“To get what you’ve never had, you must do what you’ve never done.”
– Harvey Mackay
Many good ideas have been discovered because someone poked around in an outside industry or discipline, and applied what he found to his own field. For example, Dan Bricklin took the “spreadsheet” concept from accounting and turned it into VisiCalc, the program that helped create the microcomputer software industry. World War I military designers borrowed from the cubist art of Picasso and Braque to create more effective camouflage patterns for tanks and guns.
Certainly no one would question Pablo Picasso’s creativity, and much of his inspiration came from his mother at a young age. According to the artist, “My mother said to me, ‘If you become a soldier, you’ll become a general. If you become a monk you’ll end up as the Pope.’ Instead, I became an artist and wound up as Picasso.”
If you are not born with creativity … then you have to cultivate creativity on an ongoing basis. Here are some ideas:
Keep a journal. Record ideas as soon as they come to you by keeping a notebook close at hand all the time. A real notebook, not a digital one, is best, allowing you to make sketches and drawings, but anything that lets you capture your thoughts will work. When you need to charge up your creativity, search your notebook for ideas and examples.
Search your environment for inspiration. Artists find inspiration in many unlikely places. If looking at the same four walls every day limits your perspective, add some elements that help you see things in a new way — pictures, plants, books, even toys.
Question everything. Ask “why” and “how” to determine if there’s a better way to solve a problem. Another favorite question of mine: “What’s missing?”
Turn problems around. Switch gears by looking for the opposite of what you want. Exploring how you could make a bad situation worse can sometimes tell you what not to do. Looking for a bad idea may lead you to a good one.
Combine random elements. Try this exercise: Look at two items on your desk right now and figure out a way to put them together. A clock radio and a coffee mug, for instance, could be turned into a coffee mug with a clock on it, maybe at the bottom. This won’t necessarily generate a useful idea, but it will train your mind to see different possibilities.
Recruit a partner. Bounce ideas off another person–someone you’re comfortable with, but someone who will challenge you when necessary. With another person involved, you’re not limited to your own experience and perspective.
“Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”
– Alebert Einstein
Read something totally different than usual. Too often, we find ourselves looking at the same newspapers, trade publications, blogs and the like. Pick up a murder mystery, a gardening book, a Shakespeare volume or anything that will teach you something you didn’t know anything about.
Tolerate failure. Expect to make some mistakes when you try new and different approaches. Sometimes colossal failures lead to spectacular successes.
Listen to your “inner child.” Ever notice how kids are unafraid to take gigantic risks or make outlandish statements when confronted with a problem? They haven’t been trained yet to take the safe approach. Even if their ideas aren’t fully developed, their dreams are big enough to take chances.
Relax your mind. Give your subconscious a chance to work by turning your brain off from time to time. Don’t focus on work or solving problems constantly. Take time to exercise and relax, and give yourself permission to think about other things. A tired mind won’t generate fresh ideas.
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
– Scott Adams