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Creative Cake: 5 Ingredients for Economic Innovation

April 28, 2018

For some people, creativity is like breathing. They can come up with abstract ideas at the drop of a hat, and whether the result is physical, like an artwork or project, or intangible, like a great joke, these people seemed to have tapped into some internal creative secret.

Creativity in its very basic form is putting two different variables together and imagining the result. But why are some people better at it than others?

Has this ever happened to you?

You’re called into a group meeting to brainstorm your team’s next big project or solve a problem, but there’s tension and uncertainty hanging uncomfortably in the air. After a long period of awkward silence, smattered with a few anxious suggestions, people begin to tentatively put forward their ideas. Eventually, after a few hours, you come up with some proposals.  

There are several reasons for this uncomfortable situation: fear that contributions might not be good enough, that you’re unprepared, unfocused, or just can’t get your creative juices flowing.

Some of us say “I’m just not the creative type,” but given the right ingredients (recommended by little-known funny man John Cleese) we can all master this valuable tool. You can mix these ingredients together and use by yourself or as a group!

Creative Cake Ingredients

1. Time

There are two kinds of time: time to work and time to dream.

We need to set aside certain amounts of work time with no distractions to focus with intention on our ideas. This time should be frequent, scheduled, and disciplined.

Dreaming time can happen any other time. When we let our thoughts wander, we reach new and peculiar heights. Studies have shown that even when we’re not actively engaged in a task, our minds are still running—brain scans show that a “default network” engages and we link past lessons to our future plans, helping us to network random concepts in our mind.

Let your ideas percolate and filter between daily tasks. You might have that lightbulb moment when you’re taking the dog for a walk, or simply doing nothing at all.

2. Space

In our ever-increasingly busy lives filled with smart watches, laptops, noise pollution, and multiplying responsibilities, space can be hard to find.

Solitude and segregation from distraction help our thoughts process in an uncorrupted environment, allowing us to find our own special spark. You may have noticed that if you’ve tried this in the past you easily become bored—before you know it you’re seeking connection with social media and email. However, it’s worth pushing through the perceived boredom to the quiet serenity.

Keep time for space sacred. Dorothy Parker once stated, “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity”.

3. Trust

You need trust in yourself and in others. Believe that if you fall you’ll be fine and there is beauty in the breakdown.

To create an environment of trust you need to teardown competitive walls and see each other as comrades—not adversaries to outmanoeuvre. However, this is not an attempt to discourage disagreement, as friction can be a mighty fuel for innovation.

4. Play

In a work context the idea of play can appear childish and be seen as a waste of company time, but this ingredient should never be overlooked.

Play is not just for children. It allows us to see the humour in situations, awakening a youthful fearlessness within ourselves. When play is combined with trust it empowers us to try new things in a space where mistakes are not so serious.

We become enabled to try out different combinations of ideas and accidentally stumble across useful answers. When we loosen our judgements and step outside our confined perception of life we make kooky connections that we might not have noticed before.

5. Cultivate your individuality

This ingredient is optional and has not come recommended by Mr Cleese. Try reading articles, watching movies, and listening to music that no one else is. Make connections with people you wouldn’t normally engage with. When the input we receive is different from others around us we can start making unique contributions.

The next time you’re arranging a group meeting, involved in a brainstorm session, or facing a problem of your own, call on these tricks. You’ll shift your perspective and create a little differently.