A lot of my clients are working on launching a creative side project. I had clients launch podcasts, YouTube channels, blogs, etc. And they often ask me for advice on how to consistently come up with creative ideas.
Creative ideas require you to stop consuming.
Creativity is when you create something. This is the opposite of consuming. Therefore, if you want to be more creative, you need to give yourself long uninterrupted stretches of time where you are not consuming other people’s content.
- Go for long walks without listening to music or podcasts. Just think. You can bring your phone or notebook to jot down the ideas that you come up with. But your device is only to be used for capturing your own ideas, not replaying somebody else’s. Many great minds went for daily walks to think about the problems they were working through.
- Go for long bike rides without listening to music or podcasts. Again, there is something great about thinking and moving your body simultaneously.
- Go to a coffee shop with just a pen and paper. Don’t bring your laptop or smartphone. I also recommend using a larger paper size for brainstorming. I really enjoy drawing mind maps, graphs, and timelines in my A4 notebook. It gives me enough space to think big and think through different cause-and-effect scenarios.
- Rent a cottage or cabin without wifi and go there for a few days.
- Use your commute time to think. Don’t listen to anything. Just pick a problem you want to think through and spend an entire commute thinking about it.
- Commit to no digital screens in the evenings for a month. I do this challenge at least once a year. I had people join me, and we all had incredible results from this challenge. Dishes were done, home projects were completed, the house got cleaned, family walks took place, and journal entries were made. And most importantly, all of this was done with much gusto and enthusiasm. When you don’t have the superficial “sweetness” of digital distraction, other activities become much more appealing.
Ask different questions to generate creative ideas
Your brain is like Google. You ask it a question, it immediately starts generating answers. The problem is that we don’t ask good questions.
Good questions to ask yourself:
- How can [insert what you are working on] be different? How can it be done differently?
- How would it look if it was easy?
- How can I do that in half a time?
- What frustrates me the most? What annoys me? Can it be done differently? People always tell you that you should focus on being happy. But I think there is a lot of power in being angry, annoyed, or frustrated. There is a lot of motivation and creativity that you can get from these emotions. Don’t try to run away from them. Figure out why you are so angry, frustrated or annoyed. It probably means you can see a better way of doing this thing.
- What do you see people doing wrong in your opinion all the time?
- What lessons have you learned recently from your life experience, reading a book, watching a movie? How can you apply it to the work you are doing? How can you help your clients with this new lesson?
- How can you apply the tricks and techniques from another industry, methodology, country to what you are working on?
- How can you connect the previously unconnected? (Read the Blue Ocean Strategy book to get great examples of people doing that.)
Look at problems through a different lens
A problem is an invitation for creativity.
A constraint is an invitation for creativity.
Covid happened? Ok, time to be creative and reinvent how you do your business.
Got laid off? Okay, time to get creative with your monthly budget and see how you can do things differently to save money while looking for a job.
I would go as far as to say that you should really embrace limitations and constraints. They make brainstorming much easier.
Let’s say you want to start a business. Compare these three questions.
1. What business can I start?
2. What business can I start with just $1000?
3. What business can I start with $1000 in under 3 months?
Guess which question will generate the least amount of confusion and overwhelm? The third one! You can see that when you include constraints, it really helps you to come up with feasible ideas much sooner.
Consume different things from what everyone else is consuming to have the thoughts no one else is having.
There is a magazine everyone in your industry is reading. Maybe there is a LinkedIn influencer that everyone in your industry is following. Consume something different if you want to be creative.
For example, this year, I stopped reading self-help books because I realized everyone else in my industry is sharing the same ideas that they learned from these books. Instead, I decided to start reading the classics and learning from them.
You can borrow ideas from other industries. That’s what I’ve done with the Monthly Method. I saw that Agile worked extremely well in the tech industry and applied it to the personal productivity space.
Keep a backlog of your creative ideas.
When you are walking, you can have a great idea. While grocery shopping, you might see something that inspires you. You should have a place where you can capture these ideas. I have a backlog file for my podcast/blog ideas. When it’s time to sit down and record a podcast, I just open up a backlog file and pick one I feel like doing that day. It’s so much easier than trying to come up with a fresh idea on a spot.
Listen to your clients.
If you have an audience, they have something to say. But more importantly, they have something to ask. Listen to their questions. Write them down. These can be used to create your next piece of content. What are they struggling with? What is stopping them in their journey? A lot of my podcast episodes were inspired by the questions my clients asked during our conversations.
If you are starting out and don’t have an audience, go to forums or Reddit communities. Treat people there as your clients. Comment on the posts with your advice. Really try to help this person out. See the feedback your comments are getting. If it’s a good comment that gets lots of upvotes, make a full-size content piece out of it.
Embrace time blocking and definition of done to produce shippable results.
Right now, when I am writing this blog post, I am following my schedule for the day. And at this particular hour, I have a time block that is called “Schedule a blog post.” In the notes section, it has a clear definition of done – “A weekly blog post is ready and scheduled to go out on Monday.”
A definition of done provides your brain with clear instructions on what it is working on and its final destination. We are not just working on a blog post; we are getting it to done, to the place where it’s scheduled and ready to go.
It’s not enough to have creative ideas, you need to ship them. And the best way I found to ship them is to use time blocking with a clear definition of done for each time block.
Other resources to help you generate creative ideas:
Books that I found helpful:
- The Blue Ocean Strategy
- Steal like an artist
- They ask. You answer.
Other posts that will help you:
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