Thinking is hard work. When you’re up against a deadline or facing a declining sales chart, it gets even harder. Whether you’re a business owner or a creative professional, here are some steps you can take to get even bigger and better ideas.
First things first, however. It’s a process.
Creativity is not a magical act. It’s a process. Scientists, authors, musicians, and other creative professionals who have studied such things have broken down the creative process into five basic steps:
- Gathering information for the task at hand
- Thinking through various solutions
- Walking away from the problem
- Getting an idea
- Testing the idea
Yep, walk away.
No doubt, the most surprising aspect to this process is step 3. When you think about it, however, you’ve experienced this firsthand many times. Frustrated by a project, you walk away in disgust. Hours or even days later, you come up with the perfect solution seemingly out of the blue. It’s the clichéd shower experience. Your subconscious is an idea machine.
Ten Steps to Bigger Ideas Now
1) Give yourself a target.
The more concretely you define the problem, the more energy you can focus towards a specific solution.
2) Mange the process and deadline.
Don’t allow yourself to move onto the next step until the current one is finished. And build time into your deadline to walk away.
3) Find a comfort zone.
Surround yourself with the creature comforts that make you feel most at ease.
4) Attack the white bull.
Hemingway feared the blank page. He called it the “white bull.” If Hemingway can fear the start of a project, you can, too. It’s natural. Attack your fear head on.
5) Free-associate with abandon.
Robert Frost called an idea “a feat of association.” Smash thoughts together. Write down words and see if they connect. Mash, smash, and crash.
6) Actively search for inspiration.
Look into other industries or unrelated fields for sparks of inspiration. Search the web. Look for items that spin you into new directions.
7) Aim low at first.
Nervous about a deadline? Frustrated? Get an easy solution onto that blank page and you’ll loosen up and feel more confident.
8) Forget about it.
Seriously. Go to a movie. Take a walk. Move on to another project.
9) Go to sleep.
Research shows that a good night’s sleep leads to bigger and better ideas. Let your subconscious go to work.
10) Be willing to kill your babies.
Don’t fall in love with your ideas. Try to get as many ideas as possible and then test them without prejudice at the end.
Five Steps to Bigger Ideas Long Term
11) Break out of ruts.
Pick up a trade pub from a different industry. Eat at a new restaurant for a change. Listen to new music.
12) Be a sponge.
The more stuff you have in your brain, the more material you’ll have to work with the next time you free-associate.
13) Keep your radar up.
Actively look around you. Carry a journal to record little nuggets of inspiration.
14) Gain confidence.
Confidence is key to any creative person. The more you employ the above steps, the more your confidence will grow.
Working with others will help you grow your ideas exponentially.
Now it’s your turn. What steps or tips have you found effective when it comes time to be creative?
Archive for November, 2007
From today’s Guardian -
You can witness a lot of environmental horrors, but there comes a moment when something snaps. It came for Rebecca Hosking last year when she was filming wildlife in the Pacific. What sounded like a nice job turned into something from a David Cronenberg film.
Hosking was on a beach on Midway island, a remote Hawaiian atoll. But instead of finding some pre-lapsarian wilderness, she and a colleague were confronted with the horror of hundreds of albatrosses lying on the sand.
The great birds’ stomachs had been split open by the heat, and bits of plastic were spewing out between the feathers and the bones. All kinds of plastic – toys, shopping bags, asthma inhalers, pens, cigarette lighters, toothbrushes, combs, bottle tops. The birds had swallowed them and choked to death.
It got worse. There were humpback whales, seals and turtles – all dead or dying from the plastic. Wherever they went the sea was full of tiny pieces of plastic and every tide brought more. On the leeward side of Midway they found thousands of albatross chicks dead or fatally weakened. Hosking picked up one still alive. It pecked her and then died too. At that, Hosking broke down in anger and distress. Most people would have left it there, but Hosking proved as tough as the bits of old toothbrush she saw. She went home to Modbury, the south Devon town where she was born and has always lived. She finished the film for the BBC. Then she set about banning plastic bags. Just like that.
In under a month, working with friends and showing her film, she persuaded all 43 Modbury shopkeepers to replace the plastic bag, the symbol of the throwaway society, with reusable cloth bags. What started as a six-month trial period became a permanent voluntary project, and the town’s traders now reckon they have avoided 500,000 bags ending up in the environment.
John Sauven, director of Greenpeace UK, said: “She’s changed the national perspective about the issue in a few months. She went as far away as she could get from her town and gave what is happening in the Pacific real meaning and relevance here. She should be prime minister.”
This news should have come with a good few exclamation marks -
The transport secretary, Ruth Kelly, warned yesterday that failure to expand Heathrow would damage the economy and have no impact on global warming, as the government prepares to launch the campaign for a third runway at Britain’s largest airport.
This is laughable. The article continues -
The government will start a lengthy battle with environmental campaigners and residents today by publishing a consultation on building a new runway and increasing the number of flights from existing terminals.
Kelly said abandoning expansion plans might salve green consciences but it would have no impact on the environment, because the global appetite for air travel would continue to grow at 5% a year. “If Heathrow is allowed to become uncompetitive, the flights and routes it operates will simply move elsewhere. All it will do is shift capacity over the Channel. It will make us feel pure, but with no benefit to the rest of the planet.”
What, pray, is the benefit to the planet of a third runway and a more ruthlessly-efficient customer processing system that will arise with another airport terminal?
