7 Tricks to Kickstart Your Creativity

Kickstarting your Creativity

I haven’t always been good at being creative.  In fact, my business partner used to complain that I would “say no to everything” but never come up with any alternative proposals.  It turns out the problem was that I didn’t realize that there were two “modes” of thinking, what I call execution mode and creativity mode, and that I needed to deliberately swap between them.

In execution mode, you focus on the details of how to make something work.  What is going to get you from point A (where you are) to point B (a well defined location) in the shortest possible time with the least amount of risk.  This mode of thinking is absolutely required in engineering, finance, operations, and other detail-oriented lines of work.  The problem is that it is absolutely deadly when it comes to creativity, shutting ideas down before they even have time to germinate.

On the flip side is creativity mode.  In this mode, anything goes.  You open yourself to possibility without concern about details.  Anything is possible, or rather, the time for worrying about what is possible is sometime later.  This is the mode where all great ideas, new innovations, and creative possibilities come from.  The important thing to know is that you can’t be in both modes simultaneously.  I had to learn to deliberately swap myself from execution mode into creativity mode.

Here are 7 tricks that I use to do exactly that.

7.  Go for a run (or a walk)

This is probably the first thing in my toolbox whenever I get stuck on something.  There’s something about engaging in physical exercise that lets your brain “unlock” from whatever it is stuck on.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve been struggling to come up with a solution for a tricky problem or a creative alternative to a sticky situation, gone for a run, and then had the solution magically come to me in the shower afterwards.

6.  Play word games

Sometimes silliness is just the thing to knock me out of execution mode and into creativity mode.  With this tool I’ll start playing around with the exact words of the problem, trying to create puns with them and randomly connect other things that “sound” similar even knowing they have nothing in common.  Having to come up with a blog post might morph into a post in the ground, into a pole, and before you know it I’m doing research on the fitness impacts of pole dancing as compared to a gym membership. 😛

5.  Play “Yes And”

This one borrows from Improv Theatre, and is a technique to be used in a group or with a partner.  The idea is that you disallow yourself from rejecting anything at all, but in response to any idea you have to respond with “Yes and” with another idea that builds on it.  This keeps ideas flowing freely, each building on the other, without ever shutting down your creativity with rejection.

4.  Make a Mind Map

I use Mind Maps particularly when I’m trying to figure out content for a post or a speech about a particular subject.  They’re a great tool for getting out all of the details that are lurking around in different corners of your mind, and then connecting them in interesting and novel ways.

3.  Try a beer-storm

Probably one of the most fun things to do as a group.  If you’ve got a tricky problem in need of a creative solution, get your team together with a white board and a round of beer.  Alcohol has a way of reducing the barriers inherent in our minds, creating a free flow of ideas.  Don’t worry about ranging into the inappropriate; take a picture when you’re done and trim away the worst the next day.

2.  Meditate

Meditation is one of the areas of my life that I wish I was better at.  I’ve tried to keep a regular meditation practice a few times, and keep falling out of it, but when I’m able to it is incredible effective at helping me approach the world with curiosity and humor, which in turn makes creativity flow.

1.  Write a morning journal

Dreams can be bizarre, disoriented, and unrealistic, but that is because they are unfiltered creativity straight from our subconscious.  Writing the moment you wake up in the morning without worrying about what it is you capture on the page is a great way to tap into that subconscious and supercharge your creativity.


What About You?

What tricks or tools do you use to take your creativity to the next level?  Tell me about them in the comments!

Social Media Primer – Non-Geek Guide To Sharing Your Club Online

I had the opportunity to give a workshop today at the District 5 Toastmasters Leadership Institute.  The workshop was a basic introduction to using social media to promote Toastmasters Clubs and other small organizations.  For any who were interested but didn’t get to make it, here are the video

and slides

Any questions or feedback?  Leave them to the comments. 🙂

A Habit Formation approach to New Year’s Resolutions

According to Forbes, just 8% of people achieve their new year’s resolutions.  I haven’t kept careful track of my resolutions historically; in fact, I can’t even remember any of them, which is probably a good indication that I haven’t succeeded in the past.

This year I’m taking a radical new approach, building on ideas of habit formation to create what I hope will be a much more successful plan to create positive change in my life.

The Old Approach

The biggest challenge for me about New Year’s Resolutions is that when I think about the things I want to change or improve about myself, there are SO MANY things that come to mind. 🙂  I want to start writing regularly again, I need to exercise more regularly, I should do a better job of keeping in touch with friends.  The list goes on and on.

Once I have a list, I set out to tackle them all at once.  I think the excellent Hyperbole and a Half captures it very well.  At the beginning of the year I’m thinking

clean all the things

This lasts a few weeks, but very quickly I devolve into

clean all the things 2

And before you know it, my resolutions are out the window.

The New Approach

This year I’m doing something different.  Instead of attempting to tackle all of my resolutions at once, I’m approaching it from the perspective of forming habits, one habit at a time.  Each month I’m going to take a resolution I’d like to make and figure out how to formulate it into a new habit.  It’s hard to neglect the rest of my resolutions and just let them sit in a list, egging me on with all of the things I’d like to accomplish and am not really working on yet, but I’m forcing myself to tackle them one at a time.

This month, my entire focus is on getting myself in the habit of using a unified TODO system.  I’m using a web-based tool called GTDNext.com and working hard to build habits around capturing all of my tasks within it, reviewing my outstanding tasks every day, and making sure every day I have a 5-7 item todo list that I work through to keep myself moving forward.

My hope is that by only tackling one item at a time, and by giving myself an entire month to focus on building a habit around each resolution, I can create much more sustainable positive change in my life than I have from prior new year’s resolutions.  Since sustaining a habit is much easier than creating a new one, each month I should be able to move forward without losing the progress I’ve made on prior resolutions.

What about you?

What are some successful tactics you’ve used to achieve and keep new year’s resolutions?  What can you recommend?  Let me know in the comments!