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How to jump-start creativity and get good ideas flowing

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Sep 02, 2020
How can a creative person get good ideas flowing after they have stalled? Is there something that gets you in a state where coming up with good ideas is more likely? Do you have a warm-up routine for ideation?

Creativity is about finding new ways of solving problems and approaching situations. If generating good ideas is a part of your everyday life, you know it's stressful when it feels as if you've hit a wall and nothing fresh comes to mind.

How do you get your ideas flowing again?
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Creative contributions

Build up a hunger for creativity by doing NOTHING

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Sep 11, 2020
If more (learning, writing, debating) doesn't cut it, go the opposite way. Try less. Depending on your lifestyle, doing absolutely nothing and not thinking about your creative work might feel relaxing at first. But as soon as you have enough of relaxation doing nothing gets boring really quickly. Your mind starts coming up with to-do ideas. Don't let it. Remember, you are taking a vacation from creativity. You are on a "diet" in order to build up a hunger - increased potential (creative voltage if you will). Sustain doing nothing as long as you can, then unleash your creativity on the most important task. The most important task is usually not the one that gives the fastest return/gratification. it is the one that needs the most work. The one you might have been postponing. With your newly found hunger, now is the time to chew through it.

Engage with people whose backgrounds are radically different than yours

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Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain Oct 26, 2020
If our job demands us to constantly create new ideas and come up with out-of-the-box thinking too often, it is pretty much understandable that we might find our creative pitcher emptied too often. Moreover, when our working model consists of a regular routine and an iterative environment, coming up with new ideas might be challenging and often this might compromise on the quality of the output.
However, a bit of change in our social setting can rectify this. Mostly, we are occupied by the people in our related circle, engaging and interacting with those with whom we have shared a fair bit of intellectual and emotional background. But, creativity and motivation need periodic perturbations to the idea of the comfort zone. Engaging with people who are very much different than ourselves in terms of experience and background can hence serve as a very good source of inspiration for new ideas. For example, if we are an academic who is engaged in always reading-writing-publishing and grinding in academia, we might not be too familiar with the world beyond universities, journals and classrooms. However, when we occasionally push ourselves to go out in the open world and talk-play-engage with people who are not in our regular circle, we will get to know the viewpoints and opinions that we might have never considered to be existent. When we interact with people who have a different background than us, there is a strong chance of cultural and emotional novelty to rise. We might even come across some genuinely practical critics of the point of view that we hold dear. It might sound a bit uncomfortable, but to grow, both creatively and intellectually, we have to be confronted with ideas that are strange to us. If we engage with strange people, we can definitely hope to gather some strange ideas that in the long run will add on to our creative understanding and positively influence the output of our job- even more so when our job demands creativity and nuanced observation.

Use this Brainstorming platform as your parkour

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Nov 09, 2020
Recently i participated in one of the sessions on this brainstorming platform. I started out vaguely interested in the session's topic and added a low hanging fruit type of contribution. Then I thought to myself - I should be able to do better than that. So I thought about the subject harder and added another contribution.

I woke up in the middle of the next night coming up with another idea on the subject. The idea had roots in a movie I saw the previous day and another, unrelated brainstorming session I previously created - so 3 sources of information came together to form a new idea.

The moral of the story - get into other people's brainstorming sessions with full dedication. It will take your thought process in directions you wouldn't have explored otherwise. In the end, your mind might be able to tie the concepts from the newly explored direction into your main focus area - resulting in a potential breakthrough.

Asynchronous alternation of focus between 2-3 different projects

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Feb 05, 2021
Here's a hypothesis based on personal experience and some observations of others.

Below is a list of the benefits that you get from asynchronously alternating focus between 2-3 different projects. You are passionate about all of them but the main project is considered to be serious work, while the rest will get by if you treat them like side projects. They may or may not become more important as time goes on and nature takes its course.

The benefits of asynchronously focus alteration:
  • prevents you from burning out because switching the focus from hard work to "play" alleviates the tension while still keeps you productive, albeit in different directions
  • thinking about and advancing in different fields puts you in a unique position where you can innovate by finding cross-disciplinary connections, repurpose and apply ideas/discoveries (examples: the Boring company's tunnels used by Tesla cars, SpaceX's steel and unbreakable glass used in Tesla's Cybertruck)
  • warming up on something that feels fun at the time can get you in the state of flow, which then spills over into your main project that might have stalled

Ways to induce creativity just before you sleep

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Mar 10, 2021
This contribution is based on our discussion in the comments to @Juran's post "Hungry, curious, creative." We discussed that our brain is highly creative just before sleep or when we wake up during sleep. To exploit this phenomenon, here are some experiments you can perform to facilitate the process.
  1. Read about your problem before bed: A study explored the impact of sleep on the processing of information with strongly related word pairs and information requiring the formation of novel associations (unrelated word pairs). Participants were trained on a set of related or unrelated word pairs at either 9 am or 9 pm, and were then tested after an interval of 30 min, 12 h, or 24 h. At the 12 h retest, the memory of the unrelated word pairs was superior following a night of sleep compared to a day of wakefulness. This difference was due to deterioration in memory for unrelated word pairs when awake. There was no sleep-wake difference for related word pairs. At the 24 h retest, when all subjects received both a full night of sleep and a full day of wakefulness, the authors found that memory was superior when sleep occurred shortly after learning rather than following a full day of wakefulness. Also, the authors showed that the rate of deterioration when awake was significantly diminished when preceded by a night of sleep compared to no sleep, suggesting that sleep fortified the memories. So reading more about your problem will prime the brain for the creative thinking that will follow. You may have a fresh perspective that you didn’t have the night before.
  2. Ask yourself the question that you want to answer: Literally ask yourself the question aloud or to yourself. That propels the intrinsic (creative system) to work. You may then focus on something else to help you forget about the question to activate the creative part of your brain that works in the background.
  3. Lucid dreaming: Lucid dreaming is dreaming while being conscious of the fact that you are having a dream. However, it takes practice to recognize when you are dreaming. Waking up in the middle of the night and remembering the dream you were having and then going back to sleep, conscious that you were having this dream, can also help you enter a lucid dream state. You can stay in that dream and then explore impossible realities. Stephen LaBerge calls this the mnemonic induction of lucid dreaming (MILD technique).