The argument about the potential relocation to other, more willing recipients for some kind of economic ‘good’ is a familiar one. It goes that, by relinquishing control to some other actor, the ‘benefit’ of the ‘inevitable’ arrangement will move elsewhere and not benefit us! Yet, nothing is inevitable. It’s all a matter of choice and decisions made.
So Ruth Kelly most definitely no longer shines a light for the home territory.
Here is the brilliant BBC series about the creation of the consumer culture in the twentieth century. Worth watching if you’ve a spare four hours.
Part I: the creation of people as ‘happiness machines’
Part II: ‘the engineering of consent’ of the masses
Part III: ‘the policeman in our heads’ must be destroyed
Part IV: the maintenance of political control through focus groups
Thanks to Undercurrents Video for the link.
There’s no commentary associated with this amateur footage, published on BBC Online, focusing on (or trying to!) the incredible waves performed by a flock of starlings – perhaps for the sheer joy of flight and community. How do you think they communicate their sudden harmonious changes of direction with each other?
Update - link has apparently gone bad.
I have no idea where my source for these lists got the information from, but it’s irresistible. Percentages in brackets refer to votes cast for the ten most daft laws in the UK, and nine laws from other countries -
Recently the UK’s top 10 most ridiculous British laws were listed as:
- It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament (27%)
- It is an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the British king or queen’s image upside-down (7%)
- It is illegal for a woman to be topless in Liverpool except as a clerk in a tropical fish store (6%)
- Eating mince pies on Christmas Day is banned (5%)
- If someone knocks on your door in Scotland and requires the use of your toilet, you are required to let them enter (4%)
- In the UK a pregnant woman can legally relieve herself anywhere she wants, including in a policeman’s helmet (4%)
- The head of any dead whale found on the British coast automatically becomes the property of the King, and the tail of the Queen (3.5%)
- It is illegal not to tell the tax man anything you do not want him to know, but legal not to tell him information you do not mind him knowing (3%)
- It is illegal to enter the Houses of Parliament wearing a suit of armour (3%)
- It is legal to murder a Scotsman within the ancient city walls of York, but only if he is carrying a bow and arrow (2%)
[...] Other bizarre foreign laws voted by those polled included:
- In Ohio, it is illegal to get a fish drunk (9%)
- In Indonesia, the penalty for masturbation is decapitation (8%)
- A male doctor in Bahrain can only examine the genitals of a woman in the reflection of a mirror (7%)
- In Switzerland, a man may not relieve himself standing up after 10pm (6%)
- It is illegal to be blindfolded while driving a vehicle in Alabama (6%)
- In Florida, unmarried women who parachute on a Sunday could be jailed (6%)
- Women in Vermont must obtain written permission from their husbands to wear false teeth (6%)
- In Milan, it is a legal requirement to smile at all times, except during funerals or hospital visits (5%)
- In France, it is illegal to name a pig Napoleon (4%)
Aah – the original source for the info is old Auntie herself, the BBC.
Monbiot claims that biofuels could kill more people than the Iraq war. Here’s how his article opens -
It doesn’t get madder than this. Swaziland is in the grip of a famine and receiving emergency food aid. Forty per cent of its people are facing acute food shortages. So what has the government decided to export? Biofuel made from one of its staple crops, cassava(1). The government has allocated several thousand hectares of farmland to ethanol production in the county of Lavumisa, which happens to be the place worst hit by drought(2). It would surely be quicker and more humane to refine the Swazi people and put them in our tanks. Doubtless a team of development consultants is already doing the sums.
This is one of many examples of a trade described last month by Jean Ziegler, the UN’s special rapporteur, as “a crime against humanity”(3). Ziegler took up the call first made by this column for a five-year moratorium on all government targets and incentives for biofuel(4): the trade should be frozen until second-generation fuels – made from wood or straw or waste – become commercially available. Otherwise the superior purchasing power of drivers in the rich world means that they will snatch food from people’s mouths. Run your car on virgin biofuel and other people will starve.
Even the International Monetary Fund, always ready to immolate the poor on the altar of business, now warns that using food to produce biofuels “might further strain already tight supplies of arable land and water all over the world, thereby pushing food prices up even further.”(5) This week the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation will announce the lowest global food reserves in 25 years, threatening what it calls “a very serious crisis”(6). Even when the price of food was low, 850 million people went hungry because they could not afford to buy it. With every increment in the price of flour or grain, several million more are pushed below the breadline.
The cost of rice has risen by 20% over the past year, maize by 50%, wheat by 100%(7). Biofuels aren’t entirely to blame – by taking land out of food production they exacerbate the effects of bad harvests and rising demand – but almost all the major agencies are now warning against expansion. And almost all the major governments are ignoring them.
For the rest of the article and footnotes, read here. So where are the systemic analyses? If only a low-impact, laboratory-based refining method could be created and quickly scaled up…
Some useful thoughts at Creative Think, about being prepared for criticism and ridicule when introducing new ideas; here’s some historical context -
For example, when the composer Igor Stravinsky first presented his Rite of Spring ballet with its unusual harmonies and primitive rhythms, he was met with a rioting audience.
When Johannes Kepler correctly solved the orbital problem of the planets by using ellipses rather than circles, he was denounced.
When the nineteenth-century Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweiss suggested to his fellow doctors that they could reduce disease by washing their hands in chlorinated lime water before inspecting their patients, he was ridiculed by his colleagues who strongly resented the idea that they were “carrying around death on their hands.”
Be prepared for such a reaction and don’t let it prevent you from acting. As German statesman Konrad Adenauer put it, “A thick skin is a gift from God.”
How strong is your shield?”