“Just let your creative juices flow!” This is something you might often hear people advise you when they want you to unleash your inner Artist and generate as many ideas as possible, to which you probably internally replied, “Um, okay, how?” You’ll rarely get to hear anyone tell you just how this could be accomplished. It just ends up feeling like someone is encouraging you to be taller or have different colored eyes.
Are you supposed to just sit in a room and generate novel thoughts from nothing? Are you supposed to watch Stanley Kubrick movies to gain inspiration? What about meditating with a pen and paper nearby? As you might recall from the previous chapter, creative ideas can’t always be had just by waiting for inspiration or a flash of genius. Rather, creativity is stimulated by hard work, thinking outside the box, and unconventional thinking.
Creativity is less like waiting for the rain of inspiration to fall from the heavens and more like constructing a pipeline from a water source, or maybe digging up your own well until water seeps from underground to fill it up. To do so, you’ll need to have the proper tools and techniques—and these are what we’ll be discussing for the next few chapters. Of course, this relates back to one of the building blocks from the prior chapter: that inspiration is a myth, and creativity is work.
You’ll be equipped with the thinking tools you need to dig up your own well of ideas. After all, ideas are what you use to create whatever you want, no matter what field or discipline you’re in. To seek to be creative is to seek ideas and to pursue new ways of looking at things. Whether what you’re facing is a creative task, a work problem, or a personal dilemma, you’ll need to generate ideas to tackle it, and the following chapters will teach you how to do so efficiently. In truth, this and the next chapter describe what people are actually seeking when they desire creativity.
But before discovering what tools would help you rapidly move forward in idea generation, it’s important to first be aware of the common hindrances to generating those ideas. It would be harder to move forward with anything if you keep running up against the same wall, and you don’t even know that it’s your very own habits that keep leading you to it. So what might be those walls that could hold you back from generating great ideas?
Copywriter Dean Rieck says that one barrier to creativity is attempting to create while evaluating at the same time. Generating ideas and judging the soundness of those ideas require two different types of thinking that are incompatible with each other. Trying to do both at the same time is like trying to be the Artist and the Judge simultaneously—you can’t fully become the prolific Artist generating great ideas, when you’re also trying to be the stern Judge critiquing each idea even before it has a chance to fully emerge.
Secondly, another barrier is what Rieck calls “the expert syndrome.” Every discipline already has gurus who tell you they’ve “been there, done that” and that if they’ve never done it themselves, then you can’t either. Listen to and consider what they say, but don’t follow them blindly either. Dare to try something that’s never been done, even by experts—that’s what innovation is all about, after all. Staying within a set of rules imposed on you by someone else is essentially putting your creativity in chains. For the most part, rules are arbitrarily set by someone who is not in your unique situation.
Third, fear of failure is also a major hindrance to creativity. To fear failure is also to fear trying, and when you don’t try, you can never succeed. So as Rieck says, in trying so hard to avoid failure, you’ll end up avoiding success too. The path to both failure and success starts in exactly the same way, and they might even be the same 99 percent of the way through, only diverging slightly at the end. You never know until you start.
Finally, false limits could trap you in a headspace that also stifles creativity. False limits are boundaries you’ve often drawn yourself and serve to keep you only to what’s familiar and comfortable. But comfort is the enemy of creativity. To be creative is to go beyond what’s familiar and comfortable and onto surprising and sometimes even bizarre new connections found only outside of your comfort zone. For example, if everyone limited themselves to the idea that printers could only print two-dimensional surfaces, then the world would not know the 3D plastic and metal printers of today.
In trying to generate ideas, be vigilant against those barriers to creativity. Let the Artist in you run free first without being stifled by the Judge or by gurus who try to tell you what’s possible and what’s not. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, failing, or coloring outside the lines. When you know how to avoid such traps to creativity, you can then make better use of the following tactics to help you generate ideas more rapidly.
