16 top tips for awakening creativity and innovation

Looking for new ways to get more clients, get a new design or overcome writer’s block?

There are probably more ways to implement creativity than you know. If you have read my previous post, you’ll know that there are two types of imagination – synthetic and creative. Creative imagination creates, totally from scratch (duh!). Synthetic imagination re-arranges. It remixes experience, education, other people’s ideas, sensory input, and stimuli into something fresh.

The previous post covered creative imagination. Here’s a few ways to get your synthetic faculties pumping. Use this during your brainstorming sessions, or in your every day life, in any situation where you would need some great new ideas.

Prepping your mind for ideas

Before we begin, the first thing you should know about ideas is that all the good ones always sound crazy, absurd, or too hard to implement. It is almost a cliché but many people won’t have heard of it, so I’ll have to include it here. Write it down even if you think it will never work, and maybe in the future your idea can be expanded or modified (with the help of the hints here) to become the next breakthrough. Another cliché that still applies nonetheless is that Edison went through countless failures before he succeeded, etc…

With that said, here’s the list!

1. Expand your schemata. According to developmental psychologists, we operate under schemata. If the first dog we encounter as a child tried to bite us, our schemata for dogs might be: Danger. These schemata are so engrained in us that we find it hard to change, or even to recognise! Years ago, the telephone in everyone’s schemata was a stationary one. If nobody overcame that, we would never have cell phones.

2. Attack from a different angle. Phrase your situation or problem in a different way. If you have exhausted all options for: “How can I do all this work in 5 days”, change it to “How can I best spend my 5 days?”, “How can we do all this work in 5 days”, or “Should I do all this work in 5 days?”

3. Do deeper. This is an extension of the above. What is the real reason you want what you want? Perhaps you are looking for a holiday to go on with your lover. Change it from “Where can I go with him / her?” to “How can we spend more quality time together?” You might end up having more fun, bonding closer, and even save some money in the process.

4. Either / Or. We don’t often realise that we are stuck in this mode of thinking. This is a simplistic example, but let’s say you have two clients for your business, and you only have time to do the job for one. If you are stuck in the either / or mode, you would pick the highest paying one and that’s that. The solution is simple if you think about it – take on both clients and sub-contract one out. You’ll get less money for the subcontracted work, but it’s better than nothing. What other solutions can you think of? There is probably an even better one.

5. Turn it around. This is something that I stole from Byron Katie, although she probably did not mean it to be used this way. Stating your problems in the opposite can give you new perspectives and ideas. There are often four or five reversals. “How can I make Fred return my money?” for example, can be reversed into “How can Fred make me return his money?” or “How can I make Fred give me money?” or even “How can I make Fred want to give me money?”

6. Walk in their shoes. Which brings us to our next point. Empathy. Why doesn’t Fred want to return your money? How can you ease his doubts? Common sense, you might think, but many salespeople lose a potential customer in me because they ignore this.

7. Change it around. Closely related is modifying all ideas that you think are bad. If Fred doesn’t want to return your money, is that a bad thing? Modifying your wants or problems mean that it is a good thing. Maybe you can guilt trip Fred into lending you his car for a weekend.

8. A silver lining. There’s a silver lining in every cloud. Useful in sales as well. Been single for a long time and feel like a loser? No. You’ve been holding out for the special One. A one man business? No, you can offer genuine humanised service that the big faceless corporations can’t. And so on.

9. Rip-off! This is a popular one amongst the dodgy people in the world. Look at the people who have gone where you want to go. How did they do it? Learn from their mistakes. But do it legally in a way that doesn’t hurt them. For example, I want a blog that makes me money. I look at how Steve Pavlina promotes his site, gets traffic, and builds interaction with his readers, but I don’t steal his content, design, or anything at all. That’s illegal and it hurts him (and usually me too).

10. Spork it. Similar to the above. Modify inspirations. Anyone seen a spork? It’s a spoon with the little tines (“teeth”) of a fork sticking out, and can be used as either spoon or fork. How can you combine or modify solutions to get a special one? The magic word is “and”, not “but / or / either”.

11. Fresh perspectives. If you are stuck for a solution or fresh idea, ask someone. Someone else in the same field. When it comes to brain power, 1+1 doesn’t equal 2, it equals 3. Even better, someone who isn’t. They give the craziest ideas, but don’t dismiss them. In these crazy ideas is the root of a successful one. Treat their ideas as clay, and shape them.

12. Fresh stimulation. A similar idea is to go for a walk, do something different. The key is to change something – whether it be your environment, your travel route, something. This stimulates your mind and gives it a different way to remix your ideas.

13. Give it a break! This is something I learnt from all my books on how to write (the things I do for you, my dear blog readers!). Often times after a break, I find errors, poor flow, or new perspectives that I couldn’t see due to familiarity blindness. Walk away from brainstorming session and come back in a few hours or a few days. You’ll be surprised at what you get popping your head.

14. My enemy is my friend. If you are matching wits with someone, ask someone similar for their solution. Battle Tactics 101. If some kids are stealing the ice cream from your shop, ask another kid why they do so. What would scare them away? What would make them stop?

15. Always a higher mountain. After getting through all the creativity stuff here, it’s tempting to just sit back and enjoy. Sometimes you have to, if you’re a designer working under deadlines. But what if you are coming up with ideas for your business or your life’s work, you don’t ever have to stop. Ideas can constantly be improved on, and the moment you stop is the moment…well…you stop.

16. Record it for the ages! I have lost count of the amount of times I had a great flash of inspiration, and thought about writing it down “later”. Then when I get a chance to do it, I have forgotten what it was! Take a page from all the professionals and carry around a little voice recorder or a notepad. It might seem a hassle, but losing an idea is far worse.