Fuel Your Creative Mind

5 simple techniques to generate creative ideas

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Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Creativity has always been one of the most important skills that someone can possess, and given the uncertainty future, it is even more significant.

Though important, creativity is difficult to hone.

The reason is that creativity is highly subjective & contextual and there is no yardstick to measure it. Hence achieving perfection in creativity is non-existent.

Though there isn’t a formal rule book to learn from, there are some techniques to help us be more creative.

Get Creative by Procrastinating

Everyone has probably had a brilliant idea pop out of nowhere, a moment of epiphany or great insight. Ideas like these seem to materialise out of thin air, but in fact, it is the work of our subconscious mind working on a problem we desperately need solutions for.

Benedict Cary calls this process “incubation” in his book “How we Learn.”

While you work on any problem — be it writing a poem, drafting a business plan, or revamping the strategy of your company — start working on it, but do not complete it — procrastinate.

Yes, you read it right — procrastinate whatever you’re working on.

Procrastination is almost always associated with counter-productivity. But used in the right way, can help you be more creative.

People have a better memory for incomplete tasks than completed ones. So while you procrastinate, the task lingers in your mind — it gets incubated. Your solution takes shape when you think about it constantly and you get new ideas. Make a note of them, implement it when you work on the problem again.

When you iterate this a few times, your idea would have matured and would be far better than if you had followed a linear approach.

Whenever I start a blog, I write down the basic framework — the overall idea and the key points. I then stop writing and do something else. In the meantime, I get new ideas I can add, an approach to tell the story, examples that can be included, etc. I make a note of all these and include the same when I sit to write again.

This way, the blog I publish will have a better shape than if I had written at a single stretch.

You also need to be mindful of the deadline too; strategically balance procrastination and deadlines. Because procrastinating indefinitely would only result in you not producing anything.

In his book “Originals,” Adam Grant explains how procrastination helped Martin Luther King Jr. deliver the iconic “I have a dream” speech. When procrastination has helped King deliver one of the greatest speeches in the history of mankind, it sure can help us be a little creative.

“Procrastination turns out to be a common habit of creative thinkers.”

— Adam Grant

A Diverse Mind Is a Creative Mind

No creative person I’ve met, read or heard about has only had one interest.

Leonardo Da Vinci was one of the greatest creatives known to mankind — he was a painter, architect, engineer, astronomer, anatomist, and at least 10 others. Da Vinci wouldn’t have been “Da Vinci” if he only had a narrow set of interests.

Creative people always have diverse interests.

We tend to succumb to standard, protocols, and processes when we restrict ourself to a single domain. It imprisons us from looking beyond the horizon. On the other hand, being a diverse person helps draw inspiration from different fields. Making us look at problems from an unprecedented angle — and that’s what makes us creative.

Get interested in different domains, especially the ones that aren’t relevant to your primary domain — maybe your next brilliant idea may come from there.

Read poetry if you’re an engineer; study physics if you’re a writer; learn piano if you’re a coder. Mix things up — creativity thrives on variety.

“As we gain knowledge about a domain, we become prisoners of our own domain.”

— Adam Grant

Creativity Within Boundaries

Creativity is often thought of as a skill best exhibited when there are no boundaries, i.e. when you can act with as much freedom as possible.

But that’s a huge misconception — creativity works best when there are strict boundaries and constraints. Whereas working without boundaries is the easiest way to get lost. For instance, had I not had a deadline to complete this blog, I never would have published it.

Boundaries can be of time or resources or both. It’s better if it’s both.

Though creativity cannot be forced, it is important to establish clear boundaries before working on a problem. Because truly creative ideas arise when there are multiple constraints; on the other hand, we get lost in juggling multiple ideas when boundaries are not set.

Always set boundaries for whatever you’re working on — if you’re a painter choose the colours you’re gonna paint with, don’t have too many colours on the palette; if you’re a writer don’t write about anything and everything, narrow down to few topics you’re good at. As the classic adage goes: Too many cooks spoil the broth.

Once you’ve chosen the boundaries, you can play inside it, however you want.

Though there may or may not be other boundaries, deadlines are an important boundary you need to set for almost anything you work on.

Only a completed work is considered creative, not a work-in-progress.

“Once you’ve worked on the boundaries to work with, you can work with freedom.”

— Rod Judkins

Get Bored to Get Creative

Some of the most creative ideas I’ve ever got was while driving. I usually pull over and make a note of it, so I don’t forget it later. The other times I’ve got such ideas is while taking a shower, jogging, doing chores, commuting in public transport, etc.

Observing the pattern here, only one thing was evident — I get the most creative ideas usually when I’m bored.

I was addicted to my phone. I used to constantly browse, text, read, scroll all the time; and so is the case for most people. By doing this, we constantly feed our brain with information, but not giving enough time to process them. Consuming information all the time does not make you smarter, rather you deteriorate your learning.

One day I had a meeting on how to approach learning with my CEO, he said: “It’s a fallacy to assume that we become smarter by reading more.” Real learning happens when we read something, understand it, process it, apply it, and coming up with new insights and ideas.

Our conscious and subconscious minds don’t work well in tandem. Getting bored regularly, i.e. not using the conscious brain much, is the best way to power our subconscious mind up. It helps in reinforcing what we’ve read, making new connections in the brain, and thereby generating creative ideas.

We live in a world where there is an overload of information, so we need to choose what to consume and what not to; especially if you wanna be creative.

Staring at the wall for 20 minutes or so can make you more creative than scrolling through your feed on Instagram. So embrace getting bored. Never have the “fear of missing out information,” rather have the “fear of not generating ideas,” because the latter is more valuable.

“I love ironing my shirts — it’s so boring, I almost always get good ideas.”

— Austin Kleon

Quantity is a Key to Creativity

We have ideas all the time — brilliant ones, not so good ones, and bad ones; but the majority of these stay in our mind for a few minutes and fades off. Only a minor fraction of them stay — the brilliant ones, and that’s because we give importance to them.

We dismiss the majority of them as being mediocre or bad. But the only way to get more brilliant ideas is to get all our ideas out.

You should do this for these three reasons:

  1. You learn a lot only through failures, mediocre work, rather than successes;
  2. The idea you think as mediocre may be brilliant to others;
  3. The number of brilliant ideas you get by putting all your ideas out is greater than the number of brilliant ideas you get if you only put your brilliant ones out.

The third point may sound a little mathematical, but the bottom line is you benefit more by putting out all your ideas.

For instance, if I wait until I get a brilliant topic to write about, I’ll have to wait two to three months to publish one post. And in this process, I would have lost the habit of writing.

Most of us fear “having bad ideas,” but instead we should only have the fear of “Not having any ideas.”

Scrolling through my posts I published, I find good and bad posts. I’m not embarrassed by the bad ones, because if not for them I wouldn’t have written the good ones.

So don’t be afraid of your bad ideas, welcome them, because they are the key to having brilliant ones.

“The problem is that you can’t have good ideas unless you’re willing to generate a lot of bad ones.”

— Seth Godin

Conclusion

These techniques are a mere rule of thumbs and not rules to abide by. And not even a single technique works independently, they all go hand in hand. Also, these aren’t the only techniques to become more creative, there are probably 100 others, keep exploring and find what suits you. Besides, it’s creativity — it works in all crazy ways.

Kevin Kelly in his book “The Inevitable” speculates that all jobs in future will only be creative ones; since machines and algorithms are better at doing the routine ones. So this is the right time for us to learn to be more creative because that’s what defines human intelligence.

Written by

I write about Self-Development, Skills, Learning, and Creativity.

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