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The Power of Creativity: Why Every Professional Needs Playtime

August 03, 2015

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” ― Pablo Picasso

Creativity is something we dismiss all too easily, thinking it’s either something we inherently have or don’t have. But everyone is creative to some degree. Not just artists, engineers, filmmakers and, ahem, clothing designers. Every single one of us.

But why does this trait even matter if you have an office job where the most creative part of your day is choosing a font for your PowerPoint, or you’re a proud Type A who’d rather break out file organizers than watercolors with 30 minutes of free time? Because creativity is our everyday superpower, and every professional needs “playtime” to some extent. Why? It can help solve problems, improve productivity, and increase happiness.

Creativity = problem-solving

By definition, creativity is seeing things differently. It’s being able to transcend traditional ideas and come up with new rules, interpretations, and ways of doing things. Often a problem—be it dealing with a difficult colleague or figuring out how to jazz up boneless chicken breasts—requires an alternative approach. By tapping into your creativity, you can form new ideas to solve routine problems. For example, instead of thinking of potential ingredients for your chicken, which will bring you to the well-trodden territory of rosemary, lemon, and barbecue sauce, think of a color—say, red. This could lead you to cherries and an unexpected sweet-savory dinner.
every professional needs playtime

Creativity = productivity

Giving your mind a break, a chance to wander through a creative exercise, is not only beneficial for your soul—like meditation—it’s also good for productivity. It may be counterintuitive that, when you’re trying to figure out how to launch a project at work, the best thing might be to step away from the computer and to pick up a skateboard, sketchpad, or some Sudoku books. Creative activity lets the mind loose, and when the mind is relaxed, those a-ha moments come barging in.

Creativity = happiness

When you let yourself go in an activity (knitting, writing, learning the guitar), you can fall into a magical state that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi dubbed ‘flow’—being so engrossed that you lose all sense of time and your own self-consciousness. Csikszentmihalyi claims this is the secret to happiness: “When we are involved in [creativity], we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life.” Being free of your own inner dialogue, and immune to outside pressures for a moment, is so liberating and lets you reconnect with that childlike state of believing in all that is possible.

As Picasso observed, it’s hard to maintain the level of curiosity that makes creativity possible as harried adults. As we grow up, we’re encouraged to conform and fit in—to color within the lines, so to speak. But with our “always on” culture, it’s more important than ever to let the mind wander. To find time and space to unplug and be free and then reap the benefits of creativity. Besides, when else are exercises connected to increased productivity and better problem-solving just plain fun?

Illustrations by Mai-Dea

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Amy Thomas is a New York-based writer who, in addition to working as a creative director in advertising, writes about food and travel for publications such as The New York Times and National Geographic Traveler. Amy is a new mom and lifelong sweet freak. Read more of Amy's posts.

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