Before getting started on a few practices that have helped us immensely keeping our creative juice going, let me clarify a bit what I mean by “Creative”:
Creative = Anyone that has ever used their mind to solve a problem.
That’s a lot of people… Creativity is not an attribute of a few magical designers or artists; creativity is the ability to originate ideas. It can be a canvas, a website, a marketing strategy, a research study, a funny joke or a line of code.
Creativity though is often imagined as some mystical quality that either you have or you don’t. And if you are one of the lucky ones that was born with it, when it temporarily goes away you get caffeinated or drunk to get it back. ?
Though there may be some truth to having a natural knack for creativity, but much like everything else, it is a skill like any other that can be learned and improved.
As designers, we get paid in exchange for creative efforts and need to be consistently creative on command every single day. ?No pressure ?
Here are a few things we learned over time and helped keep our creativity more constant:
1 – Creativity is a habit
The creative process does not start merely during a brainstorm session; you need to practice idea creation on a regular basis to become a pro at it.
If you truly believe that ideas are important and you have the desire to improve your creativity, then you will have the time and the resources to invest in it.
2 – The Execution Trap
Many creatives spend all of the weekly work time in execution mode. Performing tasks and checking things off to-do lists feels great and productive BUT concentrating purely on getting things done it’s a short-term investment that will lead to a stale work life.
Taking the time to stimulate your mind with creative activities might sound unproductive at first but it’s a great investment for your future that will ultimately bring up the quality of your work.
On the other end, some creatives are full of great ideas but incapable of execution. They are never “done” because they keep perfecting and tweaking their ideas and never ship them. This other extreme also kills creativity because it keeps you trapped in a never ending revision mode.
Have a healthy balance between execution & stimulation time (more in next tip)
I personally like to divide my time at about 70% execution 30% stimulating my mind with things related to my industry like books, podcasts, conversations with coworkers about design, going to seminars and workshops.
Looking at the work of others can be inspiring, but it can also lead to an undesirable side effect: getting paralyzed by other’s brilliance. This is a common problem, I’ve spoken with many creatives who feel like they always need to measure up to the work they see on gallery sites and magazines.
“It’s great to sit on the shoulders of giants, but don’t let the giants sit on your shoulders. There’s no room for their legs to dangle!” – Stephen Nachmanovitch
So how do I stay inspired besides looking at other designers? Well, I found that some of my greatest sources of inspiration come when I do things that are completely unrelated to my industry. For example, I like painting with my 3 year old daughter, fixing stuff, taking my Vespa apart and cooking… man I love cooking – and eating.
4 – Creative Time Block
Since at MENO our survival is directly related to our ability to generate ideas, we invest 1 hour every Friday to simply come up with all sorts of random ways we can improve. With various techniques we come up with random ideas to either solve problems we are facing, achieve new things, or come up with completely useless stuff just for the sake of it.
This is on our calendar and mandatory, but it’s also actually something we look forward to. Maybe also because we accompany it with beer too.
“To attempt to be perpetually brilliant and increasingly productive, without changing the basic habits and structure of your life to accommodate that undertaking, is a futile effort.” – Henry Todd
5 – Focus Time vs. Task Switching
Work with purpose, switching tasks obsessively to whatever you feel like doing is inefficient and does not allow your mind to get in the creative zone.
The quicker you can focus, the longer you can maintain focus the more creative traction you will gain.
In my focus time I look like this. I like to keep my hoodie on to remove some peripheral vision and eliminate the possible distraction that walks by.
Hoodie + headphones for me means creative business. With these two things, I enter my virtual creative zone from where I can pretty consistently come up with decent solutions to problems.
6 – Social vs. Alone Time
Even though my focused time alone is very precious (and comforting), truly great ideas never come out of one’s mind only, they are the result of collaboration and building on top of each other’s ideas.
Behind greatness, there is always a team effort, and we need to learn to spend quality time with other team members (or members of society) in order to truly come up with creative ideas.
This is probably one of the most challenging thing for designers because we tend to be solitary animals, competitive and terribly jealous or each other’s achievements and ideas. It’s as if there is a limited supply of good ideas and a designer wins when another loses.
Being able to create a friendly atmosphere amongst team members is key to creativity. One person’s ego can completely destroy the energy of a team and block the creative process.
To keep a healthy team atmosphere just put your ego aside. Care about the end result, not your personal gain and simply be a good person, not a jerk.
“The creative process is an inherently generous act. Whether we are developing a strategy or crafting a piece of art, creating is primarily about sharing our insights and perspectives with others.” – Henry Todd
6.5 – Accept the Down Times
We are not machines; ultimately there WILL be periods when inspiration will temporarily fade away. Life can be pressing and in the difficult times, we use brain resources differently. Just don’t panic and keep on just showing up.
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Hope these tips will help you staying brilliant and make amazing work! Do you have any other tips? Share them with us on twitter!