It’s hard to write a post on ideas to feed your creativity without falling into a slew of often contradictory cliches. Should you have a daily ritual or never fall into habits? Should you jump into it headfirst or meditate on it? Should you bounce ideas off others or work on your own without inhibition?
There is no one size fits all formula. Yet in exploring ideas on feeding creativity, there do seem to be some generally accepted ideas, some even scientific, to get you started. Here are some pretty safe bets to spur you on through your worst episodes of creative block.
Feed Your Mind
“The more you expose yourself to different and new ways of doing things, the more resources and tools you’ll have to solve your challenges.” You can do a lot of little things. Reading is an easy one, that seems to be high on the list for many creatives. Regular brain exercise complements your creativity in many ways.
Know Your Creative Cycles
Many truly great creatives seem to have relied on some form of ritual. These rituals may involve taking long walks, meditating, reading a book or indulging in favorite foods or a fine beverage. Some are getting up at 5:30 am, while others at noon. Writers like Hemingway, King and Murakami have all touted their discipline of writing everyday. If you don’t have a creative ritual, try one out. It’s like taking your mind to the gym.
Rituals can form the base for your creativity but injecting new experiences into your mix can connect your ideas in new ways. A study by Lisa Genova pointed to creativity as one of the best ways to prevent Alzheimer’s. With new experiences, you are constructing new synapses in your neural network and strengthening your brain. Feeding your brain by doing a crossword puzzle is great but it’s like “traveling down old roads”. In her words you want to “pave new neural roads”.
According to one study, your best ideas are probably not going to be generated in a group brainstorming session. They aren’t coming from your solo brainstorming either. Your best ideas come out when you combine the 2.
The group has the advantage of seeing things from angles that you as an individual could never identify. The group is also limited by groupthink, boxed-in thinking, politics, structure and more.
A study on the results of creative collaboration considered 3 brainstorming scenarios:
3) And a combination (or intermittent brainstorming).
While the quantity of original ideas in the solo group is generally highest, it doesn’t produce the same quality you get from a group. With intermittent group collaboration you get that balance of bringing uninhibited ideas to a group, where they can pass through a “quality filter”. The idea here is to use solo and/or small group sessions to come up with ideas, and then bring those back to a larger group and continue going back and forth. This way, you get a wide range of ideas that have passed the rigour of a group session.
Develop Constructive Creative Partnerships
Knowing that working in a semi-independent manner can lead to your strongest creative work, what kind of partnerships and collaborations will you develop? This doesn’t need to be more than a weekly coffee, beer or meetup. But a ritual bouncing around and exploration of ideas can lead to great results. The people around you will inevitably have a dramatic impact on your creative output.
Play at Work
Work isn’t always fun (or “they wouldn’t call it work”). The imagination and creativity that we develop while playing as children wanes as we get drawn into the 9-5. We lack play, where we give ourselves the opportunity to be in the moment and experience untamed emotions. Play can spark ideas that can’t be discovered in a boardroom or sitting in front of a computer.
In case you were looking for permission to get that foosball table, here’s the encouragement you needed. Take some time out of your day to play.
Creativity is About Openness
Several studies indicate that there is a positive relationship between openness to experience and creativity. Studies on personality found openness as being the highest indicator of creativity when compared to other factors in the 5 factor personality model. Being open minded can be enough to take your creativity to the next level.
A parallel here comes from the improv world – which in itself is an incredible creativity boost. The idea of “yes, and…” requires accepting the ideas of others and building on them. Even if you are provided with outlandish, far fetched or outright bad ideas – on your turn you must accept what they are and massage them into winning ideas.
And Lastly – Do Nothing!
After listing several active ways to feed your creativity, the last one is to do…nothing. To use the gym metaphor, recovery days are just as important as workouts to reap the real benefits of exercise. Meditate, turn off your devices, go for a walk without an objective or maybe even try some sensory deprivation. Doing nothing as a ritual is very commonly found in many of the most creative toolboxes out there.
Creativity is Personal
There may be no universal truth to achieving your path to creative enlightenment, yet these ways of feeding your creativity can get you started on your path. Otherwise, get some sleep, pick up a print magazine, go to the gym, take up fencing or go watch a comedy.
As Einstein said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun”. Have fun!