How many times have you found yourself beating your head against a wall, trying to come up with a creative idea or solution on a deadline, but just not having any luck?
We tend to think of creativity as something that can’t be controlled—something that simply appears as a spontaneous burst of inspiration, a gift from the Muses or the product of an exceptionally gifted mind. But contrary to popular belief, creativity is a skill that can be practiced, honed and put to work just like any other. All it takes is a little knowledge of the best ways to tap into the right side of your brain, and you, too, can start coming up with amazing, creative ideas whenever you need to.
The key to accessing your own innate creativity on demand is a strategic combination of putting in real effort—and then stepping away, to let your subconscious do its job. With that in mind, here are five hacks that can transform a frustrating, time-consuming struggle into a productive, repeatable process.
- Stand on the shoulders of giants.
Creativity doesn’t have to mean coming up with a completely new idea that’s never been tried before. In fact, some of the best ideas come from building on existing ones, whether improving on them or taking them in a different direction. Taking some time to research relevant ideas that are already out there is a reliable way to jumpstart the creative process and open your mind to possibilities you might not have considered before.
Trying to solve a problem in your company? Ask around to find out how other organizations have handled the same issue. Need a unique idea for a marketing campaign? Take a close look at other campaigns that strike the same tone you’re looking for. Research has shown that it’s actually easier for your brain to be creative within some sort of given structure or with a foundation to work from, as opposed to coming up with ideas completely out of the blue.
- Brainstorm alone and with others.
Once you have some ideas to use as a starting point, the brainstorming can begin! Depending on your preferences, you may want to assemble a team to bounce ideas off of first, or take some time to come up with ideas on your own first. Either way, be sure to make time for both individual and group brainstorming sessions. Sometimes you need focus and quiet for a great idea to pop to the surface, while other times you may need the stimulation of multiple viewpoints and different ideas to come up with that perfect solution. By allotting time for both, you’re tipping the odds in your brain’s favor either way.
- Do something that consumes your entire attention.
After you’ve spent time researching and brainstorming, take a step back and let your subconscious get to work. The first step in getting out of your brain’s way is to change gears completely and work on some other, unrelated task that will take all your focus and attention. Fixating on coming up with that creative idea for too long does nothing more than wear you out, mentally and emotionally. And the more frustrated and tired you are, the less likely your brain is to want to work on the problem, even behind the scenes. By moving on to a new task, your brain gets the breather it needs to start those gears moving, while still remaining active and stimulated.
- Take a walk.
There’s a reason that Pixar’s massive studio headquarters only has one set of restrooms, centrally located in the atrium—they’ve seen that taking a walk and having chance encounters and random conversations with coworkers boosts creativity, and they wanted to make absolutely sure that employees had those experiences a few times every single day. Giving your brain some time to rest from focused activity, getting your blood flowing with a little exercise, and chatting about what others may be working on in their own departments can often unlock new connections in your brain as it works quietly on your problem.
- Sleep on it.
Finally, don’t be in a hurry to come up with a creative idea in one day. Give your brain the space and time it needs to work through the issue by sleeping on it overnight. Ever notice that cramming the day of a test never seemed to do much good, while studying the night before helped you make the grade? That’s because your brain processes all the information you’ve dealt with during the day while you sleep—and that’s exactly what will happen with the solution you’re looking for now.
If you use these five creativity hacks, it may still feel like you’ve been hit with a lightning bolt of inspiration when the perfect idea comes to you, but you’ll know that you controlled the entire process—and you can feel confident in your ability to recreate it again and again, getting results each time.
Do you use any hacks like these, or do you have a different method for extracting creativity? Share in the comments below!