Google ‘how to think creatively’ and the top answer will suggest ‘writing a 500 word article with no topic whatsoever’, ‘taking a phone call with someone you don’t know’, ‘eating differently’ and the really out there recommendation of ‘going to see a movie in a movie theatre’.
Check out also: Contrary To Popular Belief, Gaming Is Good For Your Brain
Now, it’s true that no idea is a bad idea, but that doesn’t mean all ideas are great. Doing one of the above may well unlock a fantastic thought in a hidden creativity chest deep down in your spongy grey matter, but it also smells quite strongly of ‘blue sky thinking’, ‘thinking outside the box’ and all those other yes-but-what-do-I-actually-do-with-that terms that get bandied around at ‘ideation workshops’.
The thing with creativity is it’s an intangible, enigmatic mystery – if people could bottle it and flog it they would (and how rich would they be!). And that means it attracts jargon like flies on… pies.
I’ve worked in the creative industry for a decade and have read all sorts of articles and sat through all kinds of workshops. To save you doing the same, here are some jargon-free, simple and actually actionable things that are more likely to help your creativity than answering that PPI call.
Thinking is doing, so go do
Apart from the one time I had a lucid dream where I was brainstorming with a team and woke up with a fully formed actionable idea (a product of zero time and zero team – thanks brain!) most great ideas come from conscious, active thought.
In order to properly think, you must not be doing anything else. If you have an idea you need to come up with, prioritise it and book time to actually go off and think. That means blocking out 30 mins to an hour in your diary, taking yourself off to the park, the canteen, a meeting room and sitting down with your pen, paper, the problem or the brief.
If you work in an office, I don’t advise doing this at your desk for two reasons. Firstly, you’ll look weird staring off into space potentially muttering to yourself, and if you work for other people it could be misconstrued as slacking – as busyness is too often wrongly mistaken for effectiveness.
Secondly you won’t be tempted to answer an email, or be sucked in by the overly satisfying allure of email filing. We are often away from our emails when in meetings and the world keeps spinning, but a rogue chunk of time away from Outlook can feel deviant. Cut the cord for 30 mins. Trust me, it will be fine.
Prepare like a pro
Have you ever sat in a brainstorm and just had the same crappy idea over and over again? This is because you’re stuck in one way of thinking. You’re letting your mind guide your thought process, which is the day-to-day way.
The whole point of creative thinking is to come up with a unique and often unusual idea. So, if you haven’t already thought of it in your usual pattern of thinking, then realistically you’re probably not going to.
Understanding how your mind works will allow you to come to brainstorms prepared. It’s not cheating to have prompts and tricks to help you think in a certain way – it’s smart and efficient.
When exercising at a gym, most people start off on the machines which direct their muscles to move in a particular way. They don’t have to figure it out for themselves, the machine just makes them move in the way that will get the best results.
Having some figurative ‘machines’ like this will automatically get your mind away from thinking in your usual set pattern. You could call it ‘controlled wandering’ – setting the parameters for where your imagination runs to.
Everyone is different so there is only one way to find out what tricks are going to help you come up with the next great idea – trial and error.
Here are a few to get you started:
The brainstorm box – every time you see something that captures your attention or imagination – it could be a PR stunt in the media, the way a cupcake is decorated, a film with a buzz – put it in your box. For me, this was a jazzy word doc, although I have recently challenged myself to start using Pinterest for this instead. Run through these at your next brainstorm, think about why you love them. Apply this to your creative challenge.
The mind tour – most creative briefs have a subject, object or process at the core. If I need an idea to do with eating, I’ll write down all the different scenarios I can think of to walk through. From the room I’m in, to what I might be wearing, what I’m using, whatever it may be. At some point you will come across a thought, action or object you can work with in a new and unusual way.
The last resort – when times are hard, pick a letter and start thinking about words that start with that letter in relation to the brief. I’m serious. You may come up with some extremely random ideas, but it’s a great way to get out of the aforementioned bad idea brain loop and just start thinking differently.
Lizzie Earl is the founder and director of MUNCH, a PR and creative content agency based in East London. She was also the brains behind the tongue-in-cheek ‘tampon tins that tell it like it is’ project which captured the world’s imagination earlier in the year, challenged the taboo of periods and raised money for important causes.