How to Come Up with Creative Ideas

I like to keep art and books in my office to inspire me.

My students often ask me for advice on coming up with creative ideas.  But they don’t really want advice.  They want THE ANSWER or some sort of formula.

But creativity is one of those tricky skills that you don’t learn by following a formula, by memorization, by hiring a tutor.  Rather creativity requires critical thinking, playfulness and perseverance.  It requires trial and error and often nonlinear thinking.  Finally, it requires us all to risk looking stupid or failing.  Out of several bad ideas is usually something quite usable.

So, no, I don’t have the answer.  But I do have some tips.  Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

  1. Go for quantity over quality.   Come up with twenty to thirty bad ideas and then refine a few until they are good.
  2. Check email, Twitter, the NY Times.  Go back to number 1.
  3. Look at art.
  4. See how other people have solved similar problems.
  5. Procrastinate and then wake up at 2 am with a good idea.
  6. Talk through the problem with a friend.  In the process of outlining the issues, the answer sometimes comes.
  7. Brainstorm:  Write the main problem on a post-it and place it in on a blank wall.  Let your mind free-associate any ideas that related to that one problem.  then group the ideas on the wall according to by subject.  Then stare at the wall until the solution appears or does not appear.
  8. Order food.
  9. Watch HGTV.
  10. Keep trying until you get it right.*

*This is the most important thing to do.