Did you know that your personality might hold the key to your creative achievements?
A 2014 study published in The Journal of Creative Behavior looked into whether there were connections between personality, work process, and creativity.
The writers (Guillaume Furst, Paolo Ghisletta, and Todd Lubart) put forward that your personality predicts how you work, which predicts the level of your creative output and achievement.
So, how can you boost your creativity?
The first step to boost your creative output (and achievement) is to identify your personality type according to these three ‘super factors’ identified in the study:
Plasticity defines the extrovert personality: marked by a drive to try new things, high levels of energy, and a constant stream of inspiration. Those who fall into this category seek new and exciting experiences. They can be highly creative because of their passion for exploration and risk taking.
Divergence defines the free thinkers and non-conformists. Those who fall into this category are impulsive and independent, hard to get along with at times, and uncaring of how others think of them. Divergence is strongly related to creativity because it creates in the person a drive to be different.
Convergence defines those who work persistently and precisely. They are ambitious, practical, good at evaluating ideas, and have high levels of energy.
So is your personality high on plasticity, divergence or convergence? You might not neatly fall into just one category, but one should be more dominant than the others.
Step two in improving your creative output and your creative achievements is to identify your creative process, according to these two process types as identified in the study:
Generation, which involves coming up with new ideas (quantity — someone who has lots of ideas); and,
Selection, which involves narrowing down your ideas to their best version (quality — someone who has a few good ideas).
So, are you a generator or a selector?
The study found that those with high levels of plasticity and divergence, with their drive for new experiences, favor the generation process. They are very good at coming up with lots and lots of new ideas, but they might not all be the best ideas.
Conversely, the study found that those with high levels of convergence favor the selection process. They may not be the best at coming up with lots of new ideas, but they excel at spending time perfecting the few that they do come up with.
Creative achievement is most attainable when you use both work processes — generation and selection — together.
If your personality super factors favor generation, you need to improve on selection, and if your personality super factors favor selection, you need to improve generation.
So, the rest of this article will outline some steps you can take to increase each creative process and unlock the full potential of your creativity.
So, you are great at coming up with ideas, but have a harder time evaluating and improving them?
You might get a thrill out of brainstorming and starting new projects, but they tend to fizzle out. You might have a lot of projects all going at once, but you have trouble focusing long enough to complete something.
Or, you slap together your projects in a rush to move on to something new, but aren’t always satisfied with the quality of what you have created.
Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to give your selection process a boost, giving you more direction and the drive to reach new heights.
However you accomplish it, it is important that you devote time to improving your craft. With high generation, the ideation process is easy, and with so many brilliant ideas floating around in your head it is tempting to try to do a little of everything. But only through intense focus and determination can you really master something.
The writer Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea of the “10,000 Hour Rule” in his book Outliers, which claims that after you spend 10,000 hours practicing a skill the correct way, you will master it.
It takes a really long time to reach 10,000 hours.
Clocking 40 hours a week, say at your day job, you’ll reach 10,000 hours in about 5 years. But if creative pursuits are something you do in your free time, even putting in half that time will still take you nearly a decade.
Discouraged? Don’t be. Other studies have refuted Gladwell’s claim, stating that this theory only truly applies in domains where the rules are predictable and unchanging (playing a sport or an instrument, for example). As a measure of creative mastery, 10,000 hours is a completely arbitrary choice.
Still, there is no substitute for putting that time in. Make a little bit of time, every day, to chip away at your projects. Finish what you start by pursuing only the most worthy projects, tackling one big project at a time, and making a commitment to work towards success.
There’s nothing like getting another set of eyes on what you are working on. In art school, I both feared and cherished peer critique days – I might sometimes discover an idea wasn’t as great as I thought it was, but my work was always better as a result.
If you are studying art or design, or another creative pursuit, congratulations – you have an army of peers all around you, ready to trade feedback with you. If not, never fear. If you are in a professional setting with other creatives, set a designated time aside to compare notes on each other’s work. At the very least, you probably have a creative friend you can exchange ideas with.
A number of online communities also exist where you can post your work and collect feedback. Some are more “showcase” oriented but you can invite feedback on all of them. To get the best results, keep an open mind, accept feedback graciously (even when you don’t agree), and ask specific questions.