[1]Payne JD, Tucker MA, Ellenbogen JM, et al. Memory for semantically related and unrelated declarative information: the benefit of sleep, the cost of wake. PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e33079. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033079

[2]https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-playing-field/201207/hacking-creativity

[3]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IG-sDcQiqMI

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Darko Savic
Darko Savica month ago
In other words, prime your brain with the problem, focus on an ideal outcome, then let your subconscious mind come up with the necessary connections.

Alternating between intense focus and easy, routine tasks (incubation period)

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Sep 02, 2020
For me, ideas often light up after I've stopped trying to come up with them. After a period of intensely focusing on the topic of interest, I completely let it go and switch to an unrelated routine task which my brain can do on auto-pilot. During this "incubation period" the subconscious mind continues working on the idea. It keeps experimenting, comparing to known concepts, etc. until something finally clicks and a good idea lights up. During the period of intense focus, I either heavily research the topic or write about it (or both).
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic7 months ago
While waiting for inspiration you should keep filling your brain with great, relevant information. Take breaks when you feel you've had enough. When you are feeling rested get back to focusing on the task again. Keep doing it for days, weeks, months if necessary. Learn - think - write - rest, repeat.

Sensory deprivation

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Sep 04, 2020
I have not tried this but I know people who have and do it regularly. Sensory deprivation is cutting off the inputs to all your senses. John C. Lilly, a neuro-psychiatrist, created the first sensory-deprivation flotation method for his experiments in 1954. The best way to perform sensory deprivation is by using a sensory deprivation flotation tank. These are water tanks where you can pay to float in salty water (to make you float) for a certain period, receiving almost no sensory information at all. It’s dark so you don’t see anything even with your eyes open. You wear earplugs to cut off all sounds. People who are new to this experience random thoughts initially like going over their plans for the day or get bored. But once you patiently pass that phase, you begin to experience the void. Some people say it works like a psychedelic. Of course, people have all kinds of experiences. Practice helps you better understanding and control the feeling. This void, a period of nothingness, helps you communicate with your mind. Since there is no sensory input, the associated stress signals start deactivating until they reach a minimum. This allows more part of your brain to indulge in creative stuff. You realize that your brain is under a constant pressure of analyzing every input. Input deprivation relieves your brain and releases elevated levels of dopamine and endorphins, the neurotransmitters that make you feel happy. Also, the body is under constant pressure to counter gravity and maintain a posture. The flotation relaxes your muscles and joints. Any kind of chronic pain you have is relieved. This further helps free more parts of your brain. In the flotation tank, the brain generates theta waves, the ones that the brain usually generates during sleep or meditation. The theta waves initiate learning and intuition and fortify memory. Meditation requires practice to master achieving theta waves at will (without losing consciousness). The flotation tank eases this process and helps sustain it too. Flotation helps you elevate your problem-solving and technical skills. A version of the flotation tank called restricted environmental stimulation technique (REST) improved perceptual-motor skills in sports [1] and technical ability in musicians. [2] Another study showed that flotation enhanced scientific creativity. Five psychology faculty members took six 1-hour sessions of REST. For 30 min after each REST session, subjects recorded ideas concerning their research. Self-ratings showed that novel ideas generated after REST were more creative than those developed during control (isolated sessions in the office). REST was associated with a higher level of vigor and lower levels of tension, anger, depression, fatigue, and confusion. [3] There is some discrepancy regarding how long the effects last after flotation. [4] More research is needed in this area. Several people experience hallucinations. However, hallucinations were more common in people who expected some kind of adverse effect. [5] There are spas where the set-up is available under expert supervision. For those who do not have access to flotation tanks, here is what you can do at home. You can reduce visual input – light, by drawing the curtains and making the room dark. Using a blindfold is a better way but make sure that it is comfortable, not too tight or loose. Using hands to cover your eyes will not be relaxing for your hands. You can use sound-canceling headphones to shut out the noise. Simple earplugs or headphones might also work (depending upon the noise in the environment). The most important thing is to isolate yourself. Intermittent contact will people will reduce the effect drastically. Your bedroom (or the place that makes you feel the most comfortable) should be used. Lying down relaxes your body and helps empty your brain. ATTENTION: Long-term or forced sensory deprivation can cause extreme anxiety, hallucinations, bizarre thoughts, and depression. Users should consult experts is they show such symptoms. References: 1. Suedfeld P, Bruno T. Flotation REST and imagery in the improvement of athletic performance. J Sport Exercise Psychol. 1990; 12(1):82-85. 2. Vartanian O, Suedfeld P. The Effect of the Flotation Version of Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique (REST) on Jazz Improvisation. Music Med [Internet]. 2011 Oct 1;3(4):234–8. Available from: http://mmd.iammonline.com/index.php/musmed/issue/archive 3. Suedfeld P, Metcalfe J, Bluck S. Enhancement of scientific creativity by flotation REST (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique). J Environ Psychol. 1987;7(2):219-231. 4. Belle Beth Cooper, 2013. https://buffer.com/resources/the-power-of-shutting-down-your-senses-how-to-boost-your-creativity-and-have-a-clear-mind/ 5. Mason OJ, Brady F. The Psychotomimetic Effects of Short-Term Sensory Deprivation. J Nerv Ment Dis [Internet]. 2009 Oct;197(10):783–5. Available from: http://journals.lww.com/00005053-200910000-00011
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Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain7 months ago
I might sound a bit radical, but I find occasional use of psychoactive drugs (mostly marijuana) very helpful in generating new ideas and associating novel concepts with the existing ones. I am not a regular user of these drugs, but I have occasionally gotten high and found that my mind can become much creative if I do so rightly. For example, when I go for trekking high in the hills, I use marijuana to relax from the body ache, and I find that I feel more connected to nature and the natural environment under the influence. I have created a lot of ideas (I always carry a physical notebook when I travel/trek) for my short-stories (yes, I write short-form fiction now and then), and even while taking photographs, I get new concepts of framing and angles when I am high. This might not work for everyone, but it is one of many ways I find oddly useful to get my creative juices flowing.

