“I am so busy with day-to-day fires and meetings that I never have time to think about strategy or be innovative and creative” is a common lament I hear over and over again from the leaders I’ve worked with over the years.


Or what about this one…


“I’m just not creative or innovative.”


How to nurture and bring out our innate creativity is a particular interest of mine, since “creative”, “innovative”, and “thought leader” are descriptors many of my bosses, colleagues, peers, and clients over the years consistently use to describe my particular strengths to others.  A colleague recently asked me to explain to her how I “became” so creative.


The question took me aback, as I never saw creativity as something one “attains” or “does”.


The truth is, being curious and creative and thinking of new ways to do things is as natural and essential to my well-being and personal satisfaction as air and water.  The seemingly odd question made me think about the regular practices and rituals I have set up over the years to allow the space for my creativity to flow more freely.


As children, we are all curious, creative, and imaginative in our own ways.  As we grow up, our filters, judgments, self-criticism and the criticism of others stifles that expression.  Over time, we learn to cherish the ‘realistic’ and ‘practical’ and let go of the ‘idealistic’ and ‘childish’, imaginative parts of ourselves.  We trade our wonder and quest for possibilities for the things that provide us grounding and security.


Have you thought about making space for that wonder that is buried inside you to re-emerge on a regular basis?  Making space for your imagination and unbridled ideas to bubble up , even if they have seem to have no immediate practical application at that particular moment?


Allowing yourself the space to connect and listen to your unedited and uncensored inner voice can help you tap into the natural creativity you already have inside you.


Here are some simple practices that I have adopted that allow the regular space for creativity, ideas and connections to emerge and flow despite my busy life:

1.    I spend 5-10 minutes each weekday writing “Morning Pages” 

Back in the mid-1990’s, I stumbled upon Julia Cameron’s book, “The Artist’s Way” that is all about recovering your creative self.  One of the main tools she suggests in the book to help you excavate your natural creativity is the practice of regularly writing what she terms, “Morning Pages”.  The concept is simple.  Upon awakening each morning, write out 2-3 pages (yes, on paper) of whatever comes to your head.  Freehand, free-flowing, unedited and uncensored. There is no right way to do it or “right” things to write about.  Just write.  It can be about a dream or your thoughts or about how stupid you feel doing the exercise.  The object is to just write. I have a notebook in my bathroom and write these as I am blow-drying my hair in the morning.  Why do I do this?  The theory is that if you do this regularly, you are able to bypass the blocks and censors to your natural creativity over time, and tap into a part of yourself that is naturally intuitive and perhaps even dormant.  I am amazed over the years at the ideas that have sprung up and been freed for me from this seemingly pointless, non-outcome based practice.

2.    I carry a 3X5 “Spark” notebook in my purse at all times

I carry a pocket size notebook in my purse and jot down things that spark my interest.  If I hear an inspirational quote or someone says something I want to remember, I pull out my notebook and jot it down.  If I think of a random idea, I write it down.  Just one or two sentences.  I have even pulled it out in a movie theater and wrote down some dialog between characters that I found memorable.  I draw a light bulb on some of the pages and write down ideas I have inside the light bulb.  There is no right or wrong method.  The point is to capture inspiration from wherever and whenever it hits.


3.    I skim blogs and articles every week on a variety of different topics

I don’t just read things on leadership, business, or personal improvement and human development, which are my areas of expertise.  I peruse blogs and articles on science, technology, entertainment, pop culture, metaphysical topics, ancient alchemy, religion, sports, you name it.  I particularly like to do a search each week and read a different myth from ancient cultures.   I am crazy busy just like anyone else, but when I am waiting in line, between meetings, or relaxing in the evening, I am constantly scanning short tidbits, in addition to my regular monthly book reading list.  Ideas and connections come from the most unlikely sources and from the integration of disciplines.  Just look at what Steve Jobs’ interest in calligraphy did for the fonts on our computers.


4.  I ask a lot of questions

Because of limits on our time and a bias towards execution and task completion, many of us forget to be curious about things.  We quickly screen information and determine its surface usefulness, and then often dismiss it if it does not appear useful at first glance.  I make it a habit to try and learn something from each person I encounter, even if I don’t see any apparent immediate use of the learning.  I can’t tell you how many useful ideas have blossomed from connections I have made in my head later from seemingly random conversations with strangers.  Learning is everywhere and from everyone if you pause once in awhile to ask and just listen without judgment.  And don’t forget to write down what occurs to you in your “spark” notebook.


5.    I set aside time each week to “just think”

Every Sunday night I have a ritual that I uphold most of the time, even if I am on vacation.  I pull out my morning pages and my “spark” notebook and peruse what I wrote in it over the week.  I spend 20-30 minutes just letting my mind be free of tasks, anxiety, and to-do lists.  I look for themes and connections in what I wrote down.  I think about things I am working on and what I am feeling.  I don’t have an agenda or outcome.  I just peruse the pages.  Sometimes my mind literally floods with inspiration, connections and ideas—and answers to dilemmas I had been contemplating.  Sometimes nothing comes and I just look at the pages as merely interesting.  The important thing is that I make the space regularly to allow my mind to be free and make connections.  I find that those connections are happening all the time now, and not just during the time I set aside on Sundays.


These five practices may seem obvious, but they are the things I have adapted over time to ensure that I make the space for my natural creativity to flow into my daily life and work.


What about you?  Do you have practices and rituals built into your life that allow the space for your unedited, uncensored ideas to flow and be built upon?  What one thing can you adopt as a practice today to begin to allow yourself the space for innovative ideas to emerge?