Feature Article: How to boost your creativity at work

Stephanie Whittaker
Special to The Gazette

Artists, musicians and writers understand it and use it every day in their work. The creative process, that is. But you don’t have to be churning out great works of art in your workaday life to benefit from being creative. Even if you work in accounting, information technology, laboratory research or sales, using your creative impulses on the job will enable you to do better work.

Employers want their workforces to be creative because it can benefit the bottom line but most workplaces are set up to engage the left (or rational, logical and linear) hemisphere of the brain rather than the right (emotional, visual and sensory) side, says Barbara Florio Graham, a creativity consultant in Gatineau who teaches creativity online (www.simonteakettle.com) and in workshops. “Offices tend to be full of charts and columns and calendars that engage the left brain,” she says.

Think of your right brain as an attention-seeking child that keeps nudging at the left brain while you’re trying to work, says Florio Graham. Understand that it wants to play. If you give your right hemisphere the stimuli it craves, it will work harmoniously with your left brain.

“There’s common creativity and grandiose creativity,” says Marie-Ange Bourdon, a headhunter and career coach with Bourdon and Associates Executive Search in Montreal, who offers creativity workshops. “The common variety includes cooking or finding a new promotional article to please a customer. Grandiose creativity involves creating computer games or designing buildings. We are all creative at a certain level.”

There are things you can do to stimulate the right hemisphere of your brain at work, say Bourdon and Florio Graham, and they’ll make you better at your job. Here are their tips.

* Play music while you work. Songs with lyrics will engage your left brain so play instrumental music instead to engage your right brain, says Florio Graham.

* Keep small tactile toys within reach and play with them throughout the day, she says. Your right brain wants to play and this can prevent your mind from wandering when you¹re trying to accomplish left-brain tasks.

* Use your non-dominant hand to write notes during meetings and brain-storming sessions, Florio Graham says. No, it’s not easy but it will help you tap into your unconscious and you’ll gain access to better ideas. Use a pencil rather than a pen and unlined paper. If you work in sales or marketing, try writing the following with your non-dominant hand: “If I were a customer, I would want….”

”Because you’re concentrating very hard to write with the non-dominant hand, your right brain actually takes over the process,” she said.

* Post lists, calendars and charts on the wall behind your desk, she says. You can turn around to consult them but they shouldn’t be in front of your face while you work. Instead, post soothing, sensory pictures in your line of vision that depict scenes of nature, animals and plants.

* Add water to your office environment. “I think every office should have a table fountain,” says Florio Graham. “Some workplaces have waterfalls, reflecting pools and trees in their atria because it calms people. Workers often go to these places in their buildings to brainstorm.”

* If you don’t have access to on-site waterfalls, pools or feng shui fountains, use the bathroom. “If you get blocked creatively, you can go to the bathroom and run the tap,” says Florio Graham. “The sound of water can unblock you. But take a picture of nature in with you so you¹re not looking at square ceramic tiles.”

* Engage as many of your senses simultaneously as possible at work, including your olfactory sense. Essential oils, such as peppermint and citrus, are stimulating, she said.

* Play with plasticine. “Want to come up with a great idea on the way home from work, while you¹re riding on the bus?” says Florio Graham. “Don’t read a book. Work some plasticine in your hands.” Warning: If you play with plasticine in the workplace, wash your hands before touching your keyboard.

* Colour your surroundings. If the walls in your workplace are dull, surround yourself with as many colourful things as possible. “I like coloured paper clips, pencils and paper and I like to take notes on coloured paper,” she said. If you have a home office, paint it. Blues and greens will soothe you. Reds and oranges will stimulate you.

* Take time to reflect so thoughts can float into your consciousness, says Marie-Ange Bourdon. “You can’t rationalize and pound out an idea. Meditation, even active meditation such as jogging, can release thoughts.”

* Role-play. If you’re a salesperson who wants to sell a product, imagine the dialogue you’ll have with your customer, says Bourdon. “You can do this alone or with a friend. Selling is a creative process so you need to use your imagination.”

* Cultivate hobbies outside of work “that make no sense to adults,” says Bourdon. “I’m 47 and I still like to climb trees because it gives me a different perspective on things.”

* Write and doodle, she suggests. Doodling is the physical manifestation of your right brain at work. “It can help release you from linear thought,” she said. “You can write silly poems. I write three pages in a journal every morning. By the time you get to the third page, something from the subconscious is floating up.”

* If you’re brainstorming at work, agree that all the participants may produce as many outrageous ideas as possible. “You can laugh and bring out the child within. These crazy thoughts will make way for more usable ideas,” Bourdon said.

* Consider breaking a few rules. If you work in a sterile environment that’s not conducive to productivity, take plants and pictures and river rocks to work. “I know of one woman who filled her office with plants even though it was against company rules,” she said.

* Be creative outside of the workplace, too. “You can do gardening, cooking or crafts,” she says. “It’ll help to boost your creativity at work.”

Back to Belles Lettres: Fall ’08

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