We’ve all been there. Those days when the creative juices seem to flow more like a slow trickle than a rushing river. When brainstorms feel like rain dances trying to summon just one drop of inspiration. In industries where creativity is your currency it can be daunting and unsettling, like a starting pitcher with a sudden case of the yips.
The best way to avoid these creativity droughts is to have an arsenal of tools at the ready to break the dry spell and get you back in the zone. It makes perfect sense when you think about it. Human nature inexorably pulls us toward routines and predictability, which are the antithesis of creativity. Here are some of our favorite ways to shake things up and keep the fresh ideas flowing.
Think like an inventor.
Sometimes when you start at a very high conceptual level it can be challenging to ground an idea in the specifics that bring it to life and make it real. Rather than spin in the clouds with an unwieldy goal, approach the challenge like an inventor. Most inventors don’t start with the aim of revolutionizing their industry. Though many end up doing just that, starting at such a lofty place would have left them with nothing to do. More often they begin with an idea to solve a specific problem, such as reducing impact from running, which leads to introducing a pair of running shoes to a waffle iron…you know the rest of the story. When you feel stuck try to articulate at its simplest form: what is the problem you’re trying to solve?
Take it to go.
Some of our best ideas happen when we are in motion. Whether we’re swimming, running or practicing yoga, the engaged state of our bodies allows our minds to wander freely. In this mode of partial activity/partial quietude solutions can almost seem to present themselves. While you can’t always step away from a busy day to engage in a workout, you can mimic some of the benefits by heading outside and walking around the neighborhood. For us, taking in the view after climbing the stairs to Telegraph Hill or stepping into the bustling energy of the Ferry Building can provide the spark that leads to a fresh idea. Rather than dwell on it too much initially, capture it quickly and then see what else comes up so you arrive back at the office with a few things to noodle on further. Keeping a pad of stickies in your purse or pocket will ensure you always have them at the ready when inspiration hits.
Do the opposite.
When Seinfeld’s George Costanza famously decided to embrace the opposite, every aspect of his life began to fall into place. Most of us aren’t starting from where George was but when you are feeling stagnant there can be wisdom in going against your typical response and examining things from a different angle. If you always lead the brainstorm, turn the reins over to another member of your team. Ask people outside of the creative group to join. Solicit the quietest person to give his or her input first. However you normally do, try the opposite.
Engage all six senses.
Human beings are highly visual and it is often the de facto sense we rely on when generating new ideas. What if we started with sound instead? Composers are hired to score movies for reasons beyond just creating a soundtrack. They are setting a mood, one that can be every bit as important as the visual on the screen. If you’re skeptical about the impact of sound watch the infamous shower scene from Psycho on mute. Or imagine how different the finale of the Breaking Bad series would have been without Badfinger’s Baby Blue. What about scent or touch? Each of our senses can trigger different emotional responses and sometimes starting there and letting the visuals follow can open you up to a completely different approach. While you’re at it, don’t forget your sixth sense - the one you should bring to every creative endeavor - the gut instinct that unfailingly tells you when you’re on to something good.
Gabrey Means and Cassie Hughes are Co-founders of San Francisco-based Grow Marketing.