Jump-Starting the Creative Process

Some believe that creativity is inherent — you’re either born with it or you’re not. Others take a more open-minded approach and view creativity as something to be nurtured, expanded, and honed. We fall into the latter camp and also happen to believe there are ways you can jump-start your creativity on demand. The following are a few ways to do this when you need to summon those creative juices. And as crazy as it sounds, creating a routine out of some of these can turn creativity into a habit. 

  1. Write it down. Carrying a notepad and a pen around everyone is no longer just for pretentious writers (kidding!). In all seriousness, having a recording implement handy is a great way to jumpstart your creativity practice. Creativity can often be fleeting and random, so when new ideas strike, being able to jot them down or create a voice memo or type a note on your smartphone is ideal. 
  2. Learn new things. Nothing spurs new thoughts like digesting new information. Broaden your knowledge by taking a class unrelated to your job or by diving into a book on a topic you know nothing about. Adding to your repository of knowledge allows for a broader foundation from which creative thoughts can spring. 
  3. Dream about it. Sleep can help you find creative solutions to problems and science says so. A 1993 study at Harvard Medical School revealed that when students were asked to imagine a problem right before sleeping, half had dreams that addressed the problem, and a quarter actually came up with solutions in their dreams. 
  4. Brainwrite together. Brainwriting — the act of getting a group of people together to write their ideas down on paper, passing the paper around, and having group members add their own ideas to the list — can boost creative thinking among all group members. In one experiment, participants were able to come up with 28% more ideas for how to use a paperclip than another group of those who just stuck to writing their own ideas down. 
  5. Walk it out. Walking can help spur creativity, according to Stanford researchers, who found that a person’s creative output increases by an average of 60% when walking. That benefit even extends beyond the time spent walking. Even indoor walking can boost your creativity, as the act of walking (rather than the environment) seems to be the main factor in getting creative juices flowing. 
  6. Challenge yourself. Challenges and obstacles may seem like they could hinder creativity, but they have the opposite effect. When you’re doing something new or something you may not be great at, your brain gets to work. Think of a time when you were doing something hard for the first time. You may likely have had some thoughts like “this would be a lot easier if X” or “A better way to do this is Y.” By presenting your brain with a challenge, you’re allowing it to traverse unfamiliar terrain, which can generate novel ideas. 
  7. Observe. Simply sitting and watching can do wonders when it comes to creativity. In a world where everything moves so fast, taking time to slow down and sit in a mindful state can open one’s eyes to things not noticed previously. Mindfully paying attention to the details or “taking time to smell the roses”, as they say, can enable you to tap into things you may have passed over previously. It gets your brain into the habit of finding nuances and appreciating the little things that others miss. This ability to mindfully observe can boost innovation and spur new creative connections. 
  8. Untether your mind. Often, the thing that inhibits creativity the most is a person’s own ideas. That is, we sometimes subconsciously (or consciously) put boundaries and limits on ourselves when generating new ideas. The best ideas will come from a blank slate, without hindrances like standards or thresholds that hang in the back of your mind. If you’re trying to solve a problem, turn it into a question or a distinct goal. Then allow yourself to think of as many ways to answer that question or meet that goal as possible — the sky’s the limit. You can always reign in ideas based on the time, effort, or cost limits you may have, but the important thing is to get the ideas out and down on paper first. 

Creativity is a practice, which means there’s always room for improvement. Turning some of the actions above into habits — or at least regularly scheduled occurrences — can help you generate new ideas, solve novel problems, and turn wacky and outrageous thoughts into something amazing. As with any practice, routine and discipline strengthen it. Consider how you might sprinkle in some of the activities above to your daily routine.

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