Creative Endurance

by Josh Cowen

At our last Forum Ipsum event, Alex Tillard and I were digging into the nitty gritty of graphic files (see it here) when a client asked, “How do you keep up on new technology?” It’s a simple question, but keeping up with the newest technology can be very hard to accomplish. And it dawned on me that the answer to that question is the same as the answer for how to stay creative.

To keep up on technology you have to be seeking it out. You have to be reading, googling, watching, experimenting, learning, adapting. The same can be said about creativity. Without keeping up on current trends, you cannot expect yourself to have good creative ideas when the time comes.

Years ago I realized that creativity did not always come naturally to me. I used to wonder why creativity was so elusive at times. When I needed it, creativity seemed to be hiding. I have met some folks over the years to whom creativity seemed to come so naturally, almost like they were born with it. And maybe they were born with it, but for the rest of us it takes hard work. And if you want to stay creative, here is what I suggest:

Do you ever notice how you can drive to work and not even remember the drive once you get there? Or have you been almost done taking a shower and wondered if you even washed your hair? When we’re doing something we’ve done so many times that we don’t even have to think about it, our brains go into cruise control mode. And that’s fine when you’re washing your hair, but this auto-pilot mode does us no good when it comes to creativity. We need to break out of the norm and do things differently to wake up creatively!

So, experiment! Don’t be afraid to take a different way to work every once in a while. Write with your opposite hand. If you don’t draw, start drawing. If you don’t write, start writing. Making our brains do things they are not used to is creative gold! The more we do this, more synapses in our brains form. Our perspective of the world around us gets bigger, and our brains will be ready when it’s time to turn on the creativity.

For example, let’s say you’re working on a logo concept and you remember something you saw on your way to work that inspires you. Or you’re dealing with a client problem and you remember a recent encounter with a sales clerk that helps you solve it. In my experience, this is how creativity works: there is a correlation between doing something new/exploring outside your norm, and being able to be creative when you need to be.

Brainstorming is the process of coming up with an idea. You can brainstorm alone, or with multiple people. We’ve all heard that “two brains are better than one.” And when it comes to creativity, that’s true over and over! Brainstorming alone rarely does as well as 2-5 people brainstorming together (IMO any more than 5 can start to clog the system). You need a broad set of minds to look at the problem and come up with a creative solution.

A good place to start a brainstorm is in front of a whiteboard, or using giant post-it notes. People need to see all the ideas written down. This helps associations start to form that might not otherwise have happened.

When you lead a brainstorm, you have to be the champion of NO BAD IDEAS. Even the crazy ideas are good ideas in a brainstorm. Yes, crazy. In a brainstorm, people have to feel safe and know that any idea they throw out won’t be judged. As soon as someone starts to feel that others think their ideas are inferior, they stop sharing. And in a brainstorm, where the point is sharing, that damages the system.

And lastly, but certainly not finally, on the subject (there is so much more I could write about but I was told to keep it short) is to capture your ideas. Far too often we think of something in the shower or while we’re drifting off to sleep, but we fail to capture it. And then later in the day or after we wake up, that genius idea is gone forever. (You could have invented Google, and you didn’t know it because you never wrote it down.)

Unless you have a photographic memory, these ideas can come to you, but also leave you easily if you don’t capture them. So put a pen and paper by your bed, put bathtub crayons (yes they are real) in your shower, carry a notebook with you, or put it into your phone. POST-ITS! Use these to make notes and put them on a wall. Have I mentioned white boards yet? Do yourself a favor and write your ideas down!

So experiment with something new. Brainstorm with others, and write everything down. Feeling creative yet?