This article by Michael Pollock appeared first on Forbes.com

Do you consider your working self to be creative? Of course you do. You’re always sure there’s a better way to get things done. Your creativity might manifest itself in the innovative way you manage a team or the clever way you construct a legal defense or a contract. It could be the fresh way you connect ideas, identify a problem that needs a solution, or have an intuitive understanding of words, pictures, or music. There are so many ways to be creative.

But are you regularly exercising your creative muscles, or do they risk atrophy? If you let them go, would it make you a less attractive candidate and less likely to get ahead?

It’s more than possible that you find yourself right now in a job that’s not giving you the room to flex your creativity. Perhaps you see possibilities but are constrained from exploring them by a rigid structure or a micromanaging superior. Or perhaps your clients are risk-averse and stifling your brilliant inventions in favor of the same old, same old. Be aware of these possibilities and take action so you don’t become — I’ll call it what it is — a menial worker.

Enter The ‘Creative Lab’

To forestall this fate that’s worse than death, get a new regimen of exercise under way. I propose that you start to do some creative projects of your own. And I suggest that you do this in an organized fashion and not in the old, on-again, off-again, piecemeal fashion.

Let’s formalize this and give it a name: you could call it your creative lab. It’s not an actual place or a business (not yet, just wait!), it’s the effort you’re going to give to developing your creativity, your ideas.

Commit slots for it on your calendar. This will give you a framework to flex your own creative muscles. It will provide you with a structure for experimentation and exploration that will be tangible. Using this “virtual lab” idea, you can have several projects sitting under this one umbrella.

Assign Yourself Career-Focused Work

OK, so what projects will you assign yourself in your new creative lab? Since you see yourself as a creative worker in your professional life, here are some career-focused suggestions for your projects. Some will be completely new ideas, others will build on the work you are doing every day.

First, like many creative professionals, you probably have umpteen ideas for new businesses, and nothing ever gets started because you are overwhelmed and confused. Why not make exploring new business ideas a project of your creative lab? It can become your own personal incubator.

To do this, write up the top 5-10 business ideas that have been floating around in your head. Start with thumbnail pitches to the effect of, “What problem does it solve and who cares?” See how they shape up. Pretend you are the investor and pick a few to invest your time in. Now, create a one-page business plan for each of these selected companies. See which ones make sense and choose which ones to pursue further. With your structure and commitment, just like in a real incubator, one or more of those businesses that you’ve created could take root and flourish.

Here’s another suggestion for you to develop in your creative lab. Have you had good ideas squashed at your job recently? Pick a project that got off course and figure out how you’d start it over the right way — the way you’d do it.

Get those good ideas out of your head and onto paper and see where they take you. Whether it’s an innovative strategy or a creative pitch, a better design or a smart new tactical approach, take it to the next step. This creative workout could lead you to do stronger work in your current gig or help you realize that it’s time to move on to a more fruitful work environment.

Craft a mission statement for your creative lab. Will you be completing projects? Or will it be a sketch pad and test bed for your ideas? Could some of its accomplishments add to your resume? Is there work from your creative lab that you could present to your current boss or clients as potentially fresh ways to go? Set timelines for completion, or publish something on Tumblr to see how it looks. This will all strengthen your own skills and reflect well on your drive, positive energy and smart thinking.

The whole purpose of a creative lab is to give you a tangible platform to work out your creative thinking over a variety of projects. It’s a gym for your creative brain! Regularly scheduled workouts will strengthen your creative muscles. Your creative lab won’t just get you thinking about what great things you can achieve, but get you moving forward with them.




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