Flex your creativity muscle every day.
“As a content writer, the best advice I ever received on fostering creativity was to treat it like a muscle, one that needs to be regularly worked out. Just like going to the gym, I try to set aside an hour every day to write, whether it’s working on a new piece or just jotting down thoughts. And while we’re continuing the workout analogy, it’s important to take breaks during these sessions. If I’m stuck on a problem, sometimes it’s helpful to step away from the desk and take a walk around the block or even take a shower (you always have your best ideas in the shower).”
“A day in the office can be filled with meetings and high priority items. Playing background music at my desk relaxes me and keeps me from being too serious all of the time. Being a designer, I find I am more open creatively when I am calm and can think clearly.”
–Jennifer Matthews, cofounder and creative director of removable wallpaper company Tempaper, which has seen average annual growth of about 34 percent each year since launching in 2008
Figure out what time of day you’re at your best.
“Discover your most creatively productive time of the day and make it a scheduled daily appointment. I can’t wait when I get up to grab my coffee and get to my computer and start cranking ideas out. That’s my most productive time (in the morning). When I get up, that’s when I do most of my concepts. I’m a morning person. There’s a whole science to it, and you need to be increasingly selective and disciplined about where your focus is invested each day.”
–Robert Sonneman, founder and chief creative officer of award-winning SONNEMAN-A Way of Light, with a product line which includes 1,800 SKUs, with over 100 new introductions annually, and has experienced over 40 percent revenue growth in 2016, and 20 percent growth month over month in 2017
25 Ways to Be More Creative
You might think of creativity as something clever marketers or copywriters whip out when they need to come up with a compelling ad, or a personal trait only certain people, such as successful serial entrepreneurs or brilliant improv actors, naturally possess. But according to Keith Sawyer, research psychologist and author of “Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity,” everyone can be more creative just by taking eight incremental steps, but not necessarily in linear order. His path to creativity is more back and forth, a process in which the steps to greater imagination and originality build on and feed off each other.
The book is a gem, chock full of fascinating findings from research studies and a deep well of tactics that will get you thinking differently. In fact, Sawyer advocates what is likely a radical shift in mindset for most people. Coming up with good ideas isn’t something we leave until there’s a pressing need. Rather, it’s is a skill that can be practiced daily to solve life’s problems as well as discover its opportunities.
Sawyer tells the stories of the beginnings of Starbucks and Instagram. Neither company would be what it is today if its founders had continued to try to solve the original questions they sought to answer. Instead of asking “How can I recreate the Italian espresso bar in the United States?” Howard Shultz eventually looked at what wasn’t working with that idea to instead ask “How can I create a comfortable, relaxing environment to enjoy great coffee?” And while Kevin Systrom originally pondered how he could create a great location-sharing app, a better question turned out to be “How can we create a simple photo-sharing app?”
- Quickly, without overthinking it, write 10 variations of the same question. For example, for the classic question “How can I build a better mousetrap,” you might ask questions such as “How do I get the mice out of my house?” and “What does a mouse want?” or “How can I make my backyard more attractive to a mouse than my house?” One of your new questions will likely be a better one than your original.
- Debug your life. Brutally criticize an imperfect product or situation you come in contact with every day. Once you have a list, think of ways to eliminate the annoyances. This can amp creativity because little problems are often symptoms of bigger ones. Steve Jobs, a genius innovator, excelled at finding bugs that distracted from a user’s experience of a product.
- Make something then reinterpret it. Sometimes before you get at the right question, you have to make something. Once you do, think of your creation being used for purposes other than your original intent. This process throws away your first assumptions, forcing you to consider new perspectives.
The secret to exceptional success doesn’t lie in natural ability, but in deliberate practice. In fact, research suggest that being world class at anything requires 10,000 hours of practice. It’s not just doing the same thing over and over again, however. It should involve pushing yourself to master tasks just slightly beyond your capabilities.
You have to become an expert in an area before you can be creative in it. “Successful creators don’t just like knowledge, they thirst for it. They can’t stop asking questions, and they always go beyond what they’ve learned from teachers and books,” Sawyer writes. There are a plethora of methods to do this.
Creative people are always on the lookout for possible solutions. You can do this by becoming more aware and practicing mindfulness, which involves intentionally noticing things and not pegging people you meet based on your expectations or the categories you have established in your minds. Instead, try to be open and curious and resist stereotyping people.
- Create your own luck. Researchers have found people who describe themselves as lucky tend to notice things more than self-described unlucky people. They also act on unexpected opportunities and network well with others because they’re curious. Unlucky people tend to be tense and so focused on narrow goals that they miss opportunities.