Browsing through lists of ideas

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Sep 08, 2020
Often when reading through lists of ideas my mind gets primed (inspired?) and my own ideas start flowing. I'm not sure if it matters whether the ideas on the reading list are related or assorted. My lists are assorted. Here is an example of such a list

Read random research paper to develop novel strategies

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Antonio Carusillo
Antonio Carusillo Oct 26, 2020
As far as my field of interest is concerned - Genetic Engineering oriented to Technology and Development – I try to get new ideas (about current and present problems) by reading random papers spanning across different areas of Biology. Usually, I open PubMed and start typing some keywords (DNA repair, protein recruitment, DNA integration) and read the titles or the abstracts that catch my attention. At this point, I start to see if any findings/ methods can be translated into my field. These “input storms “ help me find multiple things that may be useful (as stand-alone or combined). So what happens is that one tab expands in ten and the initial idea changes shape completely. Sometimes it expands so much to lose any sense whatsoever and even lands on frustration because of information overload. This is personally where I struggle the most. All the information seems important and seems to lead to somewhere else and the more I dig into it, the more factors I realize my idea needs to take into account to increase its chance to work out. A single line can easily expand to hundreds or thousands. I remember asking myself “would it be possible to edit the RNA using an RNA stretch like would you do for DNA?”. This single line has become 5 thick pages on my notepad and yet my answer is unclear how you would do it.

So the next question would be, once that you get your ideas flowing how you avoid being overwhelmed (or discouraged) by them?
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic6 months ago
As soon as you feel inspired, start working and stop reading:)

It helps if you have well-defined desires but are keeping an open mind when it comes to setting goals on how to reach those desires. In that case, you read with a purpose - you seek out ways that will get you closer to your desires. You will feel inspired when you run into something that can get you closer.

Warm-up writing with a purpose

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Feb 25, 2021
Check your emails, chances are that someone has been waiting for a while. Surprise them with an amazing reply. Put a good effort into it. Alternatively, cold-email someone about a topic you've been working on. Solicit their opinion or help.

When you're done, go through the email a few more times and see if you can turn it into a social media post - reaching out to friends or followers. By the time you post it, you should be warmed up and ready for some ideation.

Introducing novelty into mundane habits

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Povilas S
Povilas S Mar 02, 2021
Creativity has a lot to do with producing novelty, those two terms are almost synonymous. One can make breaking habits and seeking novel ways to do things a habit. This enhances creativity. The things you do on a physical level influence the way you think and vice versa. We repeat things over and over every day. While this is, on one hand, convenient and people naturally seek the most energy-efficient ways to do things and then settle in a certain routine, in the context of creativity this numbs the mind. When people get pushed out of their comfort zone or do it willingly they inevitably gain new perspectives/ideas out of it.

Simple examples of bringing novelty into your everyday routines: brushing your teeth in the kitchen, sleeping on the floor, walking home through a different route than usual, etc. Breaking a comfortable habit always requires some energy and there will often be resistance and a certain price to pay, but the reward is a refreshed state of mind. Access to certain resources might limit your choices, but the main frontier for novelty is a lack of creativity. Try to repeat things as little as possible while at the same time not overburdening yourself with that. Incorporating this into your lifestyle would enhance your creativity in general rather than just serve as a one-time solution to restart it.


Light stimulants and psychedelics

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Povilas S
Povilas S Mar 02, 2021
Psychedelics have been long known to enhance creativity. They are also the class of drugs that have the lowest risk of dependency. If there's any dependency it's usually mild and psychological. Furthermore, if one doesn't want to consume amounts sufficient to induce substantial psychedelic effects, they can be microdosed. Some of the psychedelics are decriminalized or otherwise have rather loose laws regulating their use in quite a lot of countries.

Many CNS stimulants have the ability to improve memory and concentration which boosts mental performance including the creative process. Two natural, widespread, legal and rather safe stimulants are caffeine and theobromine (found in cacao beans). When used in low to moderate amounts and infrequently their consumption seems to bring more benefits rather than harm.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savica month ago
Hear what Andrew has to say on how this process works from 36 to 42 minute in this video https://youtu.be/Ktj050DxG7Q?t=2158
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Povilas S
Povilas S23 days ago
Darko Savic Yes, it's interesting. Especially when he tries to explain how psychedelics work. The thing is there's very little understanding about this still. There are few theories, but they are just bits, they can't piece the picture together efficiently (not yet at least). But what he said that psychosomatic stimulation is not good for creativity I'd say from experience that it is. Stimulants like caffeine, theobromine, nicotine increase concentration, and working memory. Most psychedelics are also stimulants at low concentrations.

