The 7 Creativity Tools for When You are Stuck

There is a lot written about creativity. What is it? How can we develop it? Can it be measured and managed? An increasing amount of discussion in the business community is directed towards the topic of creativity. Many a blogger or speaker package common sense under some combination of productivity and creativity and feed idea roughage to the masses.
The so-called knowledge economy relies on creative thought to add value. Without innovation, much of the service economy is eventually reduced to the pursuit of lower cost labor. An knowledge-based economy should be truly based on viewing people as assets which appreciate with time, experience, training and enhanced intuition that comes from this. Perhaps the conscious citizens of developed economies are recognizing that collective creativity is the last deep goldmine they possess.
We often act like we don’t understand creativity, or as if it is something special that is possessed by a few. Nonsense. It is a natural behavior we are all born with. In the broadest sense, creativity is generating new ideas or new connections between existing ideas. One could say that creativity is the quality of thought that results in innovation. Problem solving itself is a form of innovation or demonstration of the creative ability to identify variables, look for cause and effect connections, test these ideas and evaluate the results – making connections between data and phenomena. Creativity is how we get ahead.
Creativity does not need to equal art. There will to be creative is as important as an artistic gift or creative talent. The original purpose of the kaizen systems which involved all team members in generating small improvement ideas was to turn people into knowledge workers, not merely laborers. The intent of kaizen is to develop a broad base of the will to improve, before deepening the skill to improve. We should not put creativity on a pedestal, or up an ivory tower. Creativity needs to be workaday, pedestrian, and hardworking. The result may be pretty, but the process need not be.
Creativity is a process, albeit a mental one and therefore mostly invisible. On reflection, here are seven things that seem to be lacking in my life when when creative output is low or a particular creative effort seems to be stuck. Thus the title: the 7 creativity tools for when you are stuck.
1. Read. Inspiration can come from many different places. Print media is still superior to visual or audio media for its ability to deliver ideas directly into your brain through deliberate effort. For example the list of creativity tools referenced in the LearnSigma blog was the direct inspiration to this post.
2. Write. Whether brainstorming on a whiteboard, writing a list of pros and cons on two sides of a piece of paper like Ben Franklin did, recalling and writing down the thought or event that made the strongest impression on you today, the act of deliberately putting words down helps creativity to move along, and find a new place to get stuck.
3. Laugh. Laugh at yourself trying so hard to be creative. Laugh to release the tension. Laugh just so you stop scowling. Something about laughter jars your being into a better condition, if only briefly. It’s like washing your hands before eating. People who did that lived longer, healthier lives even before we understood about germs. The same is true of laughter. We don’t laugh enough.
4. Listen. Listen to the sounds around you. Sound is non-visual, and forces us to visualize. We make connections and associations in order to process the nature of the sound we are hearing. When we hear of a bird, we think of a bird. Or the mind may leap someplace else. But your mind will rarely linger on the the sound without eliciting other thoughts. Listen to other people and their ideas. Listen to what others think of your ideas. Listen and wonder why.
5. Walk. The physical component of creativity is often overlooked. Getting up and moving around has the benefit of bringing more blood and therefore oxygen to the brain, as well as changing the scenery and adding visual stimulus. Unlike strenuous physical exercise, walking is something that most of us can do for long enough to work through problems or develop creative ideas without becoming physically exhausted. If exhausted, proceed directly to item 7 below.
6. Fail. Some would lobby for “experiment” or “try something” as a less harsh term for this action. The important thing is that you learn from your trial. Success may be due to luck, or because one of these other 6 tools unstuck your creativity. You don’t know. Deliberate repeated failures can reveal the part of the creative process that is insufficient. At some point you need to stop trying to be creative and just fail at it. Practice makes perfect, and nobody said practice had to be pretty, just as long as you learn.
7. Nap. If your creative efforts are at a standstill, take a twenty minute nap. Close your eyes with the problem or topic of your stuck creative idea in your mind. Let your subconscious mind work on it while you rest. Often our active effort to solve the problem or to create a new connection blocks it from happening. Just let the silt settle and the water clear. It might help to read to fall asleep, and be prepared to write down your ideas when you wake up. If napping in your workplace is frowned upon, or if you simply aren’t able to drop your head and get a quick twenty, just closing your eyes and relaxing for a few minutes helps.
There are many tools in the world, but reaching deeper into the bag of tricks when you are stuck in the creative process is like a metaphor that I can’t seem to come up with at the moment. I need a nap. Does anyone have any creative ideas on how to get a 300 lb treadmill from the garage to the second floor?

2 Comments

  1. holden

    September 3, 2008 - 3:51 am

    home gym in the garage, 1 hour daily exercise, for 2 months?
    thanks for the list!

  2. Rob

    September 3, 2008 - 5:24 am

    Jon – “smashing” post, as we say over in the UK . Thanks for the link. The content on my blog is a bit variable at times and I plan to drop the non-lean/quality posts sometime soon. I guess I followed point 6 – I tried something a bit different but ultimately the Voice of the Customer demanded a change! The non-lean/quality posts will probably end-up here: http://rob-thompson.com. Keep up the great work :o)