Licensed Stock Image from PhotozMania

How to be creative on demand

You have a deadline running, you know what you must do but for some weird reason you feel you have run out of ideas. Maybe it’s the next logo design concept you need to have ready by tomorrow. Maybe just an article for your blog but you don’t even know where to start. It happens to everyone from time to time. The next set of actions that you take is the only difference between getting stuck in your rut, or generating the brilliant idea you were missing.

For many years we’ve been told creativity is a talent. That some people are more creative naturally because they use more their right side of brain. And we just believed it. Our belief made it true and unquestionable. Even though it was just an unproved, unscientific myth. (If you are not familiar with this latest study from the University of Utah you can read more about it here: Left Brain vs. Right: It’s a Myth, Research Finds.

To quote an excerpt: “Scientists at the University of Utah have debunked the myth with an analysis of more than 1,000 brains. They found no evidence that people preferentially use their left or right brain. All of the study participants — and no doubt the scientists — were using their entire brain equally, throughout the course of the experiment.” And it continues with more details you can read there. )

But let’s assume for a moment that this is not enough proof for us and we don’t consider it a myth or debunked. After all 1000 brains is a small sample. Ours could somehow be different right? Well our belief would still be invalid and wrong!

Unless what we mean by creative is enjoy our bath and get brilliant ideas because we are cool and super talented, most people have to brainstorm to get them. And all brainstorming, idea generation techniques and processes we have to generate creative and novel ideas, are in fact logical and analytical. Therefore even in the right-left brain theory, creativity would have been a left brain activity!

What does that tell you?

1 – First of all, that creativity is a logical skill and not a mystical talent. You can train it, you can improve it, and you can learn in fact how to generate new ideas. Yes, you can be creative on demand.

2 – Secondly, that we tend to confuse being artistic, with being creative. Creativity is not artistry is problem solving.

3 – The last important conclusion is that our strong belief in something, can turn it into our reality. And just because something is our reality doesn’t mean that is objectively real after all. So the belief that you have run out of ideas makes it true (for you). Your belief that you are in a rut makes it your new reality.

Of course i couldn’t leave you without some actionable tips to start generating ideas right away.

Time-boxing

Before starting out the brainstorming session, set a time limit for each activity, time can flow really fast during a brainstorming session and you might end up missing your deadline. Also creativity thrives better under a tighter deadline.

Mind mapping

Author of the book “The Mind Map Book: How to Use Radiant Thinking to Maximize Your Brain’s Untapped Potential”, Tony Buzan suggests using the following guidelines for creating mind maps:

  1. Start in the center with an image of the topic, using at least 3 colours.
  2. Use images, symbols, codes, and dimensions throughout your mind map.
  3. Select key words and print using upper or lower case letters.
  4. Each word/image is best alone and sitting on its own line.
  5. The lines should be connected, starting from the central image. The central lines are thicker, organic and thinner as they radiate out from the centre.
  6. Make the lines the same length as the word/image they support.
  7. Use multiple colours throughout the mind map, for visual stimulation and also to encode or group.
  8. Develop your own personal style of mind mapping.
  9. Use emphasis and show associations in your mind map.
  10. Keep the mind map clear by using radial hierarchy, numerical order or outlines to embrace your branches.

I think 8) is the most important guideline, so just try it out, and develop your own style.

But I will add a step too:

11. Don’t forget to parse the results through SCAMPER or CUBING (see below what they are) to eliminate the weak concepts. And also use mind map again in any potential new concepts that just came up.

If you are having a hard time finding a concept you can use the idea inversion technique. Take a concept that’s not quite successful and imagine the exact opposite in every way. Write down the opposing attributes and use them for a new mind map.

SCAMPER

Credit for inventing brainstorming for creative idea generation goes to Alex Osborn of the legendary ad agency BBDO. He suggested a checklist that later on the writer Bob Eberle arranged into the SCAMPER mnemonic.

S – Substitute it
C – Combine it
A – Adopt it
M – Magnify or Modify it
P – Put in other uses
E – Eliminate something
R – Rearrange or reverse

The scamper checklist can be used to parse ideas generated by the other methods  we’ll see confirm their strength and maybe help generate new ideas.

CUBING

Cubing was suggested by the educator and scholar Elizabeth Cowan-Neeld and allows you to “look” at your topic from the 6 sides of a box, as in thinking outside the box.

  1. Describe the topic
  2. Analyze it
  3. Compare it
  4. Associate it
  5. Apply it
  6. Argue for it or against it

Thumbnail sketches

One of the best techniques for fast exploring design options is through sketching thumbnails. Sketch pictures, words and layout ideas in a free form associative way. Step back often and assess promising ideas for further development.

These sketches will help you compare layouts quickly or logo ideas, and eliminate the weak ones right away. The important thing to understand is that design sketching is NOT drawing. In fact if you can draw well, avoid doing it while sketching out for ideas, since a quality rendering might conceal behind it a weak idea.

Conclusion

So next time you feel uncreative or in a rut take a moment, pause and choose not to be. Try out the various brainstorming techniques to solve your problem or go do something completely different. Relax, listen to music, go a walk at the park and then return and approach your problem from a renewed perspective.

Further reading:

Top creativity books for 2013
6 ways to be more creative

(Featured image: Licensed stock image from PhotozMania )