As that deadline looms, your inability to hit on a genius new idea is not just the source of panic and frustration – it can have career implications too. Whether you’re in a traditionally creative industry or not, finding solutions to problems will be something you grapple with on a regular basis, and when inspiration dries up, the feelings and pressures encountered can be counterintuitive to reaching your goal.
For some of you, feeling “stuck” is an occasional occurrence (27% of everywoman Network members say that their flashes of brilliance are few and far between). For others, stuck thinking is a state of being (7% of you state “I don’t have a creative bone in my body!”).
Wherever you sit on the scale, our guide to moving beyond stuck thinking – inspired by the everywoman Network workbook Unleashing your creativity in the workplace and Pippa Isbell’s webinar The creative spark and how to ignite it – will help you smash through those brick walls and emerge from the debris at your creative best.
1. Instead of focusing on the problem, focus on your routine
Seldom in the history of coming up with a good idea has genius resulted from staring at the blinking cursor of a blank page. On the contrary, research has shown that the instruction “come up with a good idea”, whether it’s from a boss or self-imposed, is more likely to see your creative muscle seize up than flex. What is proven to aid your ability to fuse unconnected stimuli and produce a new thought, is the act of changing your routine. And that needn’t mean taking a long haul flight to a dream destination; one scientist found that simply using a different technique to make your favourite sandwich could unblock neural networks and lead to a burst of creative activity. So next time you’re failing to hit upon a solution to a problem, step away from your computer and do something different. Or, even better, don’t wait for your well to dry up: introduce routine changers into your everyday – take a different journey to work, find a new location for your after-work drinks, listen to a different radio station on your morning commute. Who knows what new thoughts a change of scenery might inspire.
2. Get some distance from your problem by stepping into someone else’s shoes
Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to find solutions to someone else’s problems? Perhaps you’ve sat opposite a friend or colleague discussing an issue in their lives and wondered how they can’t seem to see that a simple answer lies right under their noses. This principle lies at the heart of the disassociation theory scientists say can help unblock your ability to create new thoughts. It works like this: if you’ve hit a brick wall trying to find an answer to a problem by looking at it from your own point of view, remove yourself from the equation and look at it from the perspective of someone else. What would your significant other, your favourite celebrity, your boss, your mentor, your dog, or even Batman do? If you try this technique and it works to inspire new ideas, challenge yourself further: rather than looking at the problem through the eyes of a specific person, channel it through various cognitive states. What can you deduce about the problem by looking only at the facts? Only the emotional aspects? Judgement, logic, creativity, control?
3. Brainstorm the exact opposite of your problem
When children imagine, tell stories and invent through play, they allow themselves to be as ridiculous and implausible as can be. But as we grow older, we increasingly self-edit. And if you’ve ever sat through a failed brainstorm, you’ll know that this human tendency to instantly evaluate is a sure-fire way to crush creativity. Coming up with new ideas can be a fun process if you allow yourself to make mistakes. Test your ability to create without judgement by using the ‘worst idea’ technique: momentarily park your desire to hit upon a genius solution, instead summoning forth all the very worst possible ideas you can dream up. So if you’re trying to tackle the issue of high turnover within your organisation, instead focus on all the various ways you could make even more people leave. If you’re trying to work out how to drive new customers to your website; focus first on what you could do to ensure your traffic nosedives.
4. Create a playground
Idea generation can be fun, but squeezing solo brainstorms into the ten minutes between meetings or the downtime before your colleagues arrive at work isn’t particularly conducive to enjoyment. Before you launch into trying to eke out an idea, think through all the ways you could create an environment in which you’ll be at your most inspired. A comfortable work-from-home day or a team session in a surprise new environment? A place to work in peace and solitude versus the buzz of your local coffee shop? Consider what assets you need in the form of desk-toppers, materials found online around the topic you’re exploring, or even individuals on standby to take your phone call. Once you’re ready to step into that environment, be kind to yourself: don’t expect genius to strike as soon as you set foot inside. Do some research beforehand on the problem-solving exercises and brainstorm techniques you could use to get your thinking started.
More solutions to common problems on the everywoman Network
Bogged down with politics? Try Common workplace dilemmas: personal strategies for navigating politics with success
Struggling to juggle workload? Try New ways to think about delegation
Struggling to make your meetings go off with a bang? Delve into Successful meetings: it’s all in the preparation