Stimulants let you remember bits of information that are useful for the task to be done (including creative tasks) and you remember it quicker than usual, so your working efficiency increases. The principle with stimulants is really a bit like from the limitless movie, - you have a lot of different information in your memory, but you can't meaningfully and quickly piece it together (you don't have conscious access to it at once) for the outcome to be very efficient. Stimulants increase this capability.

And it's also how AI works - you feed a lot of information to it, the more the better, it has access to it all at once at any given moment (not like us, our memory is crappy in this regard) and it can piece it together according to the given algorithm to make a meaningful outcome. To me, it really seems all about how much of your memory you can consciously access at once. The rest is an algorithm of your brain.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic23 days ago
Povilas S I understood Andrew's words a bit differently. I took it as psychedelics break down the "traffic control" that otherwise enforces limits between ideas. Without traffic control, you can make connections between ideas that would otherwise not fit together. This can give rise to otherwise unlikely insight.

Hungry, curious, creative.

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Juran Oct 07, 2020
Although I read in the contributions above that people think you should be well rested and fed to "boost creativity", I always learned and wrote better when I was hungry. It somehow enhanced my focus and triggered the problem-solving instinct, but I was never able to explain it in order to contribute.

Yesterday, I ran into an article which is on a good trace to help me explain it! Scientists did an experiment to prove that hunger and curiosity are driven by the same parts of the brain . They also emphasize that this finding could explain how both hunger and curiosity can act as a motivational drivers. That could mean that a hungry man could have a better ideas, because curiosity led to more information seeking which, in turn, directly led to higher creativity .

[1]https://www.the-scientist.com/notebook/curiosity-and-hunger-are-driven-by-the-same-brain-regions-67992

[2]https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/our-innovating-minds/201707/creativity-whats-curiosity-got-do-it

[3]https://digest.bps.org.uk/2018/12/03/explaining-the-power-of-curiosity-to-your-brain-hunger-for-knowledge-is-much-the-same-as-hunger-for-food/

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Jurana month ago
Idea: Plasma ghrelin concentration as a creativity biomarker

I recently found a paper talking about a plethora of physiological effects of ghrelin. It's a novel hormone reported to induce appetite, promote carbohydrate burnout, promote lipogenesis, stimulate gastric acid secretion and motility, positively affect cardiovascular system, protect kidneys, brain, stimulate skeletal muscle regeneration after injury, delay puberty, decrease testosterone, inhibit unwanted inflammation and much more. It was also interesting that they mentioned its importance in learning, memory, cognition, reward, sleep, etc. [1]

It is known that:
- plasma ghrelin levels increase during fasting and decrease in feeding [2]
- fasting increases ghrelin mRNA expression in mice and rats [3]
- ghrelin can be modulated by peptide hormones, neurotransmiters, glucose, fatty acids, second messagers, enzymes, etc [1]
- ghrelin-secreting cells express high levels of mRNA encoding beta(1)-adrenergic receptors, which are activated by adrenergic agents released by sympathetic neurons [4]
- plasma acyl ghrelin increased after the α-adrenergic antagonist and β-adrenergic agonist intake

It's also known that the noradrenaline system could have a central role in modulating cognitive flexibility [5], while anoher paper describes the great impact of the noradrenergic and the dopaminergic systems on creativity [6]. Paper from 2020 [7] reports that the noradrenergic system (beta) is responsible for "Problem solving in an ‘unconstrained’ cognitive flexibility task".

Although further research of the connection of noradrenergic system, creativity and fasting is needed, could we suggest the role of ghrelin as a biomarker of noradrenergic (beta) system activity, thus creativity?

Do persons with higher ghrelin concentrations show higher psychological abilities related to creativity and motivation?

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7267865/
[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11473029/
[3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12876464/
[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20713709/
[5] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fncir.2019.00018/full
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6519931/
[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6519931/
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Povilas S
Povilas S2 months ago
I can relate to this. Just I would approach explaining it not so much from the perspective of creativity, but more that it boosts and maintains for some time the energy and motivation required to act. This is beneficial for all sorts of activities both physical and mental, including creativity.

I noticed from my own experience that while being hungry I'm sometimes more energized than after a meal. This seems logical having in mind that the body uses a lot of energy for digestion and especially after more heavy meals we feel like relaxing or even sleeping rather than doing something active.

At the same time I think that when the body is hungry and on a conscious level you know that you can't or simply won't eat soon this might be like a signal for the body that a certain task requiring energy has to be done first so that you could eat and it releases additional energy resources, likely in the form of adrenaline or/and dopamine. That's how it would work in survival circumstances with limited food resources and the body appears to be tapping into that mode, it's similar to fight or flight response.

