reported having more creative ideas than before.

Creativity is truly the key to thriving during challenging times. As such, here are four hacks to navigate uncertainty and grow creatively through the process:

1. Use changes in your schedule to read more. 

If you find yourself without a daily commute to work, or with entirely new blocks of time open to you, read more. Commit to 15 minutes to an hour of quiet reflection or reading every morning. Fiction requires us to experience a reality from a perspective different from our own. Thus, it helps us to exercise empathy. 

You could also dig into the deeper ideas of those nonfiction thought leadership books and articles you’ve stockpiled in your “need to read” list. A couple of titles I’ve just embraced? Aesthetic Intelligence by Pauline Brown; Imagine It Forward by Beth Comstock; and The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker.

2. Spark wonder through reflection and play. 

Wonder is awe, pausing, dreaming, and asking big, audacious “What if…?” questions. We don’t schedule enough time for wonder in our typical work day when we’re rushing from one meeting to the next. When faced with uncertainty, give yourself real time to think it through. 

I give myself five-minute timed breaks to daydream out a window each day. It truly helps me return to the task at hand with an energized and refreshed focus. Our brains need the space and time for neural synapses to shift away from deep, focused work so that new ideas emerge. 

Play is one of the best ways to spark wonder. When we play, we engage in lateral thinking, experimentation, problem-solving, and alternative reality envisioning. What better way to prime our minds for any intensive strategy work that awaits us? 

3. Dig into rigor. 

Be sure to also design time into your day for rigor, creativity’s corollary to wonder. Rigor is deep skill, time on a task, and honing discipline. It is often solitary and can feel monotonous, but it is essential. Some workplaces disguise meetings, procedures, and rulebooks as rigor.

Use downtime to get better at something you’ve been faking being good at. Watching a YouTube tutorial is one way to get a fine-tuned lesson. Or maybe dig into your existing work with a fresh outlook and seek reinvention. You may decide to do a complete and thorough re-work of your business model and identify new strategic partners. Get into a zone, and deliberate in minutiae instead of just glossing over the details. 

4. Look forward with gratitude and generosity. 

Josh Linkner, an innovation keynote speaker, recommends that you ask questions like: “What can we do now so that when we look back 12 months from now, we are saying ‘thank you’ with deep gratitude for this time?” Foresight is hindsight and insight converted into strategy. It requires that you ask better and different questions. Now is your chance to take inventory of what you have done and arrive at fresh insights.

Bob Marsh, the CEO and founder of LevelEleven, recommends practicing generosity by asking who you can help. For example, offer free webinars. When you humble yourself to be helpful and grateful during adverse times, you refuel your creativity. Different experiences expose you to recombinations of old ideas. 

There are always surprising and unintended outcomes during difficult periods. On a personal level, we get to be more reflective, slow down, and identify what really matters to us. And on an organizational level, we get to slough off “the way we’ve always done things” and take a temperature check on our organizational culture

Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick, co-authors of Leading with Gratitude, note the value of gratitude, saying, “As we studied the best teams, the best leaders, the best cultures, there was always this thread of gratitude—always. It was an absolute must-have.”

There is a silver lining in all ambiguous and uncertain situations if you shift your thinking and look at it as an opportunity to increase your creativity quotient. 

Learn more about Natalie Nixon and how fostering creativity can yield transformative results for your organization. 

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