creative exercise

The Creativity Challenge, a new book



150 unique creative challenges to help you design, experiment, test, innovate, build, create, inspire, and unleash your creative genius.

That’s what my new book The Creativity Challenge is all about: trying small things in order to do more with your ideas and discover new ones in everything around you.

I’m excited to announce the book today because you can now pre-order it online, though you won’t get it until August when it start shipping.

I’ve been writing about creativity for eight years now, and The Creativity Challenge is a combination of everything I’ve learned. All smashed into 150 compelling challenges you can do alone, with a friend, or part of your school or business activities. The challenges are designed to be dynamic, so whether you want to become a better artist, writer, or photographer, start a business, do something adventurous on the weekend, or otherwise shake up your routine: these challenges are going to be a lot of fun.

If you’re up for the challenges this book will present you with – things like: creating blackout poems, acting out your opposite, two minutes doodle squares, designing a package for yourself, and many more – my hope is that you’ll pre-order today.

You can pre-order at Amazon or Barnes and Noble for just a few cents over $13.

What a deal, right?

By pre-ordering now, the publisher will know how many copies to make when the book launches in August. The more copies that are pre-ordered, the more likely it is we can help spread the word about the book, getting it into more hands of those who need it most: artists, writers, architects, poets, musicians, designers, entrepreneurs, bloggers, babysitters, teachers, you name it.

If you’re up for the challenge, I hope you’ll pre-order a copy of my upcoming book and share a link to this post with a friend or co-worker who you think might be up for the challenge as well.

A frame for focus before making any creative effort

Thinking that creativity comes from nothing, that grand ideas either pop into our heads like magic or they don’t, hurts your ability to truly think creatively.

That’s not how creative thinking works.

In actuality, ideas come from a collision of everything we already know or are experiencing. This point is important to really try and understand, because without it our creative efforts are often futile.

How often have you run into this scenario: you want to do something creative, so you set out in an effort to do just that only to end up feeling overwhelmed or producing less-than-great work – paintings of sporadic brush strokes, writing that leads to nowhere, or ideas that we know are subpar. All of these things are more often than not the result of not defining the context from which our ideas will flow, of believing creativity is out of our control.

We should do our best not to confuse the complexities of creativity with sheer magic. Creativity may very well be partially magic, but there’s a lot about creativity that we do know with some confidence (thanks to science!). One such thing is that creative ideas are always, always, always a result of knowledge or existing ideas colliding together in our minds.

To produce truly creative results in anything we do (artistic or otherwise) requires that we first have a clear understanding of what’s expected. When we set specific expectations or goals for ourselves before we approach any creative endeavor, we are giving our minds the context for which they can seek out related ideas.

That’s the meat of being able to really think creatively: you establish some level of context from which to move forward.

Without that context, your brain is going to fire in every possible way it can, which is going to lead to fewer insights (or no insights) or dull work.

Instead, give yourself a frame of focus before you sit down to make any creative effort.

Creativity doesn’t work in a vacuum, it works in a space – sometimes large and sometimes small – that we define, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not.

Photo via Flickr.

An exercise for rapidly evolving bad ideas

I often have many bad ideas, at least 1,000 if not more, in a week. But that doesn’t prevent me from trying to have even more ideas.

Often I hear feedback that my ideas are no good, that they’re not applicable, or are too flawed to be worthwhile even in the long run. If I were to take all of my bad ideas and put them into a book it would be considerably longer than David Foster Wallace’s behemoth, 1,079 page, Infinite Jest.

We all face these moments of coming to terms with our bad ideas. Sometimes that means facing the criticism from outside–from friends, co-workers, or others–or internally, from our inner critic who tells us to abandon the idea, to forget the work, to give up. Most times we realize our ideas are poor only once we’ve started in on them, made an investment of time or energy, or otherwise considered the idea to be at-least somewhat worthwhile.

And that latter part, about discovering our ideas are bad only after we’ve invested in them, is worthwhile.

I’ve written about this fear of imperfection before:

“Of course imperfection comes with a price. Flaws can make you look like an amateur. Typos and grammatical errors turn even the most elegant writer into an ambitious sophomore. Any idea that begins to crumble under the lightest of critique can have it thrown out in a heartbeat.”

But the fear of an idea being poor–or the fear of being mocked or criticized for our ideas–should not prevent us from trying to have more ideas, and pushing ourselves to even have more bad ones.

Creativity takes guts.

“You don’t need to come up with the next big idea. Your ideas don’t need to be the best, or even your best. What’s more important is that you have ideas, and that you have the guts to see them through.”