Finally, it’s helpful to understand that there are certain primary roles for you to play in your quest for creativity. These four roles are the Explorer, Artist, Judge, and Warrior, and they were described by Roger von Oech. However, we are really only concerned with the first two.
Explorer. The Explorer asks, “What’s out there, and is it helpful?” The Explorer is intensely curious and perpetually in search of interesting and relevant ideas. It gathers gems from different fields of knowledge, poking around in both familiar and unfamiliar areas to find useful information. Remember how creativity is the art of finding new ways to see and use what’s already there? Well, it’s the Explorer’s job to first figure out what’s actually there. What is the current landscape, and where do the boundaries (arbitrary or not) appear to be? What lies beyond them?
The Explorer gathers raw materials for the creative project, including facts, opinions, feelings, and experiences. It refuses to be limited to just popular opinion or expert advice and instead seeks fresh perspectives. As the Explorer, gather everything, put it in one place, and then move on to the next role of the Artist.
Artist. The Artists asks, “What do these things make me think of?” The Artist is full of ideas on what to do with the raw materials the Explorer has collected. The Explorer gathered the dots, and now the Artist works on connecting those dots in new and meaningful ways. The Artist is what people typically refer to when they say “creative.” It looks at all the materials available and figures out a way to combine them in novel and sometimes out-of-this-world ways. The Artist takes raw materials and then becomes “inspired” by them.
Having a playful and daring streak, the Artist isn’t inhibited by conventions as it experiments with combinations, reimagines concepts, and redefines trends. For example, as the Artist, you would pull together ideas from nutrition, marketing, and even animated characters to get children to choose and enjoy healthier food. The Artist in you might imagine how to use that passionate, animated rat chef Ratatouille to help get kids to eat nutritious, delectable meals. The Artist is often the one responsible for rapid idea generation.
Judge. The Judge is a practical and realistic character that performs the necessary reality check for the creative endeavor. While the Artist may be more of a free spirit, the Judge is more levelheaded and ensures that musings end up being actual creations. It analyzes each idea for feasibility, questioning assumptions and drawing counterarguments to bring out what’s truly worthwhile.
Warrior. The Warrior fights to materialize and sell ideas in the real world. It’s one thing to think creatively and another to fight for those thoughts to be turned into reality and be recognized as worthwhile.
Among these four roles, the Artist is what we’re most concerned with developing when it comes to upgrading our creative selves. Creativity is mainly about the ability to generate ideas on how to connect the dots in new ways, and this is precisely the Artist’s job.
These tactics will teach you practical and effective tools for stimulating your mind to think outside the box and develop new perspectives so you can get more creative in any aspect of your life. The first tactic is something that might sound ridiculous at the outset, but possesses a method to the madness.
Tactic 1: 100 Ideas List
Think back to a time when you tried to come up with ideas for a creative assignment or a problem needing a creative solution. Chances are you thought up or jotted down a few ideas, then stopped when you just couldn’t think of any more. How many ideas did you manage to come up with before stopping? Five, ten, or maybe twenty at most? You’ll notice that they were all somewhat related to each other and in the same vein of thought or approach. Then, when you hit the first mental drought, you stopped.
Trying to generate ideas takes up mental energy, so when people find that they have already listed down several, they think that’s enough because they start to feel too tired and drained of mental energy to go any further. However, experiencing that initial feeling of tiredness doesn’t mean that you’ve already generated all the ideas that you can.
If anything, it means that you’ve only finished listing down all the obvious answers and familiar things you know—you’re done picking just all the low-hanging fruit, so to speak. To get to the more precious bounty higher up in the tree, you’ll need to do some more climbing up—that is, make an effort to change the way you think and see things in order to generate even more creative ideas.
So to push you to go beyond the low-hanging fruit and get to as many “fruits of creativity” as you can, challenge yourself to make a list of a hundred ideas. No matter what it is you’re trying to come up with ideas for—what to paint, the plot of your next novel, ways to recycle paper, how to increase customer satisfaction—resolve to list down a hundred ideas about it. Just write down one idea after another. Don’t worry about editing the list and simply keep going until you reach one hundred.
