If there is one question that is guaranteed to come up in conversations on creativity, it is ‘Where do you have your best ideas?’ Having asked that question to thousands of people over the years, I can say that topping the “Inspirational Moments” chart is taking a shower, swiftly followed by walking the dog, lying in bed, travelling and running or cycling.
But far more instructive is the fact that, by comparison, inspiration never hits when people are sitting at their desks trying to think of an idea. This is simple enough to understand.
When we are relaxed and engaged in simple activities that we enjoy, we access more of our intuitive creativity and therefore ideas come easier. But ideas are just that without execution, and both imagination and engineering the result takes effort.
So, making it easier to get ideas and then turn them into a reality should be a critical focus for any business looking to innovate beyond the competition. The question is of course, how. There are ten guiding principles that help this process.
1. Just relax
The human mind has two main ways of thinking. One is with the logical, rational, analytical part of the brain, which we spend all our time using but which accesses only a small amount of the overall mental capacity that most people have.
The creative state, on the other hand, can quickly use huge parts of that capacity, but it is accessed by relaxing and having fun.
So, when trying to have ideas, get away from your desk to a place that makes you feel more human and that immerses you. Ideas will naturally come more easily. This will likely be very idiosyncratic – and this should be embraced. Individual creativity is precisely that – individual.
2. Talk it out
A sure-fire way to access a creative state is to head out with a friend or colleague and either sit in a café or go for a walk with them and talk nonstop at them about your idea for 20 minutes quickly.
Every now and again you’ll say something that feels interesting or is borne of genuine insight.
Many businesses now use this approach instead of ‘traditional’ brainstorming and we’ve seen such positive results that we’ve set this up as a Social Enterprise that’s free for anyone to use.
3. Sleep on it
For a week. If you need to refine a rough concept, try pondering your idea before you go to sleep. Then as soon as you wake up, write down whatever it is you’re thinking about. If you do that for five days in a row, you’ll find that the stuff that comes to you in the morning will become more and more useful.
The science here is fascinating – this process communicates to your subconscious that you’re interested in what it’s telling you. And as a result, the subconscious begins to evolve, rapidly.
4. Doodle it
Visual representations of ideas are a superb way to get a handle on the first step in making them a reality. It really is as simple as getting a big piece of paper and some coloured pens and then doodling.
The critical point is to use the paper as an expansive tool to get stuff out of your head. In this regard, size matters. Make sure that the paper is at least A3, and that you have lots of it, so when it doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter.
5. Make it 3D
If pictures are a great evolution of words, then modelling is the playground of creative kings. If you are developing something physical, play around and build a prototype. The most amazing inventions have come from very little. The computer mouse came from a weekend modelling with a butter dish and a roll-on deodorant.
6. Get playful
Einstein once said, “You will not solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it.” So, if the issue being addressed is serious and logical, respond by being playful and don’t be afraid to experiment with it.
Break some rules and don’t worry about seeming ‘professional’. Play with the idea, come up with some crazy connections. Follow the example of Billy Connolly: “Never trust a man, who when left alone with a tea cosy…doesn’t try it on.”
7. Make it real
Once you have a set of ideas, there are a few things that can be done to make them real as soon as possible so you can try them out and assess the reaction. Commit to the ideas by telling the world, your colleagues and anyone else that can hold you accountable so that it’s inevitable that you follow up.
Direct feedback early on will help refine ideas and is way more powerful than any research deck.
8. Wake up!
To start to push the ideas forward, wake in the morning and identify the three things needed to do to make them happen. Write this list down, use it as a guide for any daily actions and then review progress at night. This can quickly push even the most ambitious ideas forward into the real world.
9. Fail. Correctly
Failure is a wonderful thing; but only if you learn all you can from it – which means going over what your idea and actions led to. This process will accelerate any ideas into the league of the elite. One famous example is the Dyson Vacuum Cleaner; it took James Dyson 5,127 prototypes.
Dyson is now worth $4.9 billion (£3.22). 10. Get fit Be under no illusions – being creative and then making those innovations a reality will demand a lot of you. The ideas of sleepless nights, crazy excess and burning out are myths. Once you have an idea, it takes consistent discipline and that often means making sure you are intentional about how you eat, exercise, rest and recover.
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