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Emma Sue Prince

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Making space for creativity

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Against a backdrop of uncertainty, economic turmoil and unprecedented change a new picture is emerging of the skills and traits for success (and perhaps even simply survival) in the modern era. At the heart of this essential skillset for the future lies creativity and it may well be the number one skill for our teenaged 21st century. 

A big part of being creative is looking for new ways of doing things within whatever activity we might be involved with. So given the accelerating pace of change, creativity is important for every job role and in every sector. Our world is more unpredictable than it has ever been and nobody necessarily has a clue what the world will look like in ten or even just five years time. Being nimble, fast critical thinkers and learners are all part of this new skillset and creativity is right up there. Creativity will help us create jobs and produce new opportunities in leisure, information and education that are not obvious to us at the moment. The development of new forms of employment and the ability to cope with accelerating change needs creativity at all levels.

Yet at the same time we live in a world which is full of distractions, and constant demands on our time. Whole days are eaten up with this causing our brains to be, most of the time, in fire-fighting mode and racing from one (often self-perceived) crisis to another. It is very difficult to actually find what the late, great management philosopher Peter Drucker advised we must find to be effective in any capacity: 'chunks of time'. What we currently have and actively cultivate through our behavior is spurts of time riddled with interruptions. This is not conducive to creativity because each time our focus is interrupted, we struggle to get back to the point we’d reached in our creative 'flow' (a term coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi).

One of the keys to creating space for creativity lies in cultivating mindfulness. Mindfulness has become a bit of a trend and its benefits are widely publicised in terms of reducing stress and allowing us to focus. Beyond being a trend though, it is the one practice that will help us carve out time, help us handle distractions, manage stress and productivity levels and give big powerful boosts to our creativity levels. This is because mindfulness teaches us to be in the moment, to focus our attention and be fully present. Mindfulness is the process of actively noticing new things and accepting them. When you do that, it puts you in the present. It makes you more sensitive to context and perspective. It’s the essence of engagement. And it’s energy-begetting, not energy-consuming.

The concept of mindfulness, like acceptance, has been around a long time and is a core principle of Buddhism. The Sanskrit word buddha refers to awakening in the sense of being totally present in the moment and just experiencing what is there. Acceptance requires mindfulness, or being fully present without judgment or evaluation, and the gentle observing of mindfulness is acceptance.

The beauty of mindfulness is that it can be practised anywhere and in very simple ways. It means slowing down, noticing your breath and breathing more slowly and deeply and being in that moment. It means focusing on one activity instead of several and uncluttering the mind in the process. 

Another activity that can kick start creativity, fresh ideas and new ways of doing something and stoke mindfulness at the same time is walking and moving your body. Getting outside into nature allows you to examine something from different angles and gives you new ideas. Walking also slows you down and walking with others helps break down formalities, relaxes inhibitions and fosters camaraderie between colleagues opening up opportunities for deeper and more meaningful conversations. Meeting on the go also minimises distractions -- no phones, no email, no texts, no colleagues interrupting you.

Perhaps most intriguing, walking leads to more creative thinking, according to a recent study from researchers at Stanford University.

Breathing and walking – simple solutions to making space for a skill we all need to develop – creativity.

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Emma Sue Prince

Director

Read more from Emma Sue Prince
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