Learning to speak the language of creativity

If you want to start being more creative, try thinking of it like learning a new language.

Creativity is the mental capacity to generate novel and useful ideas. That is to say: to think creatively is to think in non-typical and often unfamiliar ways. It requires a shift in perspective, and a willingness to temporarily abandon understanding or knowledge of a particular thing, all in an attempt to conceptualize and communicate something new, or different.

Trying to learn a new language is strikingly similar.

When you learn a new language you have to shift your perspective on a lot of what you already know. For example: some languages use a different word order (subject-verb-object in English vs. verb-object-subject in American Sign Language). Some languages different words depending on the gender of who is being spoken to while others do not. And some languages have words that don’t even exist in others (Germans have a word that describes the state of having to explain yourself quickly, for example).

Creative thinking is similar to an entirely different language than you’re used to speaking. It consists of ways of thinking about otherwise common things that are different than our routine, experience-based ways of thinking about them.

Some of those ways of thinking include: convergent thinking, which asks what different concepts have in common. While divergent thinking provokes us to think more broadly. Lateral thinking progresses naturally through a logical end-to-end path, while abstract thinking knows no bounds. Each of these patterns of thinking are part of the “creative language.” And learning how to use them effectively is the same as learning to use any other language.

You can learn a lot by looking at expert advice for learning a new language, then translating that to creativity.

Things like connecting and sitting down with a native speaker. Find someone who is proficient in the language of creativity and engage with them. Something as simple as getting coffee with a creative thinker you admire can be immensely helpful. If possible: find a way to work with them in order to practice “speaking” creativity together. “The best way to learn a new language is to speak it,” they say.

Or try studying the language every day. Studying the language of creativity can mean reading articles about it or pro-actively practicing it (if you need a good way to spark some creative practice exercises, I wrote a book filled with 150 of ‘em).

Watch, listen, and write the language. There’s an endless stream of creativity-related content on YouTube, TED, and Tumblr. Not to mention podcasts and audio books. Some of my favorites include: anything by Casey NeistatThe Great Discontent99u, and the podcast Invisibilia.

Find time to regularly listen to, watch, and read creativity-based talks, documentaries, interviews, and anything else that promotes the language of creativity. Then take what you learn and try to communicate it in your own words: through a blog post, a message to a friend, or by sharing it.

You can try that last one out right now, by sharing this article with someone and explaining what value you think they’ll get from reading it.