Creative thinking hacks

Back in 2007, Scott Berkun wrote a really interesting essay on Creative Thinking Hacks. In the article he suggested “all of us possess everything necessary to be more creative. The problem is we’ve been trained away from our creative instincts by schools, parents, movies, workplaces” and now the unerring distraction of the World Wide Web.

It’s like the old adage that we can all draw when we’re kids, but through schooling (formal or otherwise) and into adulthood, we ‘learn’ [read: lose the skill] not to draw. And of course, when we’re adults it’s harder to learn and it’s harder, perhaps, to be creative.

He continues: “The word creativity is frequently inflated by association, frequently appearing with overused, hype-laden words such as genius, brilliance, revolution and innovation. Hype mongers and creative intimidators throw those labels around like candy, scaring most people out of their own natural creative instincts.”

But we can be saved from this plight by a few concepts and tricks, which Scott believes will help anyone be creative at any time:

  • Start an idea journal. The rule is: any idea that pops in your mind, at any time, write it down. There are no inhibitions: any idea for anything goes in here. This will help you find your own creative rhythms, as over time you can note what times of day you’re more creative. Use a paper journal, so you sketch or draw things, but digital journals, like those on the iPad, can work too. Your idea many not be feasible right here and right now, but should be saved. Whenever you’re stuck, flip through your journal. You are bound to find an old idea you’ve forgotten about that can be used towards the problem you’re trying to solve.

  • Give your subconscious a chance. The reason ideas come to you in the shower, or just before falling asleep, is that you’re relaxed enough for your subconscious to surface ideas for you. Make this easier: find time to turn your mind off. Go for a run, swim, jog, have sex, something that’s as far from your creative problem as possible.

  • Inversion. If you’re stuck, come up for ideas for the opposite of what you want. If your goal was to design the best album cover ever, switch to designing the worst album cover ever. Five minutes at an inverted problem will get your frustrations out, make you laugh, and likely get you past you fears. Odds are high you’ll hit something so horribly bad that it’s almost good, and you’re inspired to switch back to your original goal.

  • Switch modes. Everyone has dominate ways to express ideas: sketching, writing, talking. If you switch the mode you’re working in, different ideas are easier to find and your understanding of a particular idea changes every time you use a different medium to express it. This is both a way to find new ideas, and to explore an idea you’re focusing on.

    Take an improvisational comedy class. This will be easier and less painful than you think. It will teach you an entirely new way of thinking about the craft of creation. Most improve classes are structured around fun, party type games and teach you ways to combine ideas in real time: a powerful skill for any creator.

  • Find a partner. Many people are most creative when they’re with other creative people they like. Partnering up on a project, or even being around other creative people who are working on solo projects, keeps energy levels high. It also gives you a drinking buddy when things go sour.

  • Stop reading and start doing. The word create is a verb. Be active. Go make things. Don’t study it like accounting: you have to go do it, and make lots of mistakes, to learn anything about your own creative process. So get off the Web and start making something.

With all that in mind, now’s the time to go and be creative.

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