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Creativity Lessons from Charles Dickens and Steve Jobs

Over 1600 CEOs told IBM that creativity is the most important skill for a CEO to have. And since creativity has declined by 20% since 1980 (funded R&D as a share of GDP), it’s important for companies to reset focus on what’s important, innovation. Charles Dickens and Steve Jobs are two creative geniuses from which any CEO can draw lessons. One thing both Dickens and Jobs viewed as important? Getting out of the office and into unfamiliar environments.

Creativity is the lifeblood of innovation, and innovation is in turn how companies grow and delight their customers.

Over the past 20 years, institutionalized creativity (that is, research and development investment) is down 20% as a share of America’s GDP. Additionally, the American educational system is constantly criticized for not fostering enough creativity and not adequately teaching the requisite skills like math and science that allow a person to bring creative ideas to life.

The Harvard Business Review provides some lessons from Steve Jobs and Charles Dickens, both considered creative thinkers of the highest order, that can easily help you unleash your creative potential. The basic message is that doing small, simple things can free up your mind to be creative. Here are three specific ideas they mention:

  1. Reduce stress, but don’t relax too much. Being in an unstressed state of mind can help free up your mind to make more connections and associations to past experience. If someone is too focused or stressed, the scope of his or her problem solving ability is limited.
  2. Get out of the office and into unfamiliar environments. Charles Dickens famously wandered the streets of London to clear his mind and explore parts of the city with which he was unfamiliar, and to observe how people are spending their time. Studies suggest that exposure to unfamiliar perspectives can foster creativity. By getting out of your office and simply experiencing the chaos of normal life outside of a work environment, research indicates you can spur creativity and come up with innovative new ideas.
  3. Let your mind wander. A large part of being creative is connecting dots in new ways: using disparate pieces of knowledge and bringing them together to be a cohesive new idea. Research shows that letting one’s mind roam (much like daydreaming) actually allows two of your brain’s separate systems (the “default” and “executive” functions) to work together.

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