Some people think better in the morning, others late at night. Some prefer to collaborate, others would rather go it alone. Some like to play music while they work; others need complete silence.
As someone who has shaped a career out of flexing my creative muscles, I’ve tried lots of different strategies to strike inspiration. So where do good ideas come from?
I’d love to tell you there is a magical set of tasks you can check off a list to ensure you have a lightbulb moment, but it doesn’t exist. Creativity doesn’t work that way. But in leading BerlinRosen’s branding practice—where we work hand-in-hand with clients to build standout brands through naming, positioning, messaging and visual identity development—I’ve honed six effective strategies that we turn to time and time again to get the creative juices flowing.
When you look at the world around you with creative goggles on you can find inspiration anywhere: in the book you’re reading to your child, in the TV show (or commercial) you’re watching, in the magazine you’re flipping through, in the song you’re listening to, in the shape of clouds in the sky or the contents of your refrigerator. Any one of these things can spark an idea if you look for it.
I wish my brain was wired with a Ctrl-Z function to retrieve an idea that was there one minute and gone the next. Since it isn’t, I write down ideas when they come to me in real time—even if it’s the middle of the night, even if I’m in the middle of another task. When I’m working on a branding project, I keep a running list of ideas in the notes section of my phone for future reference.
A word, a half formed idea, a nugget of inspiration—keep it all. Every document I work on has what I call a “slush” list at the bottom. This is where every idea starts, where it gets molded and shaped, until it graduates to the top of the document. Never delete your slush list. Keep it, return to it, use it to cultivate your ideas and give them life.
Hit a roadblock? Stop typing, grab a pen and write by hand. It may feel uncomfortable at first but just start writing. Write down anything that comes to mind—even if it doesn’t make sense, even if it isn’t pretty—just get words on the page. You’ll be surprised at how the change of medium can help you unearth something new.
A lot of my best ideas started out as bad ideas. When you write down everything and keep a “slush” list, you have lots of bad ideas to work from. Embrace them, build off of them, share them with others to see what path they lead you down. A bad idea is a starting point—not the finish line.
A little bit of distance can make a big difference. Sleep on it. Go for a walk. Bake some cookies (I took a break from writing this blog post to bake some oatmeal raisin chocolate chip cookies). Coming back to your work with a fresh pair of eyes will give you a new perspective, and can help you turn a bad idea into a good one.