Here are a few online communities for showcasing work and getting feedback:
You’ve probably heard of Project 365, or the many variations thereof. The basic idea is to take a photograph every single day, and share it online, usually on a platform like Flickr or Instagram. Hopefully, you improve your photography skills along the way. Each new day is a complete project, and by the time you’re done, the sheer amount of work you’ve created is impressive.
Beyond just photography, though, you can take this premise and apply it to anything. Want to get better at hand lettering? Do a daily hand lettering project, like Erin Pille’s Omatype Project:
Just from these three examples, you can see how much Pille grew her skills from the start to the finish.
You could do the same with logos, icons, illustrations, doodles, typography, and more. Just be sure to pick something that you can reasonably complete in an hour or less, in order to make a project like this easier to commit to.
I definitely recommend putting it up online, not just for the motivation, but also for the accountability; if you have a following that is looking for your work each day, you won’t want to disappoint them.
Instagram is a great platform, especially for a photography project, but showcase sites like those mentioned in the previous section work as well. Find a platform you are comfortable with and stick to it.
Let me guess: You’re great at improving upon existing ideas but have a hard time coming up with new material?
You might love getting lost in the process of working on a project, but when one project wraps up you lose direction. You worry that your ideas are not good enough to warrant getting started on, so you never start them. Or, you might lament that you don’t have any original ideas at all.
Generation is a really important part of the creative process, and there are a number of ways you can give yourself that “spark,” or better capture it when you have it.
As someone with high selection, you are all about quality. So when you are hit with an idea, you better make sure to capture it, somehow.
I carry around a small Moleskine notebook with me everywhere I go, and at other times I will email myself ideas. I am easily my own most frequent sender due to this habit. You can also put a recording app on your phone for capturing ideas at times when you need your hands free (use caution while driving).
But what about when none of those options are available? If your phone is dead and you have no writing implement, use intense focus to flesh out the idea in your head until you can capture it in some way. JK Rowling got the idea for her famous series of books while stuck on a delayed train without a working pen. Instead of letting herself lose the idea, she fiercely held onto it, fleshing it out further and further over the course of the four hour train ride. By the time she reached her destination, she had a remarkably well formed idea in her head, and it wasn’t going anywhere soon.
The important takeaway here, though, is to set up a system for collecting ideas whenever they hit you, so that you don’t forget them. It doesn’t matter how technologically advanced it is, or how good it looks; it only matters that it exists.
It seems a little counter-intuitive, but sometimes thinking inside the box is the key to thinking outside of it.
Restricting yourself on one aspect of a design is a good way to get yourself to work a little further outside of your comfort zone. For example, maybe you always pair serif fonts with sans serifs, or you always use lots of different colors in your work. Try limiting yourself to one style of font only, or a limited color palette, and see where your work takes you as a result.
If you’re at a loss for what limitations to set for yourself, try seeking out design prompts. Here are a few design prompt collections to try:
You probably are well aware of the things that tend to inspire you. Maybe your ideas are kicked into high gear anytime you get back from vacation. Maybe you get ideas every time you take your dog for a walk. Maybe the trigger is as simple as looking at work by your favorite artists, and imagining the different direction you might have taken them.
When you become aware of the things that trigger inspiration and new ideas, it’s just as important to capture that as it is to capture actual ideas. For days when you’re having an inspirational dry spell, and the ideas you recorded just aren’t cutting it, you can peek back into your collection to get going again.
Many creatives of all types decorate their workspaces with things that inspire them. Just look at some of these desks:
If a wall of books, colorful prints, and other miscellany is out of the question, you could create a similar inspirational well digitally using a website like Pinterest. In fact, the ability to categorize things into different boards, and create new ones at will, might really appeal to your organizational side.
Whatever method you choose, start collecting triggers today. It’s going to be a slow process – you’re not going to fill your well of inspiration in one night. But if you add to it every time you locate something inspiring, you’re on the right track.
Once you understand how your personality type predisposes you to favor one particular part of the creative process, you can push the other process to help balance your creativity and create more and better work. Creative achievement comes from the interplay of generation and selection, or more simply, of quantity and quality.
What other techniques do you use to stretch yourself to come up with new ideas or to improve the work you create? Share your favorite tactics, or the work you created because of them, in the comments below.