I’ve read a lot of tips lists, articles and books on the subject of creativity. I think the ability to come up with creative solutions is important enough to warrant a lot of research. Unfortunately, a lot of the time I’ve found myself disagreeing with what experts say are the keys to creativity.
I don’t think eating carrots, playing with colored blocks or standing on your head are going to really provide the creative insights you want. In my opinion I think genuine creativity comes down to only three things:
- Experience – Your background skills, knowledge and experiences contribute to the base of which you can draw ideas.
- Combination – How you combine ideas together to produce new ones.
- Process – How you output ideas. How you take the ideas drawn from experience and recombined into something new and put them into the world.
This means it takes time to develop and practice. No quick fixes.
Experience forms your pool from which you can draw ideas. Two things are important here, breadth and depth. Breadth works by giving you lots of completely different experiences which are good for recombining and creating new ideas. Depth works by giving you the expertise to know how to manifest an idea. You can have a great idea, but until you know how to translate it into reality, that idea isn’t worth much.
Here are some tips for improving your experience base:
- Cycle Hobbies – When possible, I make a point of trying out a new hobby, skill or pursuit every three to six months. I’ve done this with coaching soccer, dance, painting, games and others.
- Grab a New Book – What do you normally learn about? Pick up a book in something completely different. If your in University, take one of your electives in a subject completely outside your major. Last year I took courses in computer science and Asian history even though I plan to get a business degree.
- Meet New People – I’ve had the privilege of counting people from wildly different backgrounds among my friends. Ranging from teenagers to seniors, meeting new people with different beliefs, backgrounds and philosophies is invaluable for coming up with new ideas.
- Mix Mediums – Everyone is an artist, we just have different means of expressing ourselves. If you are a writer, draw a picture. If you are a programmer, try painting. Mix your mediums to expand how you express yourself.
- Get Technical – Master your basic technical skills. I’m not a computer expert, but I’ve learned to get a usable amount of skill with programming, PHP, HTML, blogging software, internet browsers, computer specs and various applications. These skills are crucial not just for internet entrepreneurs but anyone who wants to take advantage of the web. Buy a tutorial book and practice.
- Master a Style – Every creative medium allows for a style. I have styles of writing, styles I use when drawing and styles I use when making images. Once you notice something unique about how your creations look, master the ability to work with that style.
- Learn the Components – For every act of creation there are components that make it elegant or ugly. This article is built on a headline, opening paragraph and lists of tips. Paintings having focal points, lines of perspective and brush strokes. Read books on how the elements of your craft go to make the finished product.
Creative ideas comes from the ability to mix ideas where they don’t normally belong. Here’s seven ways to recombine ideas to get new ones. You might even want to use this as a checklist when thinking of solutions:
- Medium – This is the easiest combination to make. Visualize a horse and then try to draw it. Your memory of a real horse is a different medium than a pencil sketch. Some people wouldn’t say this is true creativity, but it is a form of recombination.
- Context – Move an idea into a context where it doesn’t belong. This is the art of metaphor. Look at how water flows to come up with an interface design. Use the act of eating chocolate cake to inspire your life philosophy.
- Non Sequitur – Place two distinct ideas side-by-side and see what happens. This can be focused (two completely different website designs) or broad (a website design and your Aunt Susan) but the result is often a new insight.
- Extract – Take a small aspect of one idea and combine it with your subject. Writing a novel? Ask yourself how you can use the idea of a dog wagging it’s tail or a tree growing to help your writing process.
- Visualize – Move things together on a visual scene in your head. This is the testing ground for ideas because it take moments to construct what can take a lifetime to build.
- Association – Come up with one idea and figure out what you believe should immediately follow it. Word associations, “black reminds me of night…” work well. Great for figuring out the map you already have of an idea and turning it on it’s head.
- Eliminate – Take a complex idea and remove the details for something simpler. Take a complex picture and render just a few abstract shapes. Take a complex concept and break it into one metaphor. Take a detailed article and just write about one idea.
Once you start coming up with ideas, the next step is to find a way to capture them and keep them coming. Here are some creativity methods to help streamline your output:
- List – Open up a word document and set up an enumerated list. Don’t stop writing ideas. Your goal is volume, not quality.
- Feedback – Bounce ideas off friends or colleagues. This can be a great way to hone rough ideas.
- Map – Take out a piece of paper and draw out a map connecting associations of the ideas.
- Journal – Write your though processes on paper. Every thought gets outputted as you write down your slow building to a solution.
- Talk to Yourself - I try not to do this when other people are around me, but if I need ideas sometimes I sit back and have a dialog with myself. I find verbalizing my thoughts makes them more concrete than just thinking them.
- Sketch - Roughly sketch out ideas. These can be diagrams, concepts or designs. A picture can be worth a thousand ideas.
- Meditate – Mediation can be a great way to let ideas flow and manage them.
None of these are immediate solutions, but by starting to put them into practice you can hone your creative faculties and come up with better ideas.