How to be more creative

SARAH BERRY
Last updated 11:09 05/11/2012
da vinci
MASTER OF CREATIVITY: Leonardo Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man.

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For many of us, life is rarely conducive to creativity - a reality that may be holding some of us back from realising our potential. 

As we get older and become more sensible and structured, our sense of sponteneity and creative spark is dulled - or so suggests one study of 1600 children which found that, on a test measuring creativity and lateral thinking, 98 per cent of three to five year olds scored at the genius level, but by the time they were 25 only 2 per cent of the same individuals were at this level.

Study leader George Land said the test confirmed that "non-creative behaviour is learned."

Creativity, however, can also be re-learned.

Attempts to reignite the flame of creative thought has kept Michael Gelb, renowned author and thinking consultant, in business for the past 33 years. Gelb says learning starts with imitation. The same goes for learning creativity, he said. "The great thing about being an adult is that we can choose who we want to imitate."

And, when it comes to creativity, who better to imitate than "the most creative person who ever lived ... Leonardo Da Vinci," he says. The 15th century artist, architect and scientist whose famous artworks include the Mona Lisa and the Vitruvian Man, tops the list for the greatest genius of all time according to Buzan's Book of Genius.

The notebooks of Da Vinci, Gelb's childhood hero, are a "treasure trove of how to develop creative powers." They inspired him to write the international bestselling book, How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day.

In the book, Gelb identifies seven basic principles for charging up our creativity and fully expressing our talent and potential.

1. Curiosity. It's the birthright of creativity, Gelb says. The most creative people "maintain passion and creativity throughout their adult lives." As for those whose curiosity and sense of wonder at the world got lost somewhere along the way, it is entirely possible to "experience a renaissance of that birth-right. One practical way is to keep a notebook or journal. Record your thoughts, musings, questions and creative doodles."

2. Learn from experience. Limiting ourselves to one point of view or position keeps us stuck, Gelb says."Learn to consider important issues from multiple perspectives. Truly examine these perspectives before making your mind up on an idea... [and] discipline yourself to really look at different perspectives."

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3. Sharpen your senses. This is critically important for creativity on every level. "Be more mindful, a better listener and savour your senses." Gelb says he lives by the motto la dolce vita, meaning 'the sweet life', but just to be on the safe side of savouring your senses he recommends putting a little more dolce in your vita.

4. Embrace ambiguity and change. The ability to adapt and accept new ideas is the "most distinguishing feature" of genius, Gelb says. It's an ability that can be cultivated but "first you have to recognise how important it is." After that, it is applying practical methods, like meditation, for managing the natural anxiety many feel when venturing into the unknown.

5. Whole-brain thinking. Systematic, left-brain thinking stifles new ideas and creative thought, Gelb says. Rather, perspective and possiblity come through an integration of logic and imagination. "Leonardo was a scientific mastermind as well as one of the greatest painters in the world," he says. One way Gelb teaches people to do this is with mind-mapping, starting at the centre of the page with an image and radiating out from that with key words or ideas. Traditionally, we plan in a logical, linear way creating a list and then trying to generate ideas. "It's illogical," Gelb says. "[Mind maps] literally let you see the big picture and are a way of producing more ideas in less time."

6. Balance body and mind. There's an illusion that genius is just mental. It's not. A fit body facilitates a sharp and fertile mind, because brilliance requires "tremendous energy," Gelb explains. "Da Vinci was an incredible physical specimen. He was a great athlete and renowned as the strongest man in Florence."

7. Connections. Humans seek connection, Gelb says. "Physically, we seek health (the word health comes from the Old English root hal, meaning "whole"), affection, and the ecstasy of sexual union. Emotionally, we yearn for a sense of belonging, intimacy, and love. Intellectually, we look for patterns and relationships, seeking to understand systems. And spiritually, we pray for Oneness with the Divine". To enhance our sense of connection, he suggests looking at the relationships, patterns and connections in our lives. "Make a master mind map of your life...  check that what you're doing every day is in line with your values, vision and goals.

"No doubt there will always be some small discrepancies, but you [will become] much more conscious. Start by asking questions of life. Your life will become a response to the type of questions you ask."

- Sydney Morning Herald

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