As a marketing professional, you’re faced with a challenge that few other business professionals face. Not only are you expected to operate within the confines of a structured corporation (adhering to business rules and requirements), but you’re also asked to be creative.
You have to be professional, yet imaginative. That’s something about which accountants, human resource managers, secretaries, production managers and other employees don’t have to worry.
Assuming that you have the business acumen to fulfill the duties of your job well, your opportunities for future growth and security ultimately come down to the creative side of things. Can you continue to come up with fresh, innovative ideas that sell? For those in creative ruts, the answer is a frustrating one.
How the Brain Functions on a Creative Level
It’s important to understand how the brain functions on a creative level. While we don’t know everything about how the brain processes information and creates ideas, we do know that there are three specific areas, or “centers,” of our brains that are responsible for creative thinking.
- The Attentional Control Network. This network refers to your ability to choose what you do and don’t pay attention to at any given moment. It’s essentially your ability to concentrate. This is what kicks into high gear when you’re doing something important that requires laser focus.
- The Imagination Network. As the name suggests, this network is responsible for imagining future events, ideas and scenarios, as well as remembering things from the past. This network allows you to create mental images and fictional situations.
- The Cognitive Flexibility Network. This network is responsible for your ability to switch between thinking about two independent concepts. It’s the go-between for the Attentional Control Network and Imagination Network. Essentially, it allows you to think about two things at once, in order to innovate and to create new, hybrid ideas.
When any of these three networks are compromised, you’re not able to function at your highest capacity. Distractions become more distracting, ideas more difficult to grasp and making connections between different concepts becomes nearly impossible.
In addition to realizing that there’s some sort of disconnect on a brain-level, it’s also critical to understand what ideas really are. On a basic level, an idea is nothing more than a unique combination of past thoughts, experiences and elements. And, if you look at it from this angle, the only thing that matters is your ability to identify and combine those elements.
If you want to get back to the heart of creativity, there is a two-pronged approach that works well for most people. It involves the combination of tangible/practical actions and the use of some out-of-the-box/mentally-stimulating activities, each with its own tips.
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Four Tangible, Business-Related Tips
Use the Right Tools
Some would argue that a marketer is only as good as his or her tools. Are you maximizing your potential by arming yourself with the right creativity and productivity resources? A simple platform like Yammer or Jira could be what you need.
Ideas either come from your own brain or from some external factor. Are you exposing yourself to relevant external information? Instead of looking at tasks like reading industry publications, watching interviews with respected industry leaders and browsing headlines as wastes of time, view them as immersive experiences that could catapult you in a new creative direction.
From a practical perspective, carving out a minimum of 30 minutes per day to consume relevant content will pay dividends. Content marketer Heidi Cohen suggests reading across multiple genres and industries for an expansive view.
Let Ideas Grow
The issue for most marketers isn’t that they have a shortage of ideas, but rather that they stunt the growth of those ideas before giving them a chance to take off. Any time you come up with an idea, write it down and come back to it later. This process of putting it on paper and returning to it will allow you to actually consider it.
Understand Your Audience
From a marketing point of view, creativity is often stunted because marketers don’t know enough about the audience they’re targeting. In-depth research of your target market will get the sparks flying.
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Four Out of the Box Ideas
According to research from the University of Washington, frequent meditation is tied to cognitive improvements. The ability to ignore distractions and improve focus is chief among these improvements. In other words, meditation enhances the Attentional Control and Cognitive Flexibility networks.
There’s an entire sect of the health and diet community that believes that what you eat may have a direct and quantifiable impact on your cognitive abilities. The belief is that processed foods (those high in sugar, trans fats, and sodium) and artificial ingredients drain creativity, while other foods enhance it. These “other foods” include complex carbohydrates (oats, whole grain bread, brown rice), essential fatty acids (chia seeds, coconut oil, avocados), and antioxidants (berries, broccoli, green tea).
Various studies and surveys suggest that your office environment may affect creativity. Important factors include temperature (77 degrees is optimal), lighting (lower lighting is preferred), cleanliness (have one clean space and one messy space) and music (ambient noise enhances focus).
Do Something New
Sometimes, all you need is a change of pace. Try working from a new place, give a different morning routine a shot or switch up your work hours. These simple tweaks may point your brain in a new direction.
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Choose What Works Best for You
If everyone were the same, creativity wouldn’t exist. People like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg wouldn’t stick out any more than the guy in the cubicle next to you. In other words, you can’t approach creativity with a predetermined mold and expect it to work for you.
Pick and choose from this list (and other lists) in order to discover what works for you. The sooner you regain that creative spirit, the more fun you’ll have, the more productive you’ll be and the more positive results you’ll find.