Guest AuthorPavan Soni

Seven habits of highly ‘creative’ people

By | Pavan Soni, Research Fellow IIM-Bangalore & Innovation evangelist
Are there some traits or skills of creative people that stand apart? Not only that the answer is yes, but more importantly, one could systematically hone such skills. Similar to the manner in which we all are born with the ability to swim but few exercise the skill, the same applies to creativity. We are all born with the ability to ‘create’, but fewer develop and hone the skill, and others to their own peril.
At the very outset, allow me to clarify between creativity and innovation, words which are often used quite interchangeably.
Creativity is the ability of an individual to come up with novel and useful ideas, whereas, Innovation is the ability of a firm to commercialize novel concepts.
In the definitions above, the key operatives are underlined. While creativity mostly operates at the level of individuals and, at times, teams, innovation is mostly a firm-level phenomenon, and necessitates commercialization. Loosely speaking, individuals create and firms sell, something Vikesh Mehta, my mentor at Wipro, once quipped.
So, here are the seven habits of highly creative people, insights which I have culled out from my years of research, observation and reasoning.
Taking half-chances
The famous researcher, Richard Wiseman, who has spent an enormous time on studying luck often says that lucky people turn random events into their favour by being more alert and by taking more chances.  They are more open to new kinds of experiences and are generally optimistic about things around. The same applies to the creative class, those who seek opportunities which others overlook, and in the process they develop new skills.
Back home, one of the most prominent examples is MS Dhoni, arguably the most successful captain of Indian cricket team, and an extremely sharp individual. His ridiculously high success rate, especially in the shorter formats of the game, could well be beyond his luck, and can  be attributed to his ability to take half-chances, and, no doubt, he is deemed as one of the most creative person in the business.
Taking hobbies seriously
What is a hobby? I offer that a hobby is an activity you do and continue to do without
any external incentive. Whereas a job is an activity that has a clearly defined and almost mandatory external incentive. It often happens that as our careers take shape we relegate our hobbies to the more immediate tasks, such as growing up the corporate chain, and as a result, our hobbies are almost dead. Research suggests that there are several creative impacts of side projects.
Creative people know it all too well that hobbies are not distractions but are the very complementary mental and emotional deeds that help us in performing the core job better. Hobbies not only allow to get things into perspectives but also help us dissipate negativity and seek encouragement from things where we aren’t getting judged harshly, unlike a job.
Honing multiple affiliations
I once asked Douglas Solomon, an IDEO Fellow, as to how to identify creative people. Without batting an eyelid, he answered, “hire those who hone multiple affiliations”, or those who keep themselves involved with a lot many things beyond their immediate jobs.On most occasions we define our jobs rather narrowly. Given that we survive under enormous amount of randomness, our assigned jobs are no different, and, hence, there is no reason to limit our talent and time to the day’s job. If nature has endowed us with the enormous amount of talent, where humans have been disproportionately more beneficiary, it’s best to hone multiple affiliations or multiple identities, one of which is the day’s job. Creative people think of this jobs as just one part of the life, and nothing more.
Cultivating humour
Science has offered enormous evidence on the similarity, at the neurological level, between ‘aha’ and a ‘haha’ moment. In both humor and creation there are certain new neural connections that get formed and the two acts have a lot in common.MRI scans suggest that a hearty laughter helps generate better ideas. Little doubt that some of the most famous stand-up comedians are also highly creative fellows, for they are adep
t at improvisation.

Creativity starts with lowering your own inhibition
 and starting to take things not all that seriously. Remember, don’t confuse sincerity with seriousness, a mistake we Indians often make.
Living curiously
One aspect of the creative class that can’t be overstated is their very high levels of curiosity. The book Innovator’s DNA identifies curiosity as one of the hallmarks of highly innovative CEOs. The authors suggest that questioning and observing, both of which are manifestations of curiosity, are two of the most celebrated trait
s of the most successful innovators and leaders alike.
If divergent thinking is one critical giveaway of creative people, a very high intensity of curiosity leads to such thinking abilities. Little doubt that kids are far better at challenging the status quo than adults and hence better at generating novel ideas. Experimentation, which is another key requirement of creativity and rapid learning, is also a manifestation of curiosity.
Networking widely
Against conventional belief, some of the most significant inventions, including that of the electric bulb, have come through collaborative efforts. Most such individuals bring to fore different skillsets and temperaments, and hence the produce is well rounded. Creative people painstakingly develop their network.
But akin to an ordinary network, those of creative types has two pivotal characteristics. Firstly, these have very few redundant connections, or in other words, these people are mostly boundary spanners. Secondly, they seek mostly new ideas and talent through their network rather than mere validation.
Associating freely
So, finally, what do creative people do with so many of such experiences? They simply ‘connect the dots’. Their abilities of overcoming the functional fixedness and drawing connections from across disparate disciplines offer them a greater volume of ideas than the ordinary mortals.
Remember, just like any other thing in the nature, quality come from quantity. The more you do something the better you get at it, and the same applies to ideas. The more you have, the better they become!
The very word ‘habit’ indicates cultivation, and similar to most good hobbies, even creativity can be cultivated. All the very best.

Pavan Soni 12Pavan Soni is an innovation evangelist by profession and a teacher by passion. He has consulted for dozens of organisations including Café Coffee Day, Capgemini, GlaxoSmithKline, Infosys, Mahindra, Marico, Tata Steel, Thermax, Titan, and Wipro. He also collaborated with the Karnataka Knowledge Commission, CII, and European Business Group. Currently, Pavan is pursuing his PhD from IIM Bangalore.
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