I also noticed the same thing with lack of sleep. If I wake up being few hours short of enough sleep knowing that I will do something instead of going back to bed I then often get this energy boost. I think it works by a similar mechanism - the body knows you have to do something before you can sleep again, so it releases the energy required so that you could finish the "task" as soon as possible and give it some sleep. The boost only lasts for a few hours tops and then you get sleepy again.
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni6 months ago
I read the references you cited. That was an interesting study. I think the thought of a gamble might have some additional consequences on the decision made by the participants. Gambling (including winning and losing) elicits a hormonal spur that may interfere with hunger and curiosity. From an evolutionary perspective, hunger is always associated with risk. Any forager risks being attacked by a carnivore when feeding. Similarly, any carnivore risks being injured in the chase and also during competition over food. Gambling is a risk-taking activity and can itself be a variable in the study. Secondly, to choose food between food and the solution to a magic trick, you need to be way more hungry than just 2 hours (as mentioned in the study). Gambling is a strong signal, both emotionally and physiologically. It may certainly overpower mild hunger. Moreover, the participants are certain that they can eat once the experiment is over and they leave the lab. This certainty can make gambling a preferred choice by the participants. As mentioned in the paper itself, gambling was preferred even when there was a physical risk associated with it, again suggesting that the gambling physiology can be overpowering. I also think that curiosity and creativity associated with extreme hunger will be different from those associated with a well-fed body (brain). For example, a hungry monkey will find novel ways (suggesting creativity) to acquire food rather than finding ways (again, creativity) to acquire mate (yes, monkeys do resort to deception and other tactics to benefit). Acquiring food in strange situations requires a strong spatial cognition (where should I go to search for food?), a highly motivated target-oriented innovation (the fruit is dangling on a thin stem, how do I get it without making it hit the ground), and other senses (smell and sight). What I am saying is the kind of creativity observed when one is highly motivated towards a target is different from the one, which is not. Hunger will lead to creativity that satisfies hunger and so on. Also, acute and chronic hunger may lead to different behavioral responses. A person who is prone to perpetual hunger may (although I am not sure) be more creative in a hungry state since that is when their creative juices start flowing as opposed to being satiated. On the other hand, a person who is not accustomed to hunger might experience creativity (not goal-oriented) only in a fed state.

Binge-read the best thoughts of your new favorite thinker

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Mar 15, 2021
Inspired by a Tweet from George Mack :

  1. Find a new Twitter account you like
  2. Use Twitter's advanced search function to filter by username, a high number of replies, and a high number of likes
  3. Binge read the resulting tweets until something sparks your creativity to go on a tangent and back to your work

Tweets are limited to 280 characters, so by default, the results should be high-signal, low-noise. No time-wasting, pure inspiration fuel.

[1]https://twitter.com/george__mack/status/1371148128947220481

Thinkalong - think about your problem while listening to someone's lecture

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Apr 12, 2021
Think about your problem while listening to a high-quality talk on an unrelated subject.

Similarly to a previous suggestion , the idea here is to find a cool youtube lecture but before you start listening to it prime your mind by focusing on the problem you are trying to solve. Spend 20-30 minutes writing about your problem. When you feel you've had enough, get comfortable and launch the lecture. I prefer audio-only.

While listening to the seemingly unrelated lecture try to extract some principles and see if they could somehow be applied towards solving your problem. Maybe they could provide a new way of looking at it.

For the intended purpose, the lecture should capture your attention only mildly. It should leave your mind enough "wiggle room" to wander back and forth between your problem and the lecturer's words. To achieve this you would either pick:
  • an interesting lecture you have listened to before and is thus not new to you
  • a high-quality lecture on a subject that is only mildly interesting to you

[1]https://brainstorming.com/r/EK9q0T

[2]https://youtu.be/CjVQJdIrDJ0?t=132

Walk It Out

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Juran Sep 02, 2020
I decided to join this brainstorming club because my life is a not-so-harmonic oscillator, too. Flying high and then hitting the rock bottom is a discontinuous battle that squeezes the life out of me. To stay creative, enthusiastic, and focus better, I developed a walking system that works, at least in my case. When I hit the wall, (1) I get up and start walking around the office. If I don't feel the heavy load falling off my shoulders, releasing the creative beast, then (2) I go outside and do a few circles around the building. If the stress is enormous, (3) I walk somewhere where everything becomes small, including my challenges. It has to be something marvelous, millennial, and big, such as the ocean, or a forest close to your home. PS Don't forget to bring a pen and paper.
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Darjan Hren
Darjan Hren2 months ago
+1 for walking. I've experimented with this as well but found that you actually need to look at movement. For example, looking through the window while riding a train works well as well + you can have a notepad to write. Doing that while walking is harder.

Another thing I find useful is to have a "thinking corner". Always when you're looking for an idea, you go to that special chair or desk or place. It works like a cue to turn the idea generation into a habit.
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Povilas S
Povilas S8 months ago
I'd say start directly from step 3:D You need to distract yourself enough from the same environment and monotony, so walking in circles doesn't help much. For me this is the case. But that's of course subjective and depends on the person and heaviness of psychological state as you say. Taking a walk is a good remedy for all kinds of psychological downs in general.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic8 months ago
I used to do this during difficult periods. I regularly went hill-climbing over unbeaten paths. The harsher the terrain, the more negative feelings it absorbed. That distracted me enough for some productive thoughts to get through.

Get some distance

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Kamal Aakarsh Vishnubhotla
Kamal Aakarsh Vishnubhotla Sep 10, 2020
Generally, I noticed that switching off briefly and doing something totally different can help. Like going out for a run or cooking or having a cold shower. And when we need to be conscious that we should not carry the baggage of thought/problem when we are switching off. Instead, we need to keep our mind occupied with totally different stuff like an audiobook or reading up about a recipe etc. Not sure if time is a limitation, but if your project/activity can afford a longer break, then consider leaving the topic for few hours altogether and revisit it later in the day or the next morning (preferably early). Getting distance gives you a new perspective, many times, and helps you see/form connections between existing ideas so that they can be refined and clustered into newer topics/ideas/themes that could be concretized,
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic7 months ago
Steven Hawking would agree:) His quote: "It is no good getting furious if you get stuck. What I do is keep thinking about the problem but work on something else"