Now here’s the method to the madness: the purpose of this tactic is to propel your creative process by brute force, pushing you beyond your usual go-to responses and compelling you to drastically switch the direction of your thinking at several points in order to complete the hundred-ideas requirement. Where the first ten ideas sprung from the same approach or perspective, you’ll have to find different themes or methods for the next ten. You’ll find that when you’ve squeezed all the juice out of a particular lemon, you’ll be forced to find other lemons and squeeze all the juice out of them, too. This gets you beyond the low-hanging fruit and into actual zones of creativity.
Say that for a charity function, or maybe a party, you’re trying to think of ways you can serve hot home-cooked food to people at another site two hours away by car. Initially, you might think of the following methods to keep the food hot while in transit:
- Use containers with airtight lids
- Wrap the food containers in thick cloth
- Use insulated carrier bags
- Place the food in a hot water bath
- Cover the food completely with aluminum foil wrap
- Use heated bricks to line your food bucket
As you may notice, all of the above ideas are directed toward keeping food hot by surrounding it with material that’s either hot or keeps heat from escaping. That first set of ideas was all about using containers and other methods that keep hot food hot. What do you do once you’ve exhausted all ideas in that direction? Shift to a different perspective. Thus far you’ve worked under the assumption that there’s no way for you to reheat or prepare the food on-site. But what if you lift away that limit? Then you might come up with the following ideas to heat or even cook food on-site:
- Bring your own portable electric stove
- Bring a microwave
- Bring a grill and coal
- Bring an electric kettle and use it to make a hot water bath
- Bring wood and a fire-starting kit
- Set up the food in serving trays with a continuous heat source underneath
- Bring a droplight that can heat the food placed below it
- See if you can have access to reheating or other kitchen equipment on-site (e.g., homes or establishments that may lend their kitchens to you)
Then, when you run out of ideas in this particular direction, you again need to shift your perspective to generate more ideas. Aside from using heat-preserving containers or reheating/prepping food on-site yourself, what else might you be able to do to accomplish your task? With that, you might come up with the following ideas:
- Look for alternative routes that will significantly shorten travel time by car
- Find other modes of transportation that might shorten travel time
- Rent a specialized delivery service from a caterer near you
- Order food from restaurants or caterers nearer the site
- Contract local home cooks at the site to do the cooking
- Transport the people you intend to serve the food to closer to you
As you can see, by forcing yourself to come up with more and more ideas to fill one hundred empty slots, the scope of your thinking will also widen. From just considering how precooked food may be kept hot by the kind of containers you use to transport it, your thinking can evolve to include ideas from an entirely new perspective, such as bringing the people closer to you instead of you needing to deliver the food to them. Perhaps another way to look at this is not to have a quota of one hundred ideas, but instead a quota of multiple approaches, angles, perspectives, and veins of thought.
Of course, not each of the ideas you put in the list would be completely practical, but remember, you’re not allowed to evaluate how good each idea is while you’re generating them one after another. Your only task is to complete the hundred ideas list, no matter how weird or impractical or unsuitable your ideas might be. If out of those hundred, only one is actually good, then you still win—you got to a point where you came up with an idea that works, and most of the time that’s all you need to get the job done.
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- Rapid Idea Generation: Practical Everyday Creativity for Idea Generation, New Perspectives, and Innovative Thinking By Peter Hollins
- Get the audiobook on Audible at https://bit.ly/rapid-idea
- Show notes and/or episode transcripts are available at https://bit.ly/self-growth-home
- Peter Hollins is a bestselling author, human psychology researcher, and a dedicated student of the human condition. Visit https://www.PeteHollins.com to pick up your FREE human nature cheat sheet: 7 surprising psychology studies that will change the way you think.
- For narration information visit Russell Newton at https://bit.ly/VoW-home
- For production information visit Newton Media Group LLC at https://bit.ly/newtonmg