How to jump-start creativity and get good ideas flowing
Image credit: Danny Lipford
Engage with people whose backgrounds are radically different than yours
Use this Brainstorming platform as your parkour
- When someone posts an idea, I extract the problem they are solving and see if I can solve the same problem in a different way. Then I post that as an idea. Examples:Juran's idea sparked this one. Povilas's idea sparked this one.
- I try to upgrade other people's ideas. Sometimes the thought process continues in the same direction and I come up with something that is sufficiently different to quallify as an independent idea. Example: My contribution to Diver's idea made me think of this idea.
Build up a hunger for creativity by doing NOTHING
Asynchronous alternation of focus between 2-3 different projects
- 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
Introducing novelty into mundane habits
Ways to induce creativity just before you sleep
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
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
Alternating between intense focus and easy, routine tasks (incubation period)
Browsing through lists of ideas
Read random research paper to develop novel strategies
Warm-up writing with a purpose
Light stimulants and psychedelics
Inducing a state of drowsiness on purpose
- identify times and places in your day when you are most prone to having creative thoughts
- be protective of that time and don't let any distractions spoil it for you
- capture ideas during that time
- 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
Study all aspects of the problem you are trying to solve
Move to a different world
No personally felt problem to work on
Practice Speed Reading
Force Yourself to Think Fast.
Hungry, curious, creative.
Binge-read the best thoughts of your new favorite thinker
- Find a new Twitter account you like
- Use Twitter's advanced search function to filter by username, a high number of replies, and a high number of likes
- Binge read the resulting tweets until something sparks your creativity to go on a tangent and back to your work
Thinkalong - think about your problem while listening to someone's lecture
- 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
Learn to Use Breathing Techniques.
Walk It Out
Get some distance
The right amount of criticism
Motivation from ethics and money
Creative thinking is a skill
Write a letter to someone without the intention of sending it
- small steps that compound and build up momentum
- an unexpected piece of insight that is sufficiently big to get the flywheel going
Go to bed early without any entertainment. Be bored. Think about your goals and jot down any idea that springs up.
- Go to bed early and without ANY form of entertainment. No book, no phone. Just your thoughts.
- Have a pen and paper nearby. Turn off the lights and think about your top goals. Make plans. Prioritize. Strategize.
- If you get any idea leads worthy of remembering, turn on the light and write it down.
- The next morning, start your day by going through your notes and try to expand on them while adding them to your idea journal.
Getting into the details
Talk about it with all kinds of people.
Modeling and Simulation
Try to experience or Feel the Problem.
Listen to binaural beats.
Get enough REM sleep
Forced ideation progression ladder
- Open your draft file or notebook, add to it any ideas you have stored elsewhere. Review what's already there and try to expand on something. Even a little bit. Keep the file/notebook nearby all day long. If it's on your computer, remember to defend yourself from other attention traps at all times. Start with everything minimized, except the notebook.
- Make a list of problems around you that you would like to solve or at least think about. If for some reason you can't come up with any problems of your own then proceed to step 2...(otherwise, skip it for this round)
- Watch other people and imagine what kind of problems they might have (or ask them). Make a list.
- Write a title for each of the problems and a paragrap to describe it. Can you come up with some sub-titles for sections that fit each problem? Can you write any of the sections? Give it a try.
- Go somewhere where you can be alone with no distractions, nothing to occupy your mind except the list you just made. Think about it for a while. Can you come up with something?
- Browse through other people's ideas and see if you can come up with an improvement (this is your warmup). At the same time, see if you can identify/extract the principles by which others have solved each problem.
- Browse through a few brainstorming sessions and try to come up with any ideas that also work independently of the session.
- Watch a challenging talk on youtube, something where you have to strain your brain to follow along (examples: ). Feel free to pause after a while and...
- Review your list of problems. See if you can make some progress. Otherwise...
- Write a draft email to someone, answer a few questions on Quora.
- Review your list of problems again. Can you come up with something?
- Time to watch other people solve problems. Search youtube for "top invetions"
- Extract principles by which they arrived at each solution. Pause after each principle is known to you and think if it could be applied towards any of the problems you once thought about. Secondly, while watching think about how their solution could be even better. How would you upgrade it?
- Review your list again. Time for a work out in silence (no music) for first half. No phone either. Only your workout and your thoughts.
- Workout with music the 2nd half. Think about your list of problems.
- Stop thinking and have a shower, relax (it's a trick, you can't stop thinking).
- Go for a walk, alone. No music, no phone. Just walk and observe.
- Have a deep conversation with someone. Or teach something to a kid. Warmed up from the conversation...
- Write a few paragraphs about the problems you are trying to solve. What makes them difficult to solve. Identify small details in each that would result in some progress if changed.
- If nothing else worked, then this almost always does. Go to bed an hour before your time, no phone, no book, no light. Just you and your thoughts. Freestyle. No more content consumption. You have consumed plenty for today. Now it's time to entertain yourself with your thoughts alone. Have a pen and paper nearby. Write down anything that you could expand on in the morning.
Optimal conditions for ideation
- 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
Download, process, upload, feedback, share
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Share the final work with everyone and further refine it based on the feedback.