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“Don’t wait for anything. Don’t wait till some magical story idea drops into your lap. That’s not where ideas come from. Go looking for an idea and it’ll show up. Begin now.”

Ira Glass in his interview with Lifehacker

Posted at 12:02 pm

Discover yourself by creating.


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To be more creative, question what you know you know


There’s a conundrum with knowledge in the pursuit of creativity.

It goes something like this: the more you know, the more information your brain has to access in order to generate new ideas. That’s good. But the more you know, the more likely you are to rely on that knowledge in order to do your work. Which can be bad.

It’s the classic scenario of an expert being unable to solve a problem, but a novice enters the scene and effortlessly finds a novel way to do it. Why?

When we become experts, we begin to frame our perspective on problems around what we know is possible. Where the novice, the beginner, the naive creative, doesn’t know any better: anything is possible (until it’s realized that it’s not).

We get so deep into our own experiences that it becomes difficult to see the world in any other way.

If you know a certain route to work or school or your favorite cafe is the most efficient or most beautiful, how likely are you to explore new routes? Not very likely.

Yet it’s by exploring new routes that you discover there’s an even better, or more beautiful, way.

We tend to prefer the safe route (both metaphorically and literally) when pursuing our work or the other activities of our day-to-day life. Why try something new if we already know what works? Why pursue new information if we know the answers that are already fact?

The answer, of course, is that leaving the well trodden path – exploring new routes, trying new foods, second-guessing what we’re doing, even if we know what we’re doing is right – is what leads to creative insights, innovation, new frames of mind.

Sure, sometimes the new paths aren’t worthwhile. Sometimes you decide to try the new path or question what you think you know and you end up right where you where before. But occasionally you discover something new. Either a new way to think or see the problem or a new place you’ve never been before, which in-turn inspires more creative insight.

It’s worthwhile for creativity to second-guess everything you know, to question it and ask “what if” and see where it leads you.

What do you know? What would happen if you questioned it?


Where I don’t know leads

Why it’s difficult to have creative ideas

What it means to have a creative mind

Photo by Ian Muttoo

Take your headphones off if you want creative inspiration


Sometime over the weekend I started discussing the creative importance of taking headphones off in the work place or studio.

Taking your headphones off allows you to be more in tune with the world around you, which is where the inspiration to do what we do comes from.

This belief, that you have to take your headphones off or turn the music down to do good work, understandably got a lot of backlash. What do you think?

If I told you that you should take headphones off, or turn off the music, where you do your best creative work, would you do it? Or would you think I was crazy?

It’s important to note that this notion of removing headphones to boost creativity is true, absolutely true, and we’ll get into the details of why in just a second. But first, you have to consider when this advice makes sense for us as creatives.

Imagine you’ve started a new project, you’re making good progress, then you start to feel stuck. You’re not sure which decision to make next or where to go with the work.

You know the feeling, right? You were motivated and moving fast one minute, then the very next you feel stuck, your inspiration dwindling.

In those moments of stuck-ness it’s not uncommon to try and force your way through the work. So you turn the music up and try to move the needle on your work, but nothing comes. You stay stuck. Your motivation starts to evaporate entirely.

It’s in these moments, when we need inspiration or motivation most, that we should take the headphones off, go for a walk, get away from the work for a moment and soak in everything else around us. And really the idea of “take your headphones off to have more ideas” is a metaphor. Though for some of us it’s not.

The point that some seem to be missing about this situation is that it’s more than ok to wear headphones, or blast music, if you’re not doing the ideation part of the work. That is to say: if you’re doing work that you don’t need to think creatively about, go ahead and plug yourself in, you don’t need inspiration to do that type of work.

However, if you’re starting a new project or finding yourself stuck (or producing less-than-stellar work) consider taking your headphones off, or getting away from your desk, or anything that can reconnect you to the world.

It’s that last point, of connecting to the world, that matters here.

This is important because our brains are powerful machines that are constantly taking in new information, filtering and sorting it, and combining it with everything we already know in order to overcome our creative slumps or to generate new ideas.

If you’re creatively stuck or limited, blocking out the world of inspiration around you is one sure-fire way to ensure you stay stuck and uninspired.

Your brain needs the fuel of conversations in the workplace, or the click-clack of keyboards at the cafe, the hum of a busy highway, the towering sky outside. It’s through those things that our brains do their best work, of connecting ideas and generating solutions, or finding new sources of inspiration to feed from.

Take your headphones off once-in-a-while. Get away from your desk. Connect with the world, because it’s from the world that your ideas stem.


Headphones are shortening your career

The creative processing your brain won’t tell you about

Where do the best ideas come from?

Photo via Flickr.

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Getting past when you can’t take your ideas further


Yesterday I wrote about how to explore ideas quickly by asking “What comes next?”

It’s a great way to recognize the importance any question has in the role of creative thinking. Questions lead us down new paths, good questions help us plot where we are on the route between powerfully creative ideas and subpar ones.

Landing at a place where there are seemingly no more questions for the work you’re doing can be dangerous.

“If you don’t have any more questions for what you’re doing, that doesn’t mean you’ve arrived at an end point. It means you aren’t looking in the right places.”

Answers that lead to a place where there aren’t any new questions to ask are dead-ends. As creatives, that means we’re either not stretching our thinking or we’re on a path that has few creative possibilities.

How do you overcome a place of stickiness with your ideas, when there just aren’t enough questions to explore?

One way is to backtrack, to look at the question you asked just before you got stuck, then rephrase that question or look at what other question(s) you could ask in its place.

If you find yourself knowing everything there is to know about the work or landscape around your ideas, it might be that you’re just really that smart. It’s more likely, however, that you’ve led yourself astray and have naively accepted the fact that there’s nowhere else to go from where you are now.

For creativity, there is no stopping point. Questions are the guiding points that help us explore where to go from here.


And what comes next?

Do you fully understand the question?

One question to get you through creative slumps

Photo by Benny Lin