Career change and development is a creative process. It draws on your ability to take your experience, skills, strengths, interests and achievements and use them to forge a new way forward.
You may already be comfortable with thinking of yourself as creative. Or you may be thinking “but I’m not a creative person”. In which case, my message would be “think again”. Imagination and innovation is our birthright, and is what has made us so successful as a species.
Sometimes we confuse being creative with being artistic. Artists use their skill in a particular art-form to express their original ideas, often in a very visible way, but creativity is found in many fields of work: science and business, to name but two.
The very act of thinking of yourself as a creative person can help free you to come up with ideas. According to Jack Foster, author of How to Get Ideas: “You act like the kind of person you imagine yourself to be. It’s as simple as that.”
Once you accept that you have the potential for creativity, then it can be helpful to think of it as a three-stage process. You may find that one part of process comes more easily to you than others, and by separating them out you can make sure to spend time on each stage.
But before you start, you need to know what you are trying to achieve. It may be to come up with some ideas for a new career path, or design a winning presentation for an interview. You may want to identify options for starting a business or find ways to spend more time with your friends and family. You may want ideas for making money… or spending less money… or for housing yourself without a big mortgage…
The first stage is come up with ideas. The trick here is to come up with as many ideas as you can and not to evaluate them too early on. There are many ways that you can solve a problem and ideas often come from cross fertilization, from applying knowledge in one sphere to a challenge in another. For example the University of Surrey is working on medical robots, drawing on ideas from nature. The way an octopus can squeeze its body through a tiny space is providing inspiration for robots that can access hard to reach parts of the human body and perform operations that would be difficult for a surgeon to do directly.
Idea generation works well if you do it in a focused way, generating as many ideas as you can, and then take a break – work on something else, go for a walk, or sleep on it. This allows the subconscious mind to continue working.
Idea generation is great done with a partner or in a group and there are many techniques that can help, for example:
Put yourself into the shoes of another person, it may your hero or mentor, someone successful in a particular field, or someone with strong views and opinions, maybe even ones you disagree with.
Ask, “When my career (finances/family life etc.) is how I would like it to be, that’s like what?” This question can help you to find a metaphor for what you want, and that in turn can help you generate ideas. If you would like your career to be like a pleasant river cruise, that will lead you to very different ideas than an exciting white water ride? If you can find a metaphor that fits, then this can spark a lot of associations and ideas, out of which you may find a nugget of gold.
The next stage is to analyse and evaluate your ideas. Only a small number may be workable, and so you will need to be selective. Creativity consists of a process of expanding and then contracting options. First you expand and come up with as many ideas as you can. You then go through the pros and cons, narrowing them down, considering which ideas are feasible and which are likely to have the most impact. As part of this process, you may need to undertake research to help you make informed decisions, or you may decide to loop back and generate more ideas at this point, building on the thinking that you have done before.
Then choose the best idea (s) to take forward.
The third stage is implementation. The most fantastic ideas in the world will come to nothing if you don’t do something with them. Once you’ve made a decision you need to apply some solid planning techniques so that you can effect real change in your life and work. Decide what you want to achieve, by when, and plan the specific actions you need to take to get there. Then decide on your first action. Now DO IT.
What helps you to be creative? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments box below.
Need some help with moving your career forward? I can offer you a creative career coaching programme, and an initial conversation with me is always free of charge. Find out more about how I can help.