The right amount of criticism

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Sep 14, 2020
When others criticize your work (something that occupies a sufficient enough part of your life), you tend to improve it. This is like a cognitive fight response. When questions are thrown at you, you are more desperate to find answers than you would by wondering about it on your own. This is helpful when you have reached a milestone in your area of work and are stuck there. My mentor used to suggest presenting a poster of my work at conferences at multiple stages during the Ph.D. process. You may find new ways to answer incoming questions. These help you find new ways to tackle your problems, validate your experiments, or improve them.
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Povilas S
Povilas S2 months ago
I agree, - criticism has a beneficial side. However, there's an obvious other side that has to be taken into account. Criticism and lack of approval is a vital motivation killer for many people. It requires either a strong, mature enough personality to withstand frequent criticism, not take it personally and turn it towards one's own advantage (seeing it as a possibility for improving). Or it has to be scarce enough not to discourage a person and just give a healthy balance.

Especially for beginners criticism could be a major reason for giving up entirely. But even for veterans if their idea is novel and challenging orthodox views it might require a lot of strength to keep pursuing it in the face of criticism.

A social environment full of approval and support is a medium in which one's creativity can flourish and open up. Criticism from an emotional perspective might feel like stones being thrown at you when the natural instinct is to clench and protect yourself. From a rational perspective it might just make you reconsider your reasoning, knowledge, fix flaws in argumentation, etc., but emotional aspect is very important for creativity. So the balance between the two should be maintained to both feel motivated and good about yourself and to be self-critical enough to keep improving.
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni2 months ago
Thank you, Povilas S . Good point. I have changed the title of my suggestion to accommodate it.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic7 months ago
Never thought about it this way but it makes good sense. To the poster presenter, the conference serves as a brainstorming session with various experts.

Motivation from ethics and money

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Muhammad M Rahman
Muhammad M Rahman Feb 19, 2021
Motivation is very important for success and this may come from an ethical standpoint or a financial one. It will be easier to develop ideas that are financially valuable as these are ideas that people will want. Among the most financially valuable ideas are those that are environmentally friendly, medical advances or that involve renewable energy with regards to helping society and not product sales. These areas have lots of funding and time invested in them as the potential for making an impact on life is great. With the personal belief that you can help with your idea or invention, you also need the end result so it is fair to expect a significant financial gain. Along with this comes recognition and some level of fame so it is good to look at the likes of Elon Musk and what he has achieved based on his vision of making something that will benefit the environment. Inspirational figures and stories offer motivation that can focus your mind.

Inducing a state of drowsiness on purpose

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Mar 25, 2021
In this video, from ~36 to 42 minutes, Andrew Huberman explains why we are able to form new, unexpected connections while in a drowsy state (upon falling asleep or waking up).

Anecdotally, Einstein, Aristotle, Salvador Dali, and possibly Edison are said to have employed some tricks to wake themselves up as they were falling asleep. For example, napping in a chair and holding a coin in their hand. When the muscles relax, the coin drops and hits a metal pot, making a noise that wakes them up. Doing this repeatedly would help a person remain in a state of drowsiness for longer and repeatedly. If the person was focusing hard on a problem before falling asleep, this trick could help in the creation of some out-of-the-box connections.

Thinking corner

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Apr 05, 2021
In this video from 16:47, Tom Kelly's advice (similar to @Darjan Hren's thinking corner):
  1. identify times and places in your day when you are most prone to having creative thoughts
  2. be protective of that time and don't let any distractions spoil it for you
  3. capture ideas during that time
To this, I would like to add:
  • be well-rested
  • spend at least 20 minutes focusing hard on an area where you would like some progress to happen
  • then go to your "magic" time/place

Creative thinking is a skill

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Apr 10, 2021
Creativity strikes at random, not at will. However, getting yourself into the state of flow where creativity is more likely can be initiated at will. It takes some discipline and work but gets easier with time.

Our skills are the result of neural pathways built from past repetition. We tend to forget all the repetition that went into building the skills. This makes it feel like we are just talented that way. Anything we practice enough gets easier with time. We get better at doing it. Creative thinking is no exception.


Write a letter to someone without the intention of sending it

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Apr 19, 2021
Write a letter to someone specific, but don't send it to them. In it explain what you have been working on lately, what problems you are facing, what is preventing progress from taking place, what it would take for a breakthrough to happen, etc.

As soon as you are done writing the letter, try switching to writing about your work. Plans, goals, strategies, ideas, etc. Chances are you are now warmed up and in the flow for creative work.



Creativity stalls when there is a lack of motivation, direction, or "wiggle room". It feels to me like a flywheel. Once it grinds to a halt it takes something special to get it going again. That can be:
  • small steps that compound and build up momentum
  • an unexpected piece of insight that is sufficiently big to get the flywheel going

Writing a letter to someone (special) feels like tricking yourself into compounding the small steps until suddenly the flywheel is going with sufficient speed that you can reuse the momentum elsewhere. Writing a letter is easy enough to start even when you aren't feeling creative. So you jump into it with minimal expectations. Then while finetuning the text you introduce baby steps of creativity. As your product of creativity begins to take shape your motivation to make it good/better increases.

I would write the letter to someone I should be writing anyway but maybe do it before it's time. In other words - it's aspirational. Yes, Elon Musk is a good choice. I have one of those already:) I sometimes write to various field experts, scientists, etc.

Writing a newsletter to your coworkers, or a cool social media post would also work in the same way.

