Yes, I am a creative person (in fact, a writer). But frankly, there are times when I just don’t feel very creative. Coming up with fresh, new ideas and exciting approaches time after time, day after day, isn’t easy. In fact, there are days I would rather have root canal work than come up with another supposedly “creative” idea. It’s often that frustrating and painful for me.
I wish I could press a button and “Voila!”…creative ideas would stream forth. But, that won’t happen any time soon. So what do I do? Brainstorm and think more creatively…and make it part of my daily life.
Some brainstorming and creative thinking can be enormously helpful….even revitalizing. Other times, it can be downright draining and a big waste of time. I agree with various experts that label creativity as a talent or gift that requires practice and development.
Whatever your position on creativity, I want to share my 9 ways to getting the creative juices flowing in positive, useful ways.
1. Doodle something
I was one of those kids told over and over by teachers to “stop doodling and pay attention.” I believe, though, that it’s time to bring back the doodle. Doodling, contrary to popular opinion, does not demonstrate a lack of focus. In fact, doodling can help you stay on topic during an activity in which you might otherwise find your mind drifting. Sunni Brown, author of The Doodle Revolution: Unlock the Power to Think Differently, says that some of the greatest thinkers—from Henry Ford to Steve Jobs—used doodling to jump-start creativity. She believes that doodling can enhance recall and activate unique neurological pathways, leading to new insights and cognitive breakthroughs. Some companies even encourage doodling during meetings (obviously, no where my old teachers are employed!),
2. Get the bad ideas out on the table
The best brainstorming sessions come when everyone in the room feels comfortable throwing out all of their ideas, regardless of whether or not they’re gold. But some members on your team might be worried they’ll sound stupid or uninformed if they pitch ideas that aren’t well thought-out. This apprehension can stifle ideas and lead to loss of creativity. To loosen people up and get the ideas flowing is to start out brainstorming sessions by spending 10 minutes coming up with a bunch of bad ideas first. This will help you set a much more open and playful tone than a formal atmosphere would.
Once you’ve spent some time sharing throw-away ideas and having a few laughs, you can refocus on brainstorming ideas that could work. And who knows: An idea that isn’t so great on its own could spark some really great ones that inform the direction of the rest of the meeting.
3. Create the right creative environment
The truth is that every single individual (yes, even you) can be creative, given the right environment, stimulus, and support. Kids are creative all the time, because they have not yet learned to be embarrassed by failure or fear the criticism of their peers. It’s also why failure is also okay for adults—it reflects creative, risk-taking efforts. Though not all creative ventures will work out, ultimately some will (and they can be very, very successful).
Stimulating a creative environment is also why Google goes to great lengths to provide employees with fun perks, such as beach volleyball courts and free beer, a setup almost resembling an adult playground. Their goal is to create an environment that lets employees feel relaxed and comfortable with coming up with creative, even wacky, ideas. Businesses that value creativity need to do their best to foster a creative, safe space where creativity is nurtured.
4. Play word games
Word games can be powerful ways to help remove you from the boring, same old mindset that tends to produce blah, unoriginal ideas. If you’re trying to get out of an idea rut, try adding a few games to drum up some out-of-the-box thinking.
For example, you can create a “word storm,” where write down one word, and then brainstorm a whole slew of words that come to mind from that first word. Try thinking about the function of that word, its aesthetics, how it’s used, metaphors that can be associated with it, and so on. Let the ideas flow naturally, and don’t over think it—this is meant to be a creative exercise. Once you’ve listed out a bunch of words, group them together according to how they’re related to one another. The goal? To come up with those less obvious words or phrases your audience might associate with whatever project you’re working on.
5. Keep toys on your desk
Many creative design companies and ad agencies encourage employees to keep toys on their desks—from Legos and Lincoln Logs to Play-Doh and origami paper. Building something physically with your hands, as opposed to typing on a keyboard, can be just the creative jolt you need to get the juices flowing.
6. Create a mood board
Combining imagery, color, and visual-spatial arrangements can help surface emotions and feelings will spark fresh, new ideas. While there are many ways to use visual prompts in brainstorming, creating a mood board is one of the most common — especially in coming up with new branding and design concepts.
A mood board is simply a random collection (or collage) of images, words or pieces of text, and textures focused on one topic, theme, or idea, intended to evoke or project a particular style or concept. You can create a real mood board on a poster or cork board…or a virtual one on a Pinterest board of with a MoodBoard app.
7. Role play
Role-playing isn’t just for the geeks at Comic-Con anymore! Role-playing can help you develop new solutions to existing problems by putting yourself in the shoes of a client or customer. Even if you’ve already made efforts to enter the client’s mindset, actually acting out the situation through role-playing can generate new and powerful revelations and creative solutions. Children play cowboys, house, and school. Now it’s time to bring back the power of play (role-play, that is).
8. Play improv games
Nothing gets the creative juices flowing like a little improvisation. This may sound silly, but it really does work. The more relaxed and playful the environment is (without being distracting), the more your people will feel comfortable thinking and sharing freely with one another.
Corey Blake told The Huffington Post about a time he and his executive team opened a brainstorming session with a series of improv games. “That experience opened our minds and readied the team for play before diving into more traditional brainstorming,” Blake said. “The result was a deeper dive into our exploration and more laughter and fun, which increased our aptitude for creativity.”
9. Change your physical environment
Switching up your physical environment isn’t just a fun change of pace; it can actually affect the way your brain works. This means that where you conduct your brainstorming sessions could have an effect on the ideas you and your team come up with.
Try holding brainstorming session outdoors or in rooms that aren’t associated with regular meetings. If you can’t change the room itself, try changing something about the room to stimulate the brain, such as rearranging the chairs.
When you’re looking for really creative solutions and out-of-the-box thinking, give a shout to the creative whiz kids at Solamar.