Whether you work in the arts, science, technology, medicine or business, creatives constantly have to use their abilities to invent. It would be pretty nice to be able to turn on creativity like a faucet and effortlessly solve every problem that comes up in an instant, but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. We have to be stimulated.
I recently spent a full 10 hours at work without a single creative thought. There was a specific problem I was trying to solve, and the answers just weren’t coming. Then I went to one of those experimental exercise classes — the kind where you exercise on top of a vibrating plate.
I’m not sure what happened, but I guess all that shaking brought my creativity to the surface. I went home and wrote a 10-page strategy.
Having fun and exercising help engage the creative side of the brain, helping people work better. A Stanford study found that getting up and walking around unleashes creativity, and even something as simple as zoning out and daydreaming can set the creative fires ablaze, according to neuroscience.
I recently reached out to the entrepreneurial community and asked some of its leaders about the weird and wonderful places they get their best creative ideas.
John Goodman, John Goodman PR: “By 1 p.m., I’ve been in front of my laptop for seven hours. I’m slammed. Tired. Not thinking straight. So I take a three-mile walk, and it’s during that hour away from my desk when I have my best creative ideas. My head de-clutters, and I start thinking clearly and coming up with ideas to help promote my clients. And I record those ideas on my smartphone so when I return to work, I can put them into action.”
Kat Quinzel, Cash Cow: “I find I get my best ideas when I’m making food. I think it’s because when I make food, I tend to forget about everything else. I get lost in the process of the making, and I think that gives my brain a rest. When it’s resting, my brain gives me its best ideas.”
Corey Nelson, Catherine Jinn: “I love to read biographies and memoirs of all kinds, and I usually read in bed before sleep. The combination of their story and my exhaustion lets me float into their world. The weird mixture of these two at the same time often triggers a sort of euphoria, and my imagination flows. I come up with a lot of ideas and solutions for our business.”
Bian Li, The Hungry Lab: “I solve problems for my business under water. No phone. No internet. No talking. No noise pollution. Just the sound of breathing through my regulator, the calming lull of the ocean and my thoughts. The deeper and darker I’m able to go (safely, of course), the more hyper-focused I must be of my surroundings and actions and, thus, the more hyper-focused my thoughts become. There’s nothing like going down to 120 feet, looking down past the dropoff into the abyss and thinking of a solution to a problem I’ve been struggling with for a while.”
Allen Klein, author/speaker: “Some of my best ideas come from times when I’m walking my dog. In fact, I got so many great ideas when I was writing ‘The Courage to Laugh,’ that I gave him credit for them.”
Barnaby Lashbrooke, Time Etc.: “We actually transformed our company strap line because of a thought that came to me when I was driving home to my daughter. We needed a way to explain, in human terms, what value our virtual assistants were adding to our clients’ lives by freeing up their valuable time. In a single journey home, I developed the notion of helping people to ‘get home for their kids’ bed time.’ This became a core part of our marketing message and uplifted sales by around 15 percent.”
Grant Schreiber, Real Leaders: “My most inspired moments are when I’m on the move between meetings and conferences, usually in the air at 30,000 feet, when I consider the conversations I’ve just had with interesting people from diverse backgrounds. Considering brand new perspectives from experts in their field and linking this to another unrelated idea usually creates a new, inspired idea for me.”
Lisa Kipps-Brown, Glerin Business Resources: “I get my best ideas when mowing the grass with a push mower. It’s not like I’m trying to think of ideas, but something about the combination of outdoors, strength, cardio and repetitive motion frees up my mind and I’m able to really get in the zone. Sometimes I’m amazed at the ideas that just seem to come from nowhere.”
Paul Allen, Dublin SEO: “I tend to get my best ideas with my head buried in data. While the data itself can be the source of the inspiration, this is not always the case. Sometimes it’s like dealing with data is an exercise for my brain. And when it is firing on all cylinders like that, it can pick up on something else that was lying dormant in there. Might be completely unrelated to the data I am looking at or even nothing to do with business at all. Can be very funny.”
Michael Freeby, Michael Freeby Photography: “My best ideas generally take place when I’m at a quiet milkshake shop late at night, with an excellent-tasting milkshake and a comic book. It sounds odd, but it always works. I love milkshakes and I love comic books, so the combination of both definitely gives a surge of all kinds of positive energy and motivation. And I’m sure the giant-size carb boost and creative reading material help. The more chocolatey the shake, the better!”
Feeling inspired yet? If not, I prescribe a few minutes away from your desk. Hop on the treadmill, grab a milkshake, dive into the ocean or simply take some time to disconnect.
Molly Reynolds is the co-founder of The Unicorn in the Room, a media site for entrepreneurs, small business owners and creative professionals.