It can feel burdensome when it seems as if there’s nothing fresh in your brain. No worries, these routines will get you unblocked. If generating good ideas is part of your job, you know it’s stressful when it feels as if you’ve hit a wall and there’s nothing fresh in your brain. Creativity truly is an inexhaustible commodity. It’s just a matter of finding a new way to turn it on again. Here are some tips, sourced from executives who have an opinion on the matter.
1. Flex your creativity muscle every day.
“As a content writer, the best advice I ever received on fostering creativity was to treat it like a muscle, one that needs to be regularly worked out. Just like going to the gym, I try to set aside an hour every day to write, whether it’s working on a new piece or just jotting down thoughts. And while we’re continuing the workout analogy, it’s important to take breaks during these sessions. If I’m stuck on a problem, sometimes it’s helpful to step away from the desk and take a walk around the block or even take a shower (you always have your best ideas in the shower).”
–Sean McGowan, content writer at Codal, a UX design and development agency named a top digital development agency in Chicago in 2018 by B2B ratings and reviews site Clutch
2. Play music in the background.
“A day in the office can be filled with meetings and high priority items. Playing background music at my desk relaxes me and keeps me from being too serious all of the time. Being a designer, I find I am more open creatively when I am calm and can think clearly.”
–Jennifer Matthews, cofounder and creative director of removable wallpaper company Tempaper, which has seen average annual growth of about 34 percent each year since launching in 2008
3. Figure out what time of day you’re at your best.
“Discover your most creatively productive time of the day and make it a scheduled daily appointment. I can’t wait when I get up to grab my coffee and get to my computer and start cranking ideas out. That’s my most productive time (in the morning). When I get up, that’s when I do most of my concepts. I’m a morning person. There’s a whole science to it, and you need to be increasingly selective and disciplined about where your focus is invested each day.”
–Robert Sonneman, founder and chief creative officer of award-winning SONNEMAN-A Way of Light, with a product line which includes 1,800 SKUs, with over 100 new introductions annually, and has experienced over 40 percent revenue growth in 2016, and 20 percent growth month over month in 2017
4. Be a perpetual student.
“You can learn so much from reading, watching videos, traveling, and even simple conversations. Adopt a lifelong student mentality. Find the people you consider to be experts in your field and study them intensely.”
–Gio Celona, director of training and brand development at Brimstone Restaurant Group, which recently launched Beach House Pompano, that garnered more than 64,000 post engagements on social media in the first 30 days
5. Put down your device.
“I believe that everyone is capable of solving problems creatively, whether you’re a marketer or an engineer, but our mobile devices can inhibit creative thinking. The amount of information that we receive from these devices on a daily basis is overwhelming. Sometimes, simply taking a break from this sensory overload can inspire new ideas. In the data world, this can be compared to finding the signal in the noise, or the difficulty of finding meaningful data among huge volumes of data at hand. Creativity doesn’t always necessitate more information or more stimulus, but a better mindset to examining the problem.”
–Zarnaz Arlia, VP of marketing at data preparation company Trifacta, which has raised $124 million to date with tens of thousands of users at more than 10,000 companies
6. Seek a broad set of perspectives.
“Creativity for me stems from gaining a broad set of perspectives from diverse areas since most sparks of insight are interdisciplinary in nature (e.g. combining diverse topics, usually at the fringes, in a unique and new way). Therefore, it’s critical that you amass as much knowledge and perspectives from the broadest range as possible. Creativity, after all, is all about combining knowledge in new and unique ways.”
–Jim Miller, CEO of Arevo, provider of software-controlled additive manufacturing technology who was appointed to his role in May 2018 and closed $12.5 million in series B funding at the same time
7. Work for a company that gives you freedom.
“In yoga, a guru sits in front of you, modeling and correcting poses for the class, but they can also limit freedom. While workplaces have their org charts and chain of command, it’s important for the individual to be their own guru, having the freedom to step away from norms and think outside of the box. It’s on all members of a team to let each other be their own guru, and to let creative ideas flow naturally.”
–Zach Holmquist, cofounder and chief of workplace experience at Teem, a company offering tools and analytics to improve workflow, including through a partnership with Alexa for Business
8. Recognize when “circuit breakers” impede your energy.
“Energy is fundamental to not only creativity, but connectivity. When we are in a creative mode, ‘circuit breakers’ can creep up and block our energy and divert our thinking. It is important to understand that when something impedes our energy, it limits our creativity. These circuit breakers, as [our firm] defines them, include: doubt, clutter, conflict, fear, labeling, stress, and resources. Each have their own definition and impact on our creativity. When we recognize the frequency and intensity of each of these in our daily lives, we are able to identify and circumvent them on our way to a more creative solution.
–Brad Deutser is founder and CEO of consulting firm Deutser and author of “Leading Clarity: The Breakthrough Strategy to Unleash People, Profit, and Performance”
9. Challenge the unknown.
“The place of creativity, to me, comes from the unknown. When you can leave room for the unknown to happen and you challenge what you know, that’s when most interesting things happen. It’s like a child playing–they learn the mechanics of a game only to destroy it and build anew. Genius architects give birth to beautiful masterpieces not when they implement time and time again what they did in previous projects, but when they start from scratch. Rethink the space, challenge the unknown. Work with something you have not tried before.”
