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Nick Skillicorn

CEO & Founder, Innovation Coach at Improvides
Voted as the world's #7 Innovation blogger in 2014, I help individuals and companies build their creativity and innovation capabilities, so you can develop the next breakthrough idea which customers love.

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Nick Skillicorn
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Gong Xi Fa Cai. Happy year of the Goat

Gong Xi Fa Cai. Happy year of the Goat

It’s the year of the Goat in Chinese Culture. And this means it’s good news for anyone trying to be creative

Gong Xi Fa Cai! It’s Chinese New Year, and this year is the year of the goat (or sheep, depending on who you’re talking to).

Having grown up in Singapore, I appreciate the cultural spectacle of the festival. But it’s also interesting to think about the significant differences between annual symbols (not that I believe they actually shape what will happen, but it’s interesting).

So what does this coming year have in store for all of us? Well, apparently it features two things I think everyone can appreciate:

  • Calmness
  • Creativity

After last year’s Chinese year of the Horse, which was about being risk-averse (and therefore not great for innovation), this year should represent a great time to take things slowly and get some new breakthrough ideas.

So why don’t you make an effort for 2015 to dedicate some time each day to get away from distractions, relax, and try to find some new solutions to your challenges

The ancient Chinese may have not realised it, but this suggestion has a growing amount of scientific evidence supporting it.

Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience have begun to show that people are at their most creative when their mind is not yet fully awake. In fact, you’re most creative when your mind is in what’s known as an alpha state, such as when you’ve recently woken up, daydreaming, in the shower or exercising.

What has also surprised a lot of people is the evidence that instead of high-energy brainstorming sessions, teams are much more likely to come up with great ideas if people take time individually to write down ideas, before then bringing them together as a group.

Finally, even though a lot of people swear that they need their caffeine kick in the morning before being able to do any work, this caffeine may be preventing your brain from reaching those alpha states, and therefore being able to be creative.

So what can you do this year of the goat to improve your creativity? Here are some simple tips I advise to my clients:

  1. Try to avoid caffeine first thing in the morning. Give yourself at least half an hour right at the start of the workday when you think about your toughest challenges (instead of doing email, internet, or worst of all: meetings!). You’ll be surprised how after a couple of hours you might get a great idea out of the blue.
  2. Take 15 minutes every day of “anti-focus time”. This means giving yourself permission to let your mind wander, and requires you to not be engaging with someone else directly (talking, email, on the phone, meetings) or focusing on something speicifc (work on your screen, reading, watching TV, listening to something specific, texting, basically anything with a screen). A good time to do this is when walking to get lunch, and you’ll be impressed how this will bring your mind into a state when it’s forming random new connections.
  3. Make sure you do one thing every week you’ve never done before. Easy things to try:
    1. Go to a new place to eat (a different type of food, not a different McDonalds location)
    2. Watch a new type of film in the cinema
    3. Go to an exhibition
    4. Take a new route through town
    5. Go to a new part of town and just start walking in any direction

So good luck, calm down, and get creative.