How Competition Can Spark Your Creativity

Girl on beach building a sandcastle

Children never worry that their latest creation is not creative enough. A child building a sandcastle does not second-guess their work — their main concern is the rising tide. Only adults allow self-doubt to creep in and drown the creative process.

Kids give themselves fully to creative projects — and it is a beautiful thing to witness. So how is that creativity becomes a struggle for adults?

Somewhere in adulthood creativity becomes less of a freewheeling process. The stakes are higher — because no matter your profession, creativity is likely integral to your work. Self-doubt, fear, and negative experiences can pile up and create a wall that you must somehow climb over.

The good news is that creativity is not finite. And a creative slump is just that — a slump. As Maya Angelou, a prolifically creative person in her own right, said: “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

You may be especially glad to hear that if you are currently staring at your own blank page and wondering where to begin. But how do you kickstart that creative process to spur your own innovation?

Interestingly, a recent study shows that a friendly rivalry between coworkers may be just what you need to get fired up. Researchers found that the right amount of competition — between one or two competitors — can actually spark more creative ideas. But too little or too much can hinder your progress.

It makes sense. After all, there is nothing like an upstart colleague to inspire a fresh look at your work and what you might improve. But several coworkers breathing down your neck can simply heighten your anxiety and make you feel like that next great idea is just out of reach.

So how can you push for more creative thinking? Here are a few ways that workplace competition can help:

Identify the goal
If you are the type of person who is never satisfied, you can find yourself in an endless loop of tweaking and defining — especially if you have no goal in sight. That is why you need to set a deadline and a framework for what the finished work needs to achieve. It helps if your colleagues are working towards the same goal as you so that you can compare progress.

Protect new ideas
When your ideas are in their infancy, they are still in a state of flux — and that means they are not ready to share just yet. Give yourself time and space to define ideas away from the skeptical eyes of others. Wait until the idea is more fleshed out. It may help you feel more confident and better able to fully express your thoughts to others.

Keep it friendly
Workplace competition should inspire you to bring out your best, not to be jealous of someone else’s ideas or beat yourself up for perceived failures. You can appreciate what the other person has contributed and still feel proud of what you have accomplished. Allow colleagues to spark your own better ideas rather than leading you to self doubt.

Train every day
Your brain is a muscle — so start flexing it. Instead of binging on Netflix every night, make time outside of your daily work to explore new ideas. Read something different or controversial, follow your interests to a new place, or spark up conversations with interesting people. Take up a hobby that encourages creative expression and look for ways to channel your inner kid.

Give your all
Do not settle for what seems fine or good enough — or even the first idea that comes to mind. Always ask yourself if you can do better. When you feel like turning in mediocre work, it may be a sign you need to take a rest. Take a break and get right back at it. Keep pushing until you find a new, unique approach.

Enjoy the process
You certainly want to celebrate the end-result, when the project is finally complete. But do not forget to enjoy the process as well. Look for those moments when you lose yourself in the work and forget about everything else. Those moments are their own reward — relish in working to your full potential.

A little healthy competition may be just what you need to get your mind working again and spur your creativity.

Competition can be used for motivation, but it should not take the place of strategy or be used to define one’s path. Instead, use it to ignite and recommit if you have fallen into a creative slump. Let your colleagues inspire you and push you to be your best.

Tap into that creative wonder you had as a child — and allow workplace competition to be the fuel that drives you to reach farther, push harder, and achieve more.

What tactics do you use to spark creativity at work?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap software — and the author of Lovability. His two previous startups were acquired by well-known public companies. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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