- Don’t let accidents annoy you. Plenty of inventions–such as Penicillin, The Slinky and chewing gum–came into being because someone didn’t brush past an accident, but studied it instead.
- Play with children’s toys. Playing children are really good at making new connections. “I’m not the least bit self-conscious about my toy collection,” Sawyer writes. “If you walk into just about any supercreative company, you’ll find toys all over the place.”
- Explore the future. Imagine yourself being wildly successful five years from now. Write down as many details about what this success looks like. Then write the history of how you got there asking yourself questions such as, “What was the first step you took to move toward your goal?” or “What was one early obstacle and how did you move past it?”
- Leave something undone. If at the end of the day you leave a task slightly unfinished it may be easier to start on the next day. That’s because cognitive threads are left hanging in your mind and as you go about your non-work activities your subconscious might hook onto them and give you a sudden insight.
- Become a beginner. Learn how to do something new, such as Hula-Hooping, juggling, carving wood, or archery.
20 Ways To Be Creative When You Don’t Feel Inspired
Let’s be honest. We all want to know how to be creative on days that seem completely dreadful and leave us feeling totally uninspired and stuck. Either the words just aren’t coming or the visual concepts are unreachable. It just seems like any or all of the ideas are at a stand still. But don’t worry, it’s normal, it happens—so let’s move on. The real question is, “How to be creative, even on my off days?” Let’s look at 20 different ways to bring continual creativity into your life, blogs, and marketing.
1. Change Your Environment
The very first thing I do when I feel uninspired is to change my physical environment. While routine can be a great thing for personal productivity, sometimes it can kill your creative spirit. You get too used to the way things are and need a change to spark new thoughts and ideas. If that doesn’t work, maybe it’s your office space itself. Even the noise levels can influence your creativity. A study from Juliet Zhu found that a moderate noise level provides just enough distraction to encourage creative thought. Find a few different spaces that work for you, and change your environment when needed.
2. Take A Walk
Stanford researchers have found that walking improves creativity. On average, creative thinking increases by 60% when there is walking involved. Not only does inspiration form while walking, but then it continues to come even after you return to your desk.
3. Make Something For Play
Think back to some of your most creative years in life. Most of us think back to our early elementary years. At the age of five, you’re at 80% of our creative potential as you’re inventing all the time. Remember the finger painting, drawing, snowmen building, tree forts, and everything else? The only difference between then and now is that back then you allowed yourself to just play. There was no plan, no set goals, just an idea and the freedom to make whatever you wanted. Give yourself room to play. Just do it. I promise you won’t regret it.
4. Try Something New
Lately when I hit a creative road block, I find a new hobby to pursue in order to give my creative thinking a new perspective. For me as a graphic designer, that means playing with watercolors, hand lettering, woodworking, video, and other forms of creative mediums that I wouldn’t consider myself to be a pro at. For you, it might mean writing a short story, cooking a new recipe, or going to a new class on the weekends. Do something new to not only grow your creative background but to give a refreshing break to your usual practice.
5. Take A Trip
Maybe it’s not enough to change rooms or even change buildings for that matter. Maybe you just need a trip out of town to be around a new culture. Take a trip with some friends and enjoy your time together. “New sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations, and sights spark different synapses in the brain,” according to a study done by Adam Galinsky. Even new experiences that are totally unrelated to creativity can bring new ideas and perspectives when you return to the office. Designer Stefan Sagmeister closes his studio once every seven years to do just that.
6. Have A Mentor
Creative mentors are some of the best mentors. Mentors can range from a friend, a hero in the industry, or to someone else at your workplace. Mentors are there to listen to the problem at hand and lend their expertise to help you move forward. They can also introduce you to others that might be able to help you, making for awesome new connections and further expert advice. After all, networking is critical to finding a job you love—and one you could possibly be even more creative in.
7. Read A Book
At CoSchedule, we have several team building activities, but one of my favorites is our book club. Once a week, we get together and go over a chapter in the book that we’re reading through as a team. We discuss anything and everything that we’ve found interesting. That leads to a great conversation with a variety of topics that often influences our work through actionable steps. Start with this awesome list of creative books. Find a book that’s interesting to you and learn through another’s story. You may even find blog ideas from reading.
8. Listen To A Podcast
There’s a podcast for almost anything. Podcasts are great for car rides, but also for a music replacement while you work. Instead of listening to your favorite music stream, check out a podcast that will bring new insight as you work.
My current favorite podcast is Design Observer as Debbie Millman interviews a variety of creatives from all different industries. Look to your professional heroes, and find a podcast or TedTalk that they’ve spoken for.