Bad ideas often lay the foundation for good ideas, because we wouldn’t know what makes a good idea good unless we had a better understanding of what makes bad ideas bad.

In order to push our creative ability, we must find ways to push past the fear of making mistakes and of internal or external criticism.

There’s a few ways to go about this, but one that I have personally found success with is rapid iteration and execution.

Instead of letting my inner critic prevent me from working on an idea, or from letting outside criticism stop an idea in its tracks, I let that criticism and fear rapidly propel the idea forward.

For example: recently I spent an entire weekend working on a small creative project, something I know I wanted but thought others might be interested in as well.

Upon completing a quick, rough version of the project, I sent the idea and the concept to an artist I greatly admire. His reply started with a heartbreakingly discouraging phrase you might be familiar with yourself: “I’m sure there will be people who will be into this, but…”

The feedback I received was valid, ultimately concluding that my idea might be interesting for some, but it’s unlikely to appeal to a broader group of people (including the type of people I look up to).

Rather than being discouraged, I’m planning to release the rough version of the idea I came up with anyway.

In your creative endeavors you can do the same: whenever criticism strikes or you start getting feedback that your ideas might be bad, let those moments of pause cause you to propel the idea forward.

The worst case is you release something as a “rough draft” or “early experiment” that lowers the bar for feedback and allows you to improve moving forward. The best case is the bad idea quickly evolves into something more worthwhile.

In either way, you can’t let the fear that your ideas are bad – or criticism around your ideas – prevent you from pushing them forward at least a little.

Keep moving. Get the idea out the door anyway and learn from it. Done is better than dreaming. Something is better than nothing. You can’t learn and grow and explore that which doesn’t exist.

Read this next: Facing the fear that you may not be that creative and all your ideas are bad.

Here’s an exercise for thinking creatively

How do you get better at thinking creatively?

The answer is how you get better at anything: practice.

But what does creative practice look like?

If creativity is your ability to come up with unique and valuable ideas, practicing creativity is doing that without the context of what makes them unique or valuable. Anything goes.

It can be doodling for 10 minutes or free writing for 5, it can be sitting in a crowded area and making up stories for the people you see, or closing your eyes for 15 minutes to imagine yourself in another country.

To become better at thinking creatively, you simply need to exercise your imagination.

Some of my favorite creative practices involve imagining things in completely different context. For example: while driving to work, I’ll wonder what similarities the cars on the freeway have to toy cars in a child’s play room. I imagine giant hands sweeping across the road and moving cars one way or the other. Or while walking around the office and looking at the tiles on the floor, I’ll think about what would happen if the rules of chess applied to navigating the office, how would that change our interactions here?

To become better at creatively is to make new thinking patterns in your mind. And to do that you simply need to adjust what you see or think about on a regular basis.

Your homework assignment for today is to find one thing and change the context of it. What if it were 100 times bigger? What if the rules that apply to a game applied to that thing? What if there were 1,000 more of that thing?

Blog or otherwise write about how the practice goes for you today and what you learned.

And remember:

“When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

Read this next: Seven steps to creative breakthroughs

The creative warm up


Have you ever seen an artist warm up before painting? Or a writer warm up before sitting down to write?

Me neither.

Athletes warm up before a game by stretching or performing systematic motions repetitively, almost in slow motion. A batter swings a weighted bat on the side of the field before stepping to the plate. Basketball players shoot hoops while running back and forth along the court before the game starts.

Warm ups are low level activities that do precisely what they imply: warm up the body for an activity.

For creative workers, both the body and the mind are what need to be warmed up.

The likes of dancers and musicians must provide their body with some type of warm up, particularly stretching. But what about the artist or painter? What should their warm up consist of?

Again, the purpose of a warm up is to energize the parts of the body or mind that will be active during the actual work or performance. For a writer, the warm up should activate the fingers and wrists as well as the imagination and focus abilities of the mind.

Putting your keys over the keyboard and typing gibberish can be an effective warm up for writing. For example, I often use free writing for a good 10 minutes before I sit down to write anything actually worthwhile.

Those few minutes of writing get my brain into a mode of thinking that is hard to get out of once I get going. No longer am I worrying about what to write or where to write, the warm up gets me in a mood where I know exactly what my purpose is in that moment: to write.

What’s your warm up? I think we so often worry about the work that needs to get done or the task at hand that we fail to realize we even have a warm up (or desperately need one).

You probably have one you regularly perform without even realizing it. To improve your work, take notice of what you do before you do creative work. There might be something there you can improve or need to change that you didn’t realize before.

What matters is that you have a warm up, that you realize you do, and that you embrace it and tweak it every time you sit down to work.

What’s your creative warm up?

Photo via Flickr.