Six clever ways to boost your creativity and stay ahead of the competition

In the creative world, nothing sits still for long. This is why as a creative professional, it's always worth keeping an eye out for new ways to stay ahead of the competition and be employable.

But let's be honest. The last two years have been exhausting, and for most of us, just keeping our heads above water has been the main priority. Now, though, things seem like they're getting back to normal. And so, as Christmas approaches, many of us are thinking about next year and what we might change or do differently.

To help you get started, we've teamed up with Continuing and Professional Education at The New School, which provides progressive education online from practitioners at the top of their fields. Offering certificate programmes in Graphic and Digital Design, User-Centered Design (UX/UI), and Infographics and Data Visualization, The New School knows all about reinvigorating your creativity and learning new skills. Founded in 1919 and based in one of the most vibrant and diverse cities in the world, it counts Parsons School of Design as one of its colleges and graduate schools.

With a highly respected faculty, world-renowned alumni and an identity designed by Pentagram itself, The New School offers just the kind of inspiration for anyone looking to get ahead next year. And so, in this article, we'll share some of their top tips for breathing fresh life and passion into your creative career.

1. Start a challenging side project doing something you love

When you've spent your 9-5 hours devoted to your day job, it's tempting to just crash on the sofa and binge-watch Netflix. But just because you feel burned out doesn't mean you can get creative in your downtime: you just have to approach it differently.

You know when you've eaten a big meal and think you're full, but then suddenly find you have room for dessert? It's a similar thing when you start a side project. As long as you focus on something you enjoy and are passionate about, it's a great way to reinvigorate your tired work brain and get your creative juices pumping again.

Whether you decide to design your own typeface, post an illustration on Instagram every day, or build the app you'd love to use but doesn't yet exist, kickstarting a challenging side project can be an organic and natural way to discover new skills without any of it ever feeling like work.

2. Collaborate with others

It's great that so many of us can work from home these days, either some or all of the time. But staring alternately at a screen and the same four walls can get a little lonely. So the way to reignite your creative juices can often be to team up with a fellow creative, whether that be a collective side project or taking a joint approach to client work.

Even the biggest creative thinkers in history, such as Steve Jobs, needed people to bounce concepts off. And the back-and-forth of conversation and ideas that collaboration generates can be truly liberating. Plus, if your skills complement each other, rather than merely duplicating effort, you'll also be able to learn from each other as you go.

3. Get outside your own bubble

Often we think of expanding our skillset in terms of building up core competencies. For example, a painter might want to learn digital art software; a UX designer might learn to code. But sometimes, it's better to break out from your bubble entirely and learn something completely different.

You might decide to master a musical instrument, experiment with pottery or try your hand at landscape gardening. Either way, you'll be giving your brain a different type of exercise and picking up perspectives and new ways of thinking from other disciplines. And it's a strong likelihood these fresh ideas and inspirations will bleed over into your day-to-day creative job, too – often in totally unexpected ways.

4. Go for a long walk

The best ideas often come when we're not thinking at all: when we give our brains a rest and allow them to float about more freely than when we're focusing sharply on a task. And one of the best ways to do that is by setting out on a long walk. Most of us made a point of doing so at the height of the pandemic, but if that habit has slipped since, you're not alone.

It's too tempting to tell yourself you "haven't got time", but to that, we'd say two things. First, if that's the case, you need to reorder your priorities, as your health is more important than anything else. And secondly, the fresh outlook and renewed enthusiasm a walk gives you will make you much more productive and creative overall, ultimately saving you hours of wasted time staring at a blank screen.

5. Use the 'Six hats' technique

Sometimes, however much we try to work on a creative problem, we end up stuck in a rut and going round in circles. When you really can't see a way forward, one useful technique is to reframe the challenge using the 'Six hats' technique devised by Maltese psychologist Dr Edward de Bono.

This strategy involves starting afresh on a creative problem by thinking about it not one way but six different perspectives symbolised by different coloured hats. To generalise, the white hat involves looking at the facts and only the facts; the red hat addresses the emotional side; the black hat looks at it from a negative point of view; the yellow hat in a positive light; the green hat is about thinking outside the box, and the blue hat is about managing the process.

Structuring your thoughts in this way prompts you to see the issue from several perspectives and untethers your brain from its normal thinking patterns. So while it might seem like a lot of work, and it can take a bit of time, it really does prove useful in unlocking creative solutions you never knew were there in your mind.

6. Take up a course

As a society, we often think that courses and formal study are just for the young and that once you've got into a career, you can leave all that behind. But in the creative industries, that attitude couldn't be more at odds with reality.

Education is something that should continue throughout a creative's working life. And with online education making that easier to fit around even the busiest schedules, more and more creatives are putting that principle into practice.

We're big fans of The New School, which helps creative professionals looking to advance in their careers or move to new ones via both online-only and on-campus certificate programmes. That means wherever you are in the world, you can be taught by faculty scholars and expert practitioners at all of the university's colleges, including Parsons, the number one-ranked design school in the US.

Want to study graphic design? The New School's Graphic and Digital Design programme will enhance your basic skills in concept, type, layout, and colour while providing training in industry-standard software. Fancy making a move into UI and UX? On their User-Centered Design (UX/UI) course, you'll get first-hand experience researching, brainstorming, prototyping, and user testing.

The New School also offers an excellent course in Infographics and Data Visualization, which helps creatives navigate the emerging world of big data, covering information design, data analytics and filtering, visualisation best practices, and programming basics.

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