At times, it’s hard to get the creative process started. Other times, we can get stymied by all of the information that we’ve taken in.
If you have ever had trouble coming up with new ideas – or experienced creative block, these 10 Power Tips will get you on the road to generating tons of new, fresh ideas.
1. Diligently Collect Information
To use and process information more efficiently than other people do, you have to gather and save information more efficiently than other people do. Makes sense, right?
Here’s the deal. Most people might read an article and get an idea from it that applies to a project they’re currently working on. Then what do they do? They make a metal note of it and go on with their day. They might remember it and do something with it later, or they may not.
If you want to routinely turn out high quality and high quantity content, you need to keep track of that information permanently – not only for whatever short-term project you’re working on, but also for future projects you haven’t even thought of yet.
2. Try Writing It Down. Yes, With A Pen.
Remember pens? While I am as dependent on technology as the next person, I find that old fashioned pen and paper are best for note taking, planning, and thinking.
I create digitally, but I still think and plan on paper. There is something about being able to hold pages in your hand, set them next to each other, tape them together, draw arrows from one to the other, or manipulate them physically that still gets the creative juices flowing. Try going back to an old composition notebook.
Sure, I bookmark mountains of information on my computer, and I have a ridiculous number of saved and organized PDF files just like everyone else does. The thing is that it’s hard to look at them all at once. With paper, you can still do that. Try using good old fashioned paper in combination with all your cool digital tools for an added boost of creativity.
3. Collect A Variety Of Ideas
Keep notes on interesting ideas from articles, books, blog posts you’ve read, funny things that come up during the day, and anything that catches your eye or makes you go, “hmmmm.” Jot down notes whenever an interesting idea strikes you, clip articles and tape them into your notebooks. Write down single sentences, sentence fragments, titles, slogans, or sketch diagrams. Whatever strikes you as interesting – write it down.
Outside of potentially looking like a giant geek carrying notebooks, newspapers, and magazines with you all the time, it will serve you well.
4. Go Play In Someone Else’s Sandbox
Let’s say you’re an architect and you’re working on a project. While obviously, most of your research for the project will be architectural in nature, do not discount other seemingly unrelated areas. Go read about electronics or gaming. Grab a book or magazine on a topic you wouldn’t normally read. Genius often happens when two unrelated areas collide.
Case in point: In Zimbabwe, an architect designed a mid-rise shopping complex that stays cool without an air conditioning system. Think it’s hot in Zimbabwe? Yeah…a bit.
So how did he do it? Well, he didn’t do it with traditional architectural information. Not even close. Architect Mick Pearce came across information on how termites in Zimbabwe used air currents to cool their termite mounds. The result is a very big building in a hot climate that stays cool without traditional air conditioning.
You can read more about how it works here, but suffice to say that the study of termites in Zimbabwe probably wasn’t part of Mick’s college curriculum – and he likely would not have come up with this solution if he hadn’t looked in what most would consider strange places. In this case, entomology.
If you want to do some Googling, you’ll find that vaccinations and the theory of evolution were also inspired by “out of field” events.
Look in weird places. Collect random information…and then look for intersections.
5. Let Your Brain Do Its Thang
If something jumps out at you and makes you say, “hmmm” then it likely resonates with you on some level. It has some importance. You may not know why now, but it will cross-reference with something for you in the future and possibly give you your next big idea. Write that thing down. You need to let your neurons make connections…it’s their job.
You need to learn to trust that your brain can spot the significant. We’ve all read how powerful your subconscious mind is and we all know that we only use a fraction of our brain at any given moment. There’s a lot going on up there in your grey matter that we don’t consciously understand. Let it percolate!
6. Review Your Old Notes Regularly
Over time, you will collect a ton of information. I have stacks of hand written notes, digital documents, and articles that I have saved. Make sure you review all of your saved notes on a regular basis – not just the recent ones. Remember that whatever you went to the effort to write down or save must have had some value to you on some level. Going back over old notes and comparing them to newer notes will often result in an explosion of ideas.
7. Make The Obvious Connections First
As you gather information, you will naturally and immediately make the obvious connections. For instance, after clipping articles and writing notes for a few weeks, you might connect a few different pieces of information on say time management – and a new, fresh angle for a post will come to you.
The more you collect information and make written notes of interesting events, the more of these more obvious connections you will make – generating more and more ideas.
8. Be Ready To Receive When The Weird Connections Come
If you have been collecting information from new and unusual places (remember our Entomologist-Architect), go back over your notes and see if you can discover an overlap between your normal forte and those new areas. Go hunting for intersections in the random and unrelated. It is in this intersection between the usual and the random that some of the best ideas are born. These ideas may seem weird or different at first, but don’t dismiss them. Instead, be ready to receive them when they come.
When you start consuming and collecting large amounts of information, it is inevitable that you will occasionally get stuck. Brain lock. Creative block. Whatever you call it, from time to time you will get bogged down and everything will seem to blur together. It’s a horrible feeling – not knowing where to go next or what direction to take.
The next two techniques will help you get over the hump when your brain locks up or when experiencing information overload.
9. Phone A Friend
This is where having good relationships and connections come in. Having a trusted friend or colleague to bounce ideas off of almost always does the trick for me. You know the old saying that it’s hard to tell the forest for the trees? Well, it’s an old saying for a reason: it’s true.
When we’re immersed in our own work, we see all the minutia and the details that we have to deal with. It’s easy to lose focus on the big picture. Having someone look at our work from the outside can clear up our perception of the situation and help us let go of some of those little details that are bogging us down.
10. Let It Incubate
When you have been stewing over a project and everything looks like a big gnarly knot to you, often the best thing you can do is to shut down, log off, and let it incubate. Go do something else totally unrelated and come back to it later. Maybe later that day – may be later that week. Just get away from it for a while. Ideas have a way of incubating in our brains when we stop actively obsessing over them.
The concept of an Incubation Period is documented very well in a fantastic book called The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson. According to Johansson, The incubation period is the time between when one stops thinking heavily on a subject and the time when one suddenly and subconsciously comes up with a solution. It’s one of my favorite books, and a great read on the subject of creativity.
After a particularly grueling and overwhelming week, I also wrote a post about the value of walking away from it all. The point is, sometimes when you want something to grow, you have to leave it alone for a while. You don’t get your tomato plants to grow faster by watering them 24/7 and screaming, “Grow damn you, GROOOOW!” But that’s exactly what we often do with our creative projects isn’t it?
Try stepping away from your project if you’re feeling blocked. Go do something fun, spend some time with friends and family, or watch some mindless TV. When you return to your project, you’ll find that you can see it from a whole new perspective.
What helps you be more creative?
How do you get over creative block?
Share your insights below!