–Adi Biran, founder and CEO of Splacer, an online marketplace where people can list, discover and book unique spaces in New York, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago and a venue source for Fortune 100 companies including Facebook, Equinox, LEGO, VOGUE and more
10. Make creativity part of your daily routine.
“Working in the jewelry industry, creativity is at the core of our business and is therefore part of my daily routine. First, I start each day with meditation to clear my mind, often utilizing the Headspace app. I then walk two miles to work, as the fresh air and movement allow me to daydream, take in my surroundings, and think of new ideas. During this time, I listen to a wide variety of podcasts (everything from “The Daily” to “99% Invisible” to “TED Radio Hour”) that light my creative spark before arriving to work. I also schedule a break for lunch outside the office every day, which allows me to step away from my inbox and reflect on strategic priorities and projects in a more open-ended and creative manner.”
–Beth Gerstein, cofounder and co-CEO of Brilliant Earth, a global retailer of ethically sourced fine jewelry which started as an ecommerce retailer in 2005, and over the last two years has pursued an omni-channel strategy, expanding to seven showrooms across the U.S.
11. Steer clear of distractions and leave room for collaboration.
“I was really fortunate to have a great creative mentor early in my career. He understood the balance between solitary contemplation and ideation and team collaboration. Like him, I now like to write in the early quiet of the morning without distractions. As flickerings become concepts, I try to get them down in Keynote or PowerPoint. Later in the day I pull our team of writers and artists together to pitch. They bring their own decks, slides, illustrations or scripts and we together work our way through a concept improv exercise, where everyone can contribute and the idea gets refined. In the end, project owners get to leverage the power of the team while maintaining a connection to the core concept. Honestly it feels more like play than work, which is why I do what I do.”
–David Simon, CMO at SteelHouse, an AI-driven, self-service advertising software company for brands which grew revenue by 56 percent over the last quarter
12. Cultivate a space for team creativity.
“I am most creative in my role when needing to problem solve my way out of challenging situations, approaching them from every angle for a best possible outcome. I also find that openly and frequently collaborating with my team members cultivates a space for creativity for everyone to share and build off of one another’s ideas.”
–Dmitri Lipnitsky, cofounder and CEO of music instrument app company Gismart, which has garnered 250 million app downloads and has 15 million monthly active users
13. Puts your customers’ voice at the center of your marketing campaigns.
“We don’t use any outside ad agencies, and when we plan campaigns, our entire marketing team–from digital to event planning–meets to talk about what we are hearing from our customers. The messages we employ are those that come directly from our customers’ words and experiences…”
–Janine Pelosi, head of marketing for Zoom Video Communications which saw 100 percent revenue growth and 135 percent user growth year over year from Spring 2017 to Spring 2018
14. Use A/B testing, analytics and artificial intelligence.
“Data is rapidly emerging as the next frontier in creativity and is a vital component to practically every part of the creative workflow. There are several ways you can leverage data to not only be more creative, but also for your creativity to be more effective. First, incorporate A/B testing, analytics and AI into your design process to give you a sense of what works best with your audience and why. Not only does this give you the peace of mind as you push certain designs out to your customers, but also helps drive inspiration based on what worked and what didn’t. Second, test using AI-driven technology to help you come up with several different variations of your designs to work off of. Style transfer is one such technology that leverages AI to analyze a group of common designs, understand the details of what makes up those specific design styles, and then applies that style automatically to another design.”
–Ashley Still, vice president and general manager for Document Cloud and Creative Cloud for enterprise at Adobe, who helped lead the transition of Adobe’s business and products from desktop software to SaaS, driving record-breaking business growth
15. Get messy, then refine it with data.
“Balancing creativity with making data-driven decisions can be difficult– you want to try something brand new and yet you know you should build on what the data tells you is most likely to succeed. To get at the really big ideas, you have to allow creative ideas to flow without interruption. So I force myself to step back and get away from my computer. Often it helps to get someone to talk to and use a whiteboard to try to explain, draw, erase, and draw more. In today’s world, this can feel a bit messy. But nine times out of 10 something workable will come out of it. And then it’s time to get back to the data to look for signals that can help refine and bring your idea to life.”
–Jen Grant, CMO at business intelligence software and big data analytics platform Looker, with $180 million in funding from Google Capital G, Redpoint, First Round Capital and Kleiner
16. Use data to focus and move faster.
“In today’s world, there is now data to guide nearly every decision or creative process you’re likely to face. While some people might view this as something that limits creativity, I’ve found the exact opposite because the data helps me focus and move faster. Everyone knows that feeling of writer’s block that comes when you stare at a blank sheet or paper or screen. By using insights drawn from data, sort of like a writer’s prompt, I have a framework to operate within, which paradoxically lets my creativity flourish. For example, when I’m brainstorming a new campaign, it’s easy to get lost when faced with infinite possibilities. Looking at the data, however, I’ve learned things like campaigns that target senior IT leaders perform better on LinkedIn with imagery featuring people’s faces instead illustrations or product screenshots. Depending on my goals, it’s easy to use data like this to form a basic creative skeleton, which makes fleshing out the rest of the campaign way easier.”
–Scott Holden, CMO at ThoughtSpot, a provider of search and AI-driven analytics helping enterprises access and utilize data, including three of the Fortune 5 and more than 10 percent of the Fortune 100