Technical skill and experience are obvious prerequisites for success as a software architect. Education, training, and certification are fuel for forward momentum in your career. But while stuffing as much technical information as you can into your already crowded cranium certainly won’t harm your career, the difference between being good at what you do and great at what you do is all about how you apply that knowledge and skill. That “how” has everything to do with creativity. The problem is that creativity doesn’t just happen because you put it on your to-do list. And I can personally attest to the fact that staring into your laptop screen waiting for a flash of brilliance generally produces only a mild headache.
What works for me is to completely disengage from the task at hand. Whenever I’ve had a workable creative idea, I was engaged in some activity completely unrelated to the problem I was trying to solve. Curious about this creative disengagement, I asked members of the architect community what they do when they need their own flash of brilliance.
Fresh air and the wind clear your head so it has room to populate new thoughts. ”–Robert van Molken,
Oracle ACE and Oracle Integration Specialist, AMIS
“I tend to let it ‘boil in the background’ when I’m in need of inspiration,” says Maarten Smeets, using a Dutch expression for the phenomenon. That practice allows Smeets, senior Oracle SOA and Java consultant at AMIS in the Netherlands, to gain a fresh perspective on the challenge at hand.
But when time is short, Smeets applies a different strategy. “I tend to isolate myself and avoid distractions and working on other tasks so I can concentrate.”
Isolation is also the key to creativity for Smeets’ AMIS colleague Oracle ACE Robert van Molken, an Oracle integration specialist. Van Molken achieves that isolation thanks to a pair of noise-canceling headphones. “I listen to some Balearic beats—a kind of house music—to calm me down. When I hit roadblocks I take short walks. Fresh air and the wind clear your head so it has room to populate new thoughts,” he explains. For more-persistent roadblocks, van Molken relies on more-strenuous activity, such as volleyball, tennis, or squash to crank up a creative spark.
Exercise is the key to creativity for Oracle ACE Associate Arturo Viveros as well. “I’ve always found that going out for a nice, relaxed run can work wonders to clear and unlock my mind so I can come up with creative solutions for tough work problems. I also love playing tennis, so another of my preferred rituals is setting up a one-hour hit at midday with one of my good friends. After a shower and a snack, I usually return to work in a much better mood and with a wider perspective.”
Viveros, a SOA and middleware specialist and senior IT architect at S&P Solutions in Mexico City, Mexico, recommends a similar strategy when working as part of a team that has run out of creative steam. “In those cases, I recommend getting up from our computers, leaving the premises, and taking a slow walk together, maybe a couple of blocks, while calmly discussing the issue at hand. Both experts and newbies are encouraged to relax and contribute in order to identify a solution from a wide array of options and ideas.”
The bottom line: Creativity is the engine that produces innovation. To say that the IT industry places a high value on innovation is an understatement on the order of saying that fish place a high value on water. So, just as you have invested time and money in developing your technical skills, an investment in your creative skills might help to shorten the intervals between your flashes of brilliance.
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