Having no intention to actually send it removes the pressure so that you can get started. It allows you to suck at it. Then as you progress you start playing with the idea of making it good enough to be worthy of sending.
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni2 days ago
Will the selection of the person you write a letter to affect your creativity? For example, will you post-letter creativity be different if you write it to your parents vs you write it to Elon Musk? More energy from writing to Elon Musk, maybe?

What do you think makes this idea work? - Is it that after writing to someone else, you start thinking from the point of view of that person and give your work a third perspective? Or is it that explaining your work to someone (anyone for that matter) makes you think harder about it? Probably both but I would like to hear your thoughts.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic2 days ago
Shubhankar Kulkarni as you said there are likely a few factors that make this work. Creativity stalls when there is a lack of motivation, direction, or "wiggle room". It feels to me like a flywheel. Once it grinds to a halt it takes something special to get it going again. That can be:
- small steps that compound and build up momentum
- an unexpected piece of insight that is sufficiently big to get the flywheel going

Writing a letter to someone (special) feels like tricking yourself into compounding the small steps until suddenly the flywheel is going with sufficient speed that you can reuse the momentum elsewhere. Writing a letter is easy enough to start even when you aren't feeling creative. So you jump into it with minimal expectations. Then while finetuning the text you introduce baby steps of creativity. As your product of creativity begins to take shape your motivation to make it good/better increases.

I would write the letter to someone I should be writing anyway but maybe do it before it's time. In other words - it's aspirational. Yes, Elon Musk is a good choice. I have one of those already:) I sometimes write to various field experts, scientists, etc.

Writing a newsletter to your coworkers, or a cool social media post would also work in the same way.

Having no intention to actually send it removes the pressure so that you can get started. It allows you to suck at it. Then as you progress you start playing with the idea of making it good enough to be worthy of sending.
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni16 hours ago
Darko Savic It is a great idea. It solves the purpose without any side effects. If you would have sent the letter, you expect to hear back and when you don't, you may get hurt. Alternatively, if you simply write a diary, it won't create much impact since you are not addressing it to anybody. The "addressing" part triggers a whole new set of neurons that help you construct your write-up (the description of your model) in a way that is understandable to the person you address it to. This is very different from writing a diary.

Optimal conditions for ideation

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Sep 02, 2020
In no particular order, I find these to be helpful if not even necessary:
  • Be well-rested.
  • Be well fed and hydrated, including any micronutrients the body/brain could need.
  • Have a clear goal.
  • Remove all distractions for a lengthy period of time so that you can focus on the problem at hand. It could take multiple distraction-free focus sessions before progress is achieved.
  • Focus on the same problem in multiple different environments. Literally, change your physical location and focus on the problem there.

A divergent approach to solving problems and cultivating natural motivation

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Povilas S
Povilas S Oct 09, 2020
This might not be the “ultimate method” and might not be suitable for everyone, but I personally found it to be very important for keeping the flow of creativity.

Work on something that resonates at that moment rather than what you’ve planned to work on. This way you’ll rely on natural and spontaneous motivation. Forcing yourself kills creativity. You can have many options and jump between them depending on what you’re drawn to work on the most at that particular time rather than following your preplanned route. Write down ideas as they come to you, work as much on a particular idea as you feel naturally motivated at that time, and leave it be whenever you’ll start feeling like you have to force yourself further. Browse your “playlist” of ideas each time you won’t know what you want to work on/feel lazy/demotivated and pick something that actually resonates with you. And if nothing does – leave everything aside and turn to an entirely different sphere or relax from everything in general. As you work you can have many things within your reach (eg. many windows, files open on your pc) at the same time and jump between different ideas/projects and simply things you do for fun depending on what you’re most drawn to at that moment. Follow that flow of spontaneity. Remember that saying "don’t mix work with leisure"? It’s false in this approach. Doing something just for fun for a short time will charge you up and you’ll feel more motivated to work after. But keep the balance between the two.

This approach might sound counter-intuitive and I know many people would argue against this, but I think this is mostly because of the conditioning of goal and progress-oriented society, rational thinking, and convergent approach being the dominant ones in solving problems. In a divergent way, you solve things more like a puzzle or a collage rather than in a straight line. You approach the totality of tasks/ideas you have as a whole rather than solving them one by one in a “convenient” manner. Everything is connected, isn’t it? So by improving whichever part at the time you affect the others in one way or another. Therefore you can relax about the order and let spontaneity in.

There are psychological tests designed to evaluate people’s creativity that are based on evaluation of convergent vs divergent thinking, divergent thinking being the feature of creative people. But this could also be developed by practice. In fact, I think it would be useful for many people in western societies to practice more of a divergent approach, cause even the creative types are often heavily affected by cultural conditioning which is oriented in the opposite way.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic6 months ago
From my experience, what you are describing above is key to a happy life for someone who is creative. I can also tell you that it's a way to start a ton of half-finished projects which never get completed.

A cool new idea always brings more pleasure than working on something that was cool when you started but has since turned into serious work (the nice surface has been scratched away to uncover a beast). If the goal is to have fun, then jumping between ideas and juggling which one brings the most pleasure at the moment is the way to go. If the goal is to achieve something bigger - that unfortunately requires plowing through a ton of hardship on the way.

