How to relight your creative spark
I MUST admit, this has happened before, and it's frustrating. It's midnight. I have been staring at the screen for two hours and still have no idea what to write for a column, not counting the last three days I spent trying to consolidate some thoughts.
If I could hazard a guess, this is a real and familiar experience for many of you. Eventually, the gears start turning and ideas pop into your mind, but have you stopped to ponder why our idea pipe stops flowing in the first place?
What deliberate steps can we take to turn the creativity tap back on?
Let's start by developing an understanding of why we get trapped in a box:
WE CHOSE IT
Have you ever read article headlines that say 10 foods you had no idea contained unhealthy sugars? If you read them, you will probably quietly tell yourself: "I kind of guessed it."
Yet, you just had an oat cookie yesterday, in the name of healthy eating.
My point is, sometimes, we choose not to find out more. At times, we do not have ideas because, deep down inside, we do not prioritise getting some ideas on board as a result of not seeing sufficient value in looking for a new one.
Occasionally, we have other "priorities" so we fail to allocate time to idea generation.
WE ARE NOT CONVINCED
I have read that near-death experiences unleash many new ideas. When we feel truly desperate, we do begin to think about solutions for our predicaments.
Previous ideas may have worked to get you to where you are today but innovation is necessary to move forward. We are often not convinced about new ideas until desperation calls for them.
WE ARE LOOKING IN THE SAME PLACES
Familiarity breeds contempt. Can I say that of ideas? If you keep looking in the same places, you probably will not get many ideas that you have not already thought of before.
Sometimes, we turn to the same people to brainstorm and generate old, tried and tested solutions. You could solve problems this way but it is unlikely to elevate you as a creative leader.
WE DON'T UNDERSTAND IT (YET)
Truth is, sometimes ideas do not come because we are thinking of a solution that is beyond our current experience, understanding and exposure. We have not had that paradigm shift yet.
For that to happen, staring at the screen for two hours is not going to help.
We need to broaden our perspective and understanding of the issue at hand. It is good to bounce ideas off someone and create new angles to look at an issue.
WE ARE TOO FULL
Do or do not, there is no try. In some situations, this is true, but sometimes, we must try. Even so, there will come a time when we need to take a break from trying and doing.
When our minds are tired, cluttered and scattered with phones ringing and children screaming, it really is not a good time to try to squeeze some juice out of the brain cells. Take a break.
Watch a good show, go for a walk or grab some coffee. Look for a better time and place to pen down your ideas.
There are many well-researched frameworks on innovation and teachings on being creative.
Here are five tips that have never failed me:
1. LOOK FOR SMALL SPARKS OF INSPIRATION
It seems like this is becoming a confessional column for me.
But you know what? I start off my idea generation with Google; though I must say that my best ideas have never come from the Internet.
However, related articles, blogs or videos are good ways to get your brain "in the mood".
Remember, do not get distracted.
Set a time limit, then walk away.
2. STOP TRYING AND DO SOMETHING ELSE
I do not believe in forcing out an idea. It just does not work.
My coffee and household chore breaks are often great rejuvenators. If time permits, I come back the next day.
While I may write down my ideas much later, I usually start my idea collection process the moment I know of it.
Many of my ideas come to me when I read a few articles.
3. KNOW WHEN YOUR MAGICAL MOMENT IS
Self-awareness is key. If I can put a number to it, probably 90 per cent of my great ideas come after midnight, when everyone is off to bed and the house is quiet.
No TV, no phone, no Google.
4. TALK TO IDEALISTS AND VISIONARIES
Why? Simply because realists usually tell me things that are too common.
The idealist is often a visionary and sees things people do not see, even in areas that they do not specialise in.
This is the hardest part because it takes time and there really is no specific way of doing this. When all else fails, I sit at a cafe and just be.
Look around and see what links you can make. Do not check your e-mail or your phone.
Just observe your surroundings and take the time to breathe and catch up with what is going on around you.
You never know what inspiration may come to you when you empty yourself of all urgent requests and constant interruptions.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
The writer is the director of learning and acceleration at social enterprise Leaderonomics.