How Networking Can Boost Your Creativity

by: Shannon McNay

Networking and creativity aren’t two concepts that are often placed in the same context. Rather, they seem like polar opposites, with networking involving connecting with others and creativity typically thought of as something that comes about in solitude. The sad thing about this perception is how limiting it is.

As a creator myself, I’ve spent years thinking that all the best ideas would come when I was sitting quietly alone, willing creativity to come my way. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized that my greatest creative moments haven’t come that way at all – in fact, my greatest creative moments have always come while connecting with others.

After talking to others about their own creative journeys, I learned that they too found some of their most creative moments while connecting with others: brainstorming, bouncing ideas off one another, helping each other grow their ideas. The more creators I talked to about this, the more I realized that many of us rely on connection for creativity.

If that’s the case, then why won’t the myth of the lone artist just go away already?

I so wish I had learned years ago how much more creative I could be with others. I wish I understood that I don’t need to put so much pressure on myself, but rather that my creativity would flourish through connection.

Had I learned it sooner, I would have stopped fighting so hard to be some great creative mind on my own. Had I learned it sooner, who knows what kind of amazing projects and connections I could have been involved with. And while I can’t change what’s already happened, I can take what I’ve learned and help creators like you.

So, if you’ve been in the silent solo struggle for creativity, here’s how you can break free of the struggle and grow your creativity through networking.

Networking and Creativity Go Together Like Peanut Butter and Jelly

When we work on our own creative projects, whether they be a form of art, a company we’re trying to build, or anything else, we tend to feel as protective of our projects as we would over a baby. It makes sense – these projects are our brainchildren and it takes a lot of work to grow the teeniest seedling of an idea into something people can see, feel, and use. Besides that, we feel certain that no one else could possibly understand what we’re trying to build the way we do. Unless they can walk around inside of our brains, how could they understand?

But here’s the thing: collaborators don’t need to understand our ideas the way we do to make them better. In fact, collaborators can help us take what we had in mind and grow it to something far greater than our own imaginations created. And even when there are magical moments when the creator and collaborator are on the exact same page, the idea or project will still change once it’s released into the world. Why? Because of the way it will be interpreted by the consumers of the idea or project. So really, once an idea leaves our head, it’s going to be up for interpretation for the rest of its life.

The idea of this used to make me crazy. I thought that I could make people interpret my work exactly as I’d intended, that it would simply come down to doing it perfectly. If I could make my work air tight, then there’d be no room for interpretation.

Not only was I blatantly wrong, I’ve come to realize how sad it would be if that were true. The beauty of creation is the fact that it is up for interpretation. Sure, we have certain ideas for what something should do or how it should make someone feel, but the fact that different parts of what we create will resonate with people at different times and in different ways is actually what makes creation so magical. The fact that everyone could glean something different out of what we produce means that our work can create far more meaning than we ever knew. And that can impact people in far larger ways than if they received our work exactly as intended.

As creators, we have a choice: we can either keep our ideas in protective bubbles in our heads or we can release them into the world and watch them grow. We simply can’t have it both ways. And if you really think about it, isn’t this way kind of awesome?

Once we accept this idea, then we can start working networking into our creativity. Networking means we can meet more creative minds and more people to test out what we’re creating. And that means we can take that tiny seedling of an idea we had and grow it far beyond into something truly incredible. The more people you meet, the more your creativity and your creative projects can grow and flourish.

Think about it this way, peanut butter and jelly are both independently awesome. But when you combine the two, magic happens. So too does magic happen when you combine networking and creativity.

Two Heads (Or More) Are ALWAYS Better than One

Some of the most challenging moments in creative work come from getting stuck. We struggle with the completion of a project. We write, draw, or build ourselves into a corner that we don’t know how to get out of. We know there’s something more we can do to get our projects off the ground, but mental blocks just won’t let us figure out how to do it or what “it” even is.

This is called getting stuck in your own head – and it’s something every creator goes through. It’s something every creator goes through OFTEN. And, quite honestly, it sucks. That’s when getting another head in the game can be so useful. When it comes to creativity, two heads (or more) are ALWAYS better than one.

Other creative minds can help us find the final piece of the puzzle. Other people can help us get out of the corner we put ourselves into. Other people can help us move beyond debilitating mental blocks. Even if someone else doesn’t know how to solve these problems for us, simply talking to them about it can help us solve the problems ourselves.

Don’t force yourself to power through alone. Get another head in the game and beat that struggle.

How to Build Networking Into Your Creative Process

Here comes the toughest question of all: how do you build networking into your creative process?

Creativity takes time. Networking takes time. And both require what appear to be totally different focuses. So, while networking can lead to increased creativity, how can you find time to break from your creativity to get out there and meet people?

There are a lot of ways to work around this problem. For me, it all comes down to chunking my time and timeboxing my outreach.

Here’s what I mean: creativity is very much a process – and sometimes getting into it is the hardest part. Therefore, I understand that interruptions can be disastrous to my creativity. So, if I’m working on getting an idea off the ground (for example, like writing this post), I block out a period of time during which I can’t be interrupted.

Once that time is up though, then I go out and meet people, talk to people, collect feedback. I chunk my networking time just like I chunk my creativity time. (For me, creativity comes easiest first thing in the morning and talking to people comes easiest in the late afternoon. I also find that I prefer not to talk to people on Mondays at all…so I tend to block that day for creativity only.)

Once I’ve blocked out specific times for creativity and networking, I watch my time. I tend to watch my time more on networking than creativity, since creating is so much less predictable. But for networking, it’s a lot easier. If I’m attending an event, it’s most likely to happen at night. If I schedule a lunch or coffee or meeting, I always block out an hour. And I always make sure these things happen at times when I’m not likely to be creative anyway (basically anytime after lunchtime).

By understanding when I’m at my best on a creative level and when I’m at my best on a networking level, I can work both into my process without disrupting the other. And I always remember that it is a process – ever changing, always up for iterations. If I need to, I’ll keep tweaking and learning and tweaking again until I have the right process for me. That way, I never have to say I only have time for creativity – because I’ve already learned how powerful it is when creativity and networking work together.

*For more information on how creativity can grow so much more with connection than it can when in a protective bubble, check out this great talk by Steven Johnson.

Image Credit: Anthony Delanoix

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