In 2010, IBM surveyed more than 1,500 chief executive officers from 60 countries and found the No. 1 factor that CEOs use to predict future success is creativity. Being creative allows CEOs to adapt to market changes, adopt innovative new practices and disrupt their industries.
Despite its importance, most CEOs have little time to foster their creative skills. The key to being a more creative CEO doesn’t lie in how much time you spend per day, however. Mason Currey, author of Daily Rituals, found some of history’s most creative people all shared one thing in common: They all had developed a habit around their creative skill.
As a CEO, you should also develop a habit around your creative skills so you don’t have to spend too much time thinking about them.
Here are five recommendations to help you get started.
1. Create a morning routine.
From Steve Jobs to Benjamin Franklin to Margaret Thatcher, having a morning routine can help you set up the day for success. The power behind morning routines lies in willpower. As soon as you wake up, willpower is at its highest peak. This can allow you to focus on the most important and daunting tasks of the day. But as the day goes by, it starts to deplete.
According to Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct, willpower is a limited resource. You can increase its capacity by exercising it daily with your morning routines. If you are a writer, for example, you could write first thing in the morning, not only to exercise your writing skill, but also to tackle an important essay or piece of work.
A morning routine can also help you create a structure around your creative work. Instead of waiting for the muses to show up, you create a habit that makes your brain ready to work at the right time.
If you are constantly daydreaming, don’t feel so bad. John McGrail, a Los Angeles clinical hypnotherapist, says, “Daydreaming is looked upon negatively because it represents ‘non-doing’ in a society that emphasizes productivity . . . . We are under constant pressure to do, achieve, produce and succeed.”
Instead of focusing on whether you are practicing a creative task, you should focus on whether you are being creative at all. It turns out that daydreaming isn’t much different from creative thinking.
According to a study by the University of British Columbia, “Spontaneous thought processes — including mind-wandering, but also creative thinking and daydreaming — arise when thoughts are relatively free from deliberate and automatic constraints. Mind-wandering is not far from creative thinking.”
In other words, daydreaming helps you free your brain from your daily responsibilities and direct your energies to more creative pursuits. By exploring possible scenarios through daydreaming, you nurture and spark your creativity.
Your brain is in a constant battle for attention for new information, which forces you to multi-task, hurry to get things done and focus only on what’s on your to-do list. That stress can make you lose control of your thoughts, focus and vision. When that happens, you need to stop and meditate.
The benefits of meditation have long been known. Despite its high effectiveness, meditation doesn’t have to take more than 20 minutes a day. You can also meditate anytime you want, whether it is while you eat, answer your emails or in between meetings.
Start by sitting down in a chair, arms rested on your lap and your back straight. Then, close your eyes and start breathing. Focus on your thoughts and on your body. Become aware of everything that goes through your mind, and let your thoughts pass by. Don’t get mad if you catch yourself thinking or distracted. Just come back to your mindful state and start over. After 20 minutes, you will feel rejuvenated.
It’s well-known by most creative people that doing almost anything other than sitting in front of a computer can be the best way to boost imagination and creativity. Regular exercise can be an incredible habit that can foster new creative ideas.
The reason exercising works so well has to do with the effect it has on your brain. According to Justin Rhodes, associate professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “When we exercise, blood pressure and blood flow increase everywhere in the body, including the brain. More blood means more energy and oxygen, which makes our brain perform better.”
The benefits of exercising are not only tied to creativity, however. Exercising can also help combat depression, memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease and even Parkinson’s disease.
5. Give yourself a break.
The idea of the hard-working CEO putting in long hours may be a sign of courage and a hard-working ethic for most people, something our society values highly. Science doesn’t support this idea, however.
According to Alice Flaherty, a Ph.D. in neuroscience, what makes your brain creative isn’t hard work or concentration — it’s dopamine. Our brain releases dopamine any time we feel good and relaxed. Therefore, anything that can take us to feeling great, like taking a shower, exercising, singing or listening to music, can increase the chances of having great ideas.
Many successful creative people, including Woody Allen and J.K. Rowling, have had their best ideas while they were out of their work rooms.