I’ve worked in companies where I flourished creatively and I’ve worked in companies where the opposite happened: where I felt the practices, customs, and structure reduced my creative contribution to the team and to my own projects.
Because of my role in digital strategy and design, I am often one to contribute a lot of creativity and ideas at meetings. For that reason, I’ve spent a good amount of time thinking about creativity and understanding what personal practices can improve it.
Here I share three personal practices I’ve instituted to help increase my own creativity as a designer.
01. Sleep on it. Or walk away from the problem
Here’s my most effective rule: Finish a project, and then sleep on it. If the deadline allows, return to the final product the next day. I’m always grateful to have an extra day for updates, refinements, or to veer in a totally new direction. I surprise myself consistently with what a refreshed perspective brings and how my solutions improve.
This method is only effective when you’ve already processed the problem: you’ve fully dug in, you understand the business case deeply, and you’ve started thinking about the solution already. That’s when the extra time – sleeping on it or taking time away from the project, really helps. At that point, you know all the information you need and your brain is processing in the background, creating connections, and things you see, do, and think during that time help give additional ideas.
We’ve all felt the ‘aha’ moment in the shower or getting an idea during a walk, where you think “I should jot that down when I get back to my computer.” Taking extra “sleep on it” time at the end of a project builds on the creative process that comes with thinking through a problem.
02. Connect with people who have your role in other organizations
One of my most creative periods was when I worked as the sole web developer in an organization. When I took the role, I worried that being the only one who did that type of work in my organization would isolate me, and that I’d have a harder time keeping up with trends, following what peers are doing, and growing properly in my career.
So, I was extremely proactive in connecting with the online web community. I followed people, answered questions, asked questions, wrote blog posts, and more. I was active enough that I was invited to conferences and to author book chapters and my blog was becoming more successful. When I switched jobs and became part of a larger team, I got lazier about this. I started talking about my ideas only with colleagues and reduced my focus on the world outside my organization. And I felt the impact over time.
It turns out even a big team or even a whole organization can become an island. And creativity can be reduced. Based on these experiences, I have reinstituted the rule to connect with people who do what I do, but at different organizations. Meet with them, ask them “What’s the hardest problem your team is facing right now? How do you all think about it?” Get perspectives, share your own. The knowledge gained and connections made are invaluable to creativity and continuous growth.
03. Create limitations in your ideation
This is a well-known principle and for a good reason: it works!
When you’re thinking about a problem —let’s say launching a marketing campaign—if you impose no limitations in ideating about, say, launch day, you will automatically think of the easiest, more cliched, most common solution. That’s how our brains work! That’s what comes to mind first: what you did last year, or what you did in your last job, or whatever is most common approach for such a marketing launch.
And worse—once you think of that cliched solution—you can’t get it out of your mind to jump to a more unique or interesting idea. You get stuck.
The sad thing is that there are often limitations that exist within projects, but managers often don’t share them. They think it’s a compliment to tell their teams and their creatives “I trust you, do whatever you want,” not realizing that’s a creativity killer.
Instead – share any limitations that are relevant for the project and can help the result.
Here are some examples:
How would our launch day activities look if we focus our launch on Twitter conversations?
How would our launch day activities look if we focus on all the beautiful new photography we got last month?
How would launch day be different if we focused our story telling on our younger scientists?
With imposed limitations, the mind cannot go to the easiest, simplest, or most common solution. Now there is a narrower problem to solve, and when you define those boundaries, creativity begins. You’ll get different and brand new ideas from your team if you help create brainstorming limitations.