It doesn’t matter if you are freelancer, a CEO or a cubicle dweller - sometimes you have to think outside of the box and brainstorm. No doubt you’ve hit the creative wall more than once and looked for a way around it. Don’t worry, it happens to all of us.
Fortunately there are a few strategies and proven tools to be more creative that will help you in your day-to-day work. Let’s start with...
1. Remember to “stand and stare” everyday
Ok, don’t do it right in front of your boss’ office too often, but it is important to step back from the non-stop office reality of emails and phones and meetings and just… look around. You did it a lot when you were a kid and you would do well to try to go back to that era in your mind for a fresh perspective. Sometimes it’s hard to find time to just “stand and stare” but this practice is often necessary to perform creative work. Give your busy mind a break from non-stop stimulation and open some space in your head for new ideas to grow.
This also helps your memory to improve as well. Clearing away the mental clutter lets the important things come up front and stay there. Who knew that disengaging from the world for a few minutes could be so beneficial?
How to do it
Find 5 minutes a day to take a break and just make notes, save links or take pictures. Gather them in one place and use them when you need some creative inspiration. It’s hard to do something with nothing so create a space that you can turn into your virtual creative bulletin board. The next time you hit the creative wall, disappear to your own creative space and see what you saved for just such an occasion.
There are a lot of tools that will help you to keep all these pieces of inspiration in one place. If you like to keep things old school, try a mod paper notebook that syncs to a cloud. You can simply make your notes or drawings with a pen or pencil and then they will digitize it for you. Cool!
If you are more of a techy type, then try the free Google Keep. This Google Chrome extension is both a mobile and web applicatione. It helps catalog pictures, links and notes with useful tags.
2. Turning something into something bigger is easier than turning nothing into something
Here’s what I mean. Staring at a blank sheet or screen usually doesn’t do much to get the creative juices flowing. When you are suffering from a creative block it’s so much better to see a random text or doodle or sketch or anything other than a blank space. Looking at something is much more likely to give you ideas than staring at nothing. This is no guarantee that the finished product will be your best work ever but it is a good way to get the ball rolling.
How to do it
When starting on a new blog post, document, logo or graphic try to put together some smaller elements first. It can be random words or phrases that you would like to use in the composition. This method is also very effective when creating drawings and graphics. Just put together a few shapes or colors or whatever to take even a small step further. If you let your brain work it will find its own path to combine these elements into something extraordinary.
A piece of paper and something to write with make up the basic creative starter kit. If you would like to go a step further you can try Doodle.ly. It’s a social drawing tool available for desktop, iPhone, and iPad. Just click Doodle now and use any one of various drawing styles. This tool will also help you to compare different colors and visualize new ideas.
When different components of your future project are ready you can put them together in one mindmap to present the idea to somebody or see how the parts work together.
There are a lot of free mind mapping aplications and web services online. Try our favourite - Mind42. You can draw thought paths, add your own pictures or mark something with icons.
3. Try counterfactual thinking
Could we sleep if there was no gravity? What if we could see the air and it tasted like strawberries? Counterfactual thinking is something that can set you free from thinking of the world as the way it is. The more often you can think in terms of how aren’t the more often you can create something totally different and innovative.
In 1982, Steve Jobs gave a speech upon receiving the "Golden Plate" award from the Academy of Achievement in Washington, D.C. His main message was that inventing something is like connecting the dots but in a way that anybody has done if before.
You don’t need to be genius, you just have to be able to connect seemingly unconnected things. So where are your dots and how are you going to connect them?
How to do it
One thing that especially creative people have in common is the ability to process problems in different ways than their less creative counterparts. You can do it too - see for yourself.
Start by trying the Random Word Technique. Just write down a description of challenge you’re facing. It can be a logo project or some other difficult task or opportunity. Then pick random words from for example from the dictionary or a book that you are reading now. Collect a few words or short phrases. Then look for their associations with your task and see if you can adapt any of your associations to it.
If you still need additional online support or a new source of stimulation, check out Diffen. It’s an online tool that lets you compare any two things and then learn a little about them.
Maybe you want to know what Hillary Clintion and Donald Trump have in common. Or maybe something about the differences between Advertising and Marketing will be just the spark you need to create a brilliant new slogan?
4. Get inspired by others
Sometimes you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to get a creativity boost, you just need to know where to look for a solution that someone else already invented. Let’s be honest - these days it’s really hard to come up with something totally new. It’s often easier to combine different elments from things that you find into one idea that works for you.
How to do it
Inspiration often doesn’t come when it’s needed so it’s good to have a go-to source of help when the time comes. Try downloading the BrainyQuote from AppStore and set the notifications to automatically receive quotes from famous people. A clever turn of phrase can be just the thing to get your own ideas started.
Customise your interface to help visualise your ideas and trigger any associations that might help. Maybe just the right quote from just the right person at just the time will be the start of a creative storm!
The internet gives you an infinite number of opportunties to learn about what other people think. But how can you even start to deal with that much information? Well, that’s what search engines are for.
When you are not sure about some aspect of your idea or you don’t know if your content will be engaging enough, try using Ubersuggest.
In just a few seconds you’ll see which words connected to your phrase are the most common in internet searches. You can see the results on a analytical list or in a word cloud.
5. Try solo brainstorming sessions
Typical brainstorming requires at least a few people to share ideas and create new solutions through collaborative thinking. If often works because ideas are submitted to the wisdom of the crowd and pushed up or down depending on the reception they get. The engagement with others tends to open up creative channels that you didn’t know were there. But can you tap into that energy when there’s no one to bounce your ideas off? Sure you can!
How to do it
My favourite online brainstorming tool available for desktops is IdeaChampions because it makes you feel like someone is actually asking you questions to help you think things through. All you need to do is describe your challenge and click “generate adjectives”.
Then application generates random adjectives that give you guides that might push you towards a possible solution. It may happen that some of them might be totally mismatched. That’s ok - just brainstorm once again.
As you can see, there are tools and strategies out there that can make your creative tasks easier to complete. Don’t be fooled into thinking that creative work is simply a matter of natural talent and there’s no struggling or planning involved.
All you have to do is build a virtual toolbox full of the right devices and your creativity won’t let you down again!