Except for humans, there is no other animal species out there that is able to sustain years of hard work for a hopeful future result. Some of us are willing to do the work where the reward is not even expected within our lifetime! Some of us will knowingly invest the effort for future generations.:)
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Povilas S
Povilas S6 months ago
That's right. I agree with this. As I said, it's not for everyone. If you value results more than the joy of the process, or in other words - the joy itself, then yes, you should focus on producing results. But I would argue that good feelings are ultimately what we live for (even doing things for others is motivated by empathy, which is a harmonious feeling) and that making this (feeling good) your priority only produce more of it, making things to go more smoothly for you on a circumstantial level, therefore results then come out as a byproduct of your natural state. So that's a different approach. When you strive for results your happiness is in the future, it's an expectation. If you truly enjoy the process there's nothing to expect for - it's like dancing for the sake of dancing, you don't dance just to come to the end of it. Also, you can never be sure when your life will end and in the latter approach, there will be nothing to regret - you used the time you had for the joy of living. But once again - they are different approaches and it depends on a person to which one he/she is leaning to:)

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic6 months ago
Povilas SFiguring out a way to do both simultaneously is how a person finds meaning and produces some "life work".

By being able to focus only on projects that bring happiness at the present moment one limits their options in life. Such a person could for example really want to build a house. When they set out to do it, they are highly motivated and enjoying it. Unfortunately, the house cannot be built in a day. What started as a fun task turns out to be hard work a few weeks into the project. They are then presented with a choice: be happy now and go work on something else, or plow through the hard work and be happy in a few months when the house is built.

Consider this... An additional benefit of doing hard things that bring happiness in the future is dopamine detox. By doing things you don't enjoy your brain reduces the number of dopamine receptors (to help you cope with the hardship) - this means you become more sensitive to smaller quantities of dopamine. Thereafter you find more pleasure in little things. This is the brain's way of adapting to the situation. After the adaptation, you would feel equal pleasure, no matter if you chose the easy or the hard route. The brain finds a balance so that you achieve hits of pleasure within your constraints.

I'm an ideator, I like butterflying from idea to idea. Building this brainstorming platform is the constraint I put myself into. I've been plowing through for almost 2 years. My happiness level didn't change even though I'm glued to my computer and have no social life to speak of anymore:) I intend to regain my social life when the work here is done.

Download, process, upload, feedback, share

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Dec 11, 2020
  1. Download other people's ideas. This is the part where your brain gets the "raw material" to work with. Study the topic of your focus, read books, articles, watch videos - any source of information will do. Obviously, apply some quality filters and make sure the information is accurate. Consider this the "fishing" stage.
  2. Processing happens automatically, while you take in the info and even while you sleep. The moment when inspiration strikes (you feel motivated to put something into action) is where you move to the next stage. Give it time. It can take hours, days, or weeks.
  3. Upload your thoughts to a notepad. For the time being, this is solely for you to read and re-read. The goal is to organize your thoughts, see if they can be condensed to higher principles, see if you can make any new connections between the ideas, see how much you can simplify them, then reflect everything back to yourself. Refine everything into a cohesive concept worthy of other people's time.
  4. Ask for feedback from friends and iterate based on the feedback. Re-read your work a few times, over several days. See if you can refine it.
  5. Share the final work with everyone and further refine it based on the feedback.

Watch a movie with the intent to extract principles that could be used for problem-solving

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Feb 18, 2021
Watch a movie (or a few) with the intent to find within it some higher truths or lessons that could be applied toward solving the specific problem you are currently working on.

A lot of thought and effort went into making each movie. The artists infused every aspect of it with as much value as they could fit within the limited screen time. A movie is a summary of lessons, stories, higher truths, experiences, etc. Your job is to extract that value and find a way to connect it to your problem in a meaningful way.

This could be described as problem-solving based on serendipitous insight.

You should start with a freshly rested mind. Focus on your problem for 10-30 minutes, then launch into the movie and play make-believe that the solutions are hidden within it.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic2 months ago
Just today I talked with Manel Lladó Santaeularia about how we could motivate people on this brainstorming platform to also help others out rather than simply focusing on their own sessions/ideas. I imagine watching the movie "Pay it forward" https://youtu.be/URwXr144hlI would spark thoughts about a potential solution.

That's not to say that the movie should focus on a similar topic (it helps in this case). Solutions can come from all sorts of unexpected directions.

Do a little bit regularly

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Povilas S
Povilas S Mar 13, 2021
If your job (not necessarily in a professional sense) involves creativity and even more so, if it depends on it, to keep the creativity alive you have to find a certain balance between being lazy and feeling overworked. If the circumstances allow you a certain degree of flexibility and you can manage your own schedule, I've noticed from my own experience that it is effective (with regards to creativity and keeping a substantial amount of inspiration) to work a little bit regularly.

If you press yourself to work more, eventually you are going to get exhausted and/or irritated and will need a bigger break. In contrast, if you'll work only when you feel naturally motivated, you'll have long gaps of inactiveness which is not in favor of keeping a spark of creativity alive. But if instead, you set up a light schedule that you can keep up rather easily, you will maintain it together with a consistent amount of creativity and inspiration. You can always do more if you naturally feel like. Efforts contribute to bringing inspiration, but too much of them kills it.

Help people on Quora

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Apr 19, 2021
Configure your Quora profile to show you questions for a very narrow area of interest. Only one or two fields maximum. It would be the field you are studying or trying to get better at. Search for interesting questions/answers within that field. Learn from good answers but more importantly, be on the lookout for questions that you are competent in answering.

When you encounter a question where your answer would be valuable to future readers, go all in and come up with the best answer you can.

Answering one or two such quora questions usually gets me in the state of flow. I then transition to journaling about my own ideas, coming up with tweets, etc. If I'm lucky I run into viable solutions for whatever problem I was focusing on lately.

In time, Quora's recommendation algorithm gets better at recommending suitable questions to you. Whenver you feel un-inspired, just check your "answer" tab and really do your best to help a few people. This usually fires up my creativity. Hopefully it could work for you too.

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