For agency creatives, much of what we’re able to achieve is shaped by our creativity. If you think hard about it, you can probably trace the genesis of your year’s biggest achievements back to a few single epiphanies. It’s easy to feel like you’re at the mercy of blind inspiration. Sometimes we struggle for days on a campaign only for that killer idea to hit us when we least expect it.
However, the truly creative amongst you know that, like anything, there is a process to creativity that can be learned and replicated. Once you understand how to be creative, the random nature of inspiration dissolves and those perfect moments are there just when you need them.
Let’s explore the 9 ways to stay creative and unlock your imagination for good.
Part one: Input
Did you ever stop to think about where great ideas come from? They don’t materialise out of thin air. In fact, it’s a common error to believe that creativity is all about inventing something completely new and original. It’s practically impossible to create an idea out of nothing – that’s simply not how our brains work. If you need proof, try and imagine a colour that you’ve never seen before. The best you’re going to end up with is a blend of two colours you already know.
Creative thinking is usually nothing more than the blending of existing ideas. That’s why motifs and themes in art transcend the ages within the vehicle of their specific genres, like blues music or abstract painting. In order to foster great creative output, you first need to fill your brain with creative input.
1. Study the masters
And what better place to start than with the giants of your field? No matter how obscure your job is there are always imaginative, accomplished masters who changed the game for the better. Spend some time on Google researching some of the greatest names in your field. Once you’ve made a list of five or ten great thinkers that you’d like to get to know better, do your best to seek out their work. It’s always best to experience it first hand, but if that isn’t possible look out for biographies, criticism, and stories that give apt descriptions and insight into their creative processes. They’re just the thing for a creative booster.
2. Keep a swipe file
The swipe file is one of the most powerful tools in any creative’s kit – a place to store tried and tested ideas that you’ve ‘swiped’ from other places. Although the term originated with copywriters and advertisers, swipe files can be made up of just about any creative material, from cartoons to architecture to product designs. All you need to do is make a space, whether that’s on your computer or in real life, and fill it with ‘cuttings’ of great work done by others. When it comes time to create something for yourself, you’ll have a whole host of ideas, frameworks, and motifs from which to build something original.
3. Indulge your artistic temperament
Inspiration really can come from anywhere. Ideas transcend the boundaries of the art in which they live, and grow wildly in the fertile ground of new landscapes. For that reason, it’s a good idea to expose yourself to as much creative work as possible. From literature to painting, music, design, and theatre; indulge your love of art to the maximum in your spare time.
4. Copy everything
The art of replication is crucial to developing a high skill level in any art form. From UX design to playing the violin, the best way to get good is to copy what others have done. Famous writers from Benjamin Franklin to Stephen Fry advocate reproducing others’ work in order to get a feel for what good art looks like. By copying, we get a feel for not only for the technical execution of work, but also rare insight into the creative imagination that made it.
If you’ve done a lot of this work in the past and want more ways to increase creativity even further, try copying work across art forms. For example, an architect could try to imagine what Van Gogh’s Water Lilies might look like as a block of flats, or a music producer might wonder what The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would sound like as a techno beat. This sort of thinking can lead you down fascinating creative pathways to great new ideas.
Part two: Output
Now that we’ve filled our brains with as much creative imagination as we can muster, it’s time to put pen to paper. As we mentioned above, creativity is a process and can be broken down into specific steps to be replicated. By following the system below you can ensure an improved creative output time and again. Remember, though, that each step in the process is separate and needs to be carried out independently from the others. I recommend taking a sizeable break between each step, or even carrying out each one in a new location.
5. Do some blue-sky thinking
The first part of the creative process is often called a brainstorm, but in fact, the term ‘brain dump’ is probably more accurate. The goal here is to get every tiny idea out of your head and onto the page. And that means every idea. Even if it’s impossible, nonsensical, stolen from somewhere else, or just plain irrelevant – none of that matters. Just get it on the page. The general idea here is to spread out all the elements of your creative mind like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. Once you’ve got them out of the box, you can start piecing them together bit by bit until a picture starts to form. Every idea, no matter how weird and wonderful, could lead you down an imaginative path towards something that works. Do your brain dump with a magic marker and the biggest sheet of paper you can find. Write the central theme of your project in the center, then just go nuts. Once everything is out of your head and on the page it’s much easier to work with.
6. Perform some crazy chemistry
Step away from your brainstorm for a short break and maybe a change of scene. We want to be approaching the next step with a fresh perspective. When you’re feeling refreshed, it’s time for the fun part.
Remember when we talked about inventing new colours by mixing two existing ones together? That’s precisely what you’re going to do with your brainstorm. Grab a different colour marker and start making connections between the individual entries in your list. What would happen if you mixed this idea with that one? What about swapping one part of this one with this part of that one? Write down what you think the results might look like, or how you think your ideas could gel together.
Just like during the brainstorm phase – and this is key to the process – we’re not worried about the quality of your ideas here. The goal is pure quantity, so really go wild.
7. Put on your practical hat
Now we’ve got half a million ideas down on the page, it’s time to start thinking about what could realistically work for us. After another short break, return to your page and start crossing out the things you don’t like. Maybe an idea is just completely impossible to execute. Maybe it’s been done before. Maybe it just plain sucks. Whatever the reason, wipe off anything you feel can’t make the final grade.
8. Flesh out the details
Hopefully by this stage you have anything between three and ten interesting ideas to work with. Get a new piece of paper and write each one down with some space around it. They’re now going to become individual little brainstorms as you think through the practical applications of your ideas. Try to imagine what your idea might look like in the real world, fully formed and in its proper context.
9. Choose one to run with
The only thing left to do is choose an idea to turn into reality. You can do this on your own, but it’s often helpful to talk to a team member, client, or boss to help you pick. They’re bound to offer an alternative perspective or mention something you haven’t thought of yet.
As long as you keep each stage distinct, and keep your brain rested in between stages, you’re guaranteed to come up with some exciting new ideas for your next project or campaign.
If you run a creative team, building spaces and systems for each of these phases of the creative process will foster an on-going atmosphere of creative empowerment in your company. With the ideal creative process in place, 2018 could be an extremely exciting year for both your business and for you.