I work from home which has a lot of advantages so I don’t begrudge it, but sitting alone in a room is a sure way to kill every ounce of creativity that I have. Not one to be easily beaten though I’ve experimented with ways to boost creativity and it’s been surprisingly easy, although not immediately obvious, this blog contains the lessons that I’ve learnt so far. The approaches are all personal, I’m not attempting to address ways to boost a groups creativity although I do like to use idea generation using post-it-notes for that purpose. Some of these ideas would work for groups just as well though. Of the many techniques that I’ve tried these are the ones that have worked the best, they all fall into the following broad categories that I will expand on later. Move about, start with a blank sheet, draw, distract myself, stimulate the brain.
First up, and the most powerful technique is to move. For me this means walking or cycling in environments that require a little concentration on the act of moving safely, but not too much. Leave the mind alone for a while and the ideas start to tumble. The challenge then is how to record those ideas and for that, a voice recorder is my gadget of choice. Sometimes while I’m moving I can listen and still have the ideas spring forth, this rarely happens with podcasts because there’s too much going on, but listening to books works well. Audio books are usually less demanding than podcasts after the first hour, there’s only a single familiar voice, the pace of change is generally slower, the mind is more relaxed and passive. When an idea starts to form you need to stop the audio book and let the idea build while walking and then stop and jot it down or record a voice message and then move on without restarting the book, often many more ideas will follow.
Sometimes being passive and waiting for the ideas to come while moving isn’t an option. In those cases it’s best to lay out a sheet of A3 paper and start. The best way to start to write, make a list, sketch and the ideas will start to come. A poor substitute for this is mind mapping on a PC, mind mapping is much more constraining than sketching.
Drawing is a powerful tool for generating ideas. It’s particularly useful to lay out what you already know about a topic in some sort of structure first. I like to draw what I already know from first principles, building up a representation of my knowledge in this way starts my brain’s pattern recognition engine and that seems to lead to it finding new connections, related and sometimes new ideas. It’s a good idea to do this rapidly drawing lots of different structural representations of what you know. This is also a great way to storyboard a presentation, all on rapidly generated sheets of paper which you can mix up until you get a story that works.
It seems strange but a level of distraction seems key for creativity. Distraction might come from people you are with, the background noise of a cafe, trying to keep upright on your bike, listening to a book, driving. Regardless of the source, this low level of background distraction seems to ‘loosen up the brain’ making it easier for new ideas to flow.
Finally I like to stimulate the brain. I will do this by scanning hundreds of articles a day and reading a few dozen. I highlight passages that I particularly like or add posts that inspire to folders like ‘action’ , ‘blog’ or ‘strategy’. Sometimes the ideas flow directly from the reading, but more often they provide my brain with the raw materials that the ideas are built using the techniques I described earlier. When I’m looking for inspiration though browsing through all the passages that I’ve highlighted is particularly useful.
When I’m doing a big project I also like to cover my office walls with sheets of paper that represent the current state of the project solution, so that I’m always soaking this up and looking for issues or opportunities for improvement. I write these directly on the paper on the walls. Some might call this a ‘war room’ which is often more associated with status tracking, I’m using the same technique for solution visualisation.
I wrote this post in the lovely Beach Terrace Cafe, where I often have breakfast. The inspiration for this post came from scanning my list of blog post ideas which are stored in an Instapaper folder. The photo is my view from the cafe window on a particularly cloudy day.