Ask why something is the way it is or why you do things the way you do, think about possible answers
Every chance you get: doodle
Free write in a journal
Find something you disagree about with a friend, argue with them about it
Make time to play
Read something new (ideally about creativity itself)
Take two minutes to meditate
Try something new (a new restaurant, a new type of food, a new experience, a new place traveled, etc.)
Get offline, go outside, take some time to really think
There’s a lot to be said for simply doing. Not fretting over every detail or waiting until it all feels right. Particularly for creativity: leaping before looking is valuable.
If you wait – to write the draft, to share the design, to make the melody, or what have you – you increase the likelihood that you’ll find something to tweak, or something to wait on, or something that makes any effort feel not worth it (at least not right now).
Instead, throw yourself onto the waves of uncertainty, of not knowing if the words will make sense, if the drawing will be understandable, or if the idea is sound.
Ideas are, after all, worthless until we get them out of our heads to see what they can do.
Besides: why worry trying to perfect or critique something that doesn’t even exist? Do something to move the idea forward first, everything else can come later.
Or, in my case: write first, title later.
If you want to be creative, you can’t hug your ideas, or how you generate ideas, or how you go about your day. Creativity requires that you live and breathe curious exploration. The best way to have great ideas is, after-all, to have many ideas. And the more ideas you generate, the more you increase the likelihood that a few of them will be pretty creative. In creative circles this insight feels almost cliche, but even working with professional creatives for 10 hours a day, I’ve come to learn we often forget how valuable it is to simply iterate quickly and regularly. For example: Pablo Picasso is known for producing thousands of sketches and paintings, though only a handful would avoid the garbage pile or fireplace. Over on Inc, Jessica Stillman reminds us of Picasso’s own words on the matter:
“'Action is the foundational key to all success.’ Have truer words ever been spoken? If you want to be more creative, don’t sit around thinking about how to be more creative. Try stuff. And then try more stuff. Continuous iteration, experimentation, and hard work are the basic building blocks of breakthrough ideas. Armchair pondering? Not so much.”
Edison and his team of innovators made a largely debated number of attempts to discover the perfect filament for the lightbulb. Einstein was known for doodling day-in and day-out until his papers were covered in many ideas which ended up only leading to dead ends.
If any of them had held tightly onto any one of their ideas, would we have ended up with the paintings, innovations, and inventions we have today?
I’ve written about this before:
“How many paintings and sketches do you think van Gogh made (and destroyed) before anyone noticed him? Or how many tons of clay did Michelangelo have to go through before he wound up with the statue of David? How many versions of Infinite Jest did David Foster Wallace draft until the final, 1,079 page version shipped? Even more important: how many words did J. K. Rowling have to write before somebody thought it would be worth reading?”
The important thing isn’t that in each event the individual tried 10,000 times to come up with the perfect idea. What matters is that they weren’t afraid to continue to try, even when they likely stumbled on an idea they felt warmly about.
To have the most creative ideas we need to be open to letting go of the ones we have.
Read this next: Worthwhile ideas are 1 in 10,000
So much of creative work is a result of high energy focused in the right way.
Like a magnifying glass held at just the right angle, transferring the energy of the sun into a fine beam of heat.
This doesn’t apply to the stage before the work: creative thinking, of course. The ideas have to come before you can do the work. But once you have an idea (any idea) you have to have the right balance between energy and focus to move it forward and get it out of your head.
This emphasizes the value of exercise, quality sleep, meditation, and finding your rhythm, when it comes to being creative.
Even if you believe you have a great idea, without the right energy to see it through – and to battle against the zillion distractions calling for you to abandon the idea at any moment – you’ll never see what the idea can become.
As best-selling author Scott Berkun recently tweeted:
“The greatness of an idea is irrelevant if you’re afraid to put in the hours required to see it to fruition.”
To put in the hours requires an intense energy but also a high level of focus to see it through.
Therefore, to be at your creative best, ensure you have the right balance of energy and focus. Intense energy isn’t enough, and focus absolutely isn’t either. You need both to turn your ideas into anything tangible.
Read this next: Daydreaming vs. Making Something Worthwhile
Photo by Dave Gough.
On January 1, 2008 I started this blog in hopes of answering the question: What does it mean to be creative?
As I learned of the complexity of creative thinking and the different ways it can be experienced, explored, and captured, I began to reform my pursuit into less about what creativity is and more of how we can utilize it more in our lives. Being creative isn’t about being more artistic, it’s about solving problems, expanding our potential, and doing more with our ideas in order to influence the world around us.
Today, as 2014 draws to a close, I’m excited that my journey through what it means to be creative and how we can utilize that knowledge continues. If you’ve been here since the beginning: thank you! If you’re just joining us now, welcome!
As I do every year, here are the top posts for the year, sorted by popularity based on how many people viewed each post.
When your expectations involve creativity, the task of training or optimizing for it becomes difficult, if not entirely impossible. How do you measure what’s truly creative when there are expectations set? How can anyone value whether something is creative or not if creative ideas exist, by nature, outside of expectations?
Creativity requires a delicate balance of primarily these eight things. If you’re not feeling particularly creative, evaluate which of these might be off balance for you.
Ideas are then not singular objects in the mind, they are the result of many different stimulus, combined to form a representation of a singular thing (or instance, or experience).With this understanding we can look at creativity as often the result of changing one or more aspects of what shapes an idea.
Creativity may be wildly complex to describe, but when we look over the past few decades of research and historical examples of it at work, some surprisingly powerful insights popup.One such area: creative development.
Being overwhelmed by how busy you are doesn’t mean you’re actually creating or doing the work. Busy simply means you’re unfocused on what you should be doing, so you feel busy.To the creative worker, busy is a familiar feeling. There’s never not enough to do or explore.
It’s true what you may have heard: some drugs do help creative capabilities.Yet, it must be mentioned that continuing research indicates that many drugs do more creative damage than good. Over-the-counter and prescription drugs designed to combat anxiety are prime examples of this notion in action.
So there you have it!
I look forward to writing more here in the coming weeks, and hope you’ll be here to join me.
As always, you can explore past year’s best posts right here.
Thanks for reading.