Many of us talk about child development and educational programs when discussing the theories behind our own work. But rarely do we think about adult development, the processes that keep us creative and innovative. Kids are naturally creative, curious, and impulsive. Adults have too often had the spontaneity socialized out of them. Our creativity needs to re-evolve.
Rob McNamara, a leadership coach, co-founder of Delta Development, and author of The Elegant Self, a book that taps into adult stages of developmental thinking, has his own theory on how to rekindle creativity. He cites Robert Kegan, a developmental psychologist and author of In Over Our Heads, as one of the main influences in his work. According to Kegan’s theories, there are six stages of development, from infancy through adulthood.
Between the developmental stages are five levels of meaning-making. Being able to bridge the gap between levels determines your own level of identity development. Most adults fall in or between stages 3 and 4; the space between beingidentified with interpersonal relationships and guided by a personally tailored integrity. Being able to bridge into higher levels is where creativity and original thinking really kick in. Unfortunately, it’s hard work to get to level 4, where you can rely on your inner voice; only the select few ever make it to level 5, where you can actually incite conflict to enhance creativity, not just defend yourself.
But don’t despair! You don’t have to linger in level 3 with the rest of the world. Follow McNamara’s 5-step system and see if your creative juices start flowing a little freer.
1. Put yourself in relationships with people who are creative.
New cultures and new relationships give you “permission” to think differently. Consider it peer pressure, in a good way. The modeling behavior is external, but the internal change happens subtly, and invisibly.
Reflect upon yourself. There is no substitute for this. Recognizing your thoughts makes you objective about what’s stuck (or not) inside you. When thoughts become objects in your attention, you can (slowly) leave their influence behind and change. Journals don’t have to be written. They can be voice mails to yourself, private videos, even sketches. It’s your story to tell the way you want.
Adults by and large are defined by their narrative identity. What you tell about yourself is what others assume. Meditation helps you achieve more open, mindful awareness, separating you from the narrative that you constantly play. It helps free you from the everyday contours of your mind, so that ultimately, the narrative stops and, similar to the effects of journaling, you’re able to shift into new ways of thinking and being. Just as a toddler learns to control his impulses by listening to his parents, and later on, to the voice of his parents in his own mind, an adult begins to hear his inner authority, and is more confident to follow his own creative path.
4. Vary your work.
Pick up projects that you don’t know how to do well. Challenge yourself. And play as you work. The same old-same old will too often give you the predicted results, that eventually are going to feel stale and out of touch. New problems yield more creativity. And with your newfound creativity, new answers can be lived.
5. Go back to step 1.
We all get stymied at times. Start over. Keep pushing the limits. That’s what makes –and keeps – you creative.
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