Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.”
As a writer (and someone with an interest in creativity in general), I’m deeply curious about how we come up with creative ideas. This isn’t just an idle curiosity: with two blogs, several books on the go, and a business that relies on me to come up with new content and ideas each week, generating ideas is a necessary part of me being able to do what I do. Here are some of the things I’ve found most helpful for generating creative ideas:
1. Follow your curiosity
2. Give your mind a chance to wander
Have you ever noticed how the solution to a sticky problem or a light-bulb epiphany comes when you’re in the shower, standing in the supermarket queue or generally doing anything that doesn’t involve said sticky problem?
Letting our minds wander is an important part of the creative process and generating creative ideas. Even if it doesn’t feel like bona fide “work,” it’s crucial to make time to switch off our brains. Just as an important part of any athlete’s training is giving their muscles time to relax and repair, this is where the magic often happens for our minds..
Go for a walk, try sitting and focusing on your breath for 10 minutes, or practice stream-of-consciousness writing (I enjoy using 750words for this). The way in which you personally prefer to let you mind wander isn’t as important as doing it consistently.
3. Focus on asking the right questions, rather than having the right answers
As the saying goes, the quality of your life is determined by the quality of your questions. The same goes for creative ideas. Start questioning as much as possible. Challenge your assumptions. Whenever you think you can’t do something, ask “Is that true?” Whenever you notice yourself taking something as a given, ask “Does that have to be that way?” Explore for yourself: “What is my biggest problem right now? What is my biggest pain point? My biggest dream?” Keep asking “Why? Why is this that way? How could it be different?”
4. Shake up your routine
Routines can be helpful for generating ideas, but they can also get us stuck in “idea ruts.” If we’re doing the same things in the same place each day and struggling to come up with new ideas, something as simple as a change of scene can help shake up the way we think and get our creative juices flowing again.
You can also apply this principle to other aspects of your work: if you usually work on a laptop, try writing in a notebook or dictating. If you usually do your creative work in the morning, try doing it in the evening instead. Small changes can lead to large ripple effects.
5. Practice generating creative ideas
This comes from James Altucher, who suggests cultivating a practice of writing down 10 new ideas each day.
Are all of these ideas going to be good? No. But this highlights: a) idea generation is a skill and therefore it improves with practice, and b) the more creative ideas we generate, the greater chance we have of sharing a few good ideas among the pack.
6. Make it easy to record your ideas
Have you ever woken up at 4am with an idea, thought “I must remember this in the morning” then had no idea what it was the next day? Me too. Most of us probably have more ideas than we realise, they just come at inopportune times, we forget to take note, and they get lost in the recesses of our mind.
Think about where you tend to have your best ideas, then make it as easy as possible to record them. Does it happen in the shower? Get one of these. Is it out for a walk? Learn how to the voice recorder on your phone. While driving? Find a safe way to record your ideas while keeping your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel (hopefully driverless cars will solve this issue in the future).
7. Turn down the volume on your inner critic
Real talk time: you will generate bad ideas, and that needs to be OK.
If you’re constantly feeling under pressure to come up with the next big thing and piling that kind of weight onto every idea that comes your way, no wonder you feel stymied. This topic is big (and important) enough to fill countless articles, books and therapy sessions so, as a starting point, you might want to read this and this.
8. Seek new experiences
This brings us full circle to point number one and the quote at the beginning of this post. Although idea generation is about output, we create that output through connecting different inputs. So fill your well with different experiences. Read diverse books, make an effort to meet new people, try new things and travel to new places. Expand your horizons on the outside, and watch as they grow on the inside too.
Your challenge: Choose 3 of these strategies (hint: choose the ones that surprise you the most) and start implementing them this week.
What are you going to start with? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.