When you exercise your body, you start by warming up your muscles. When it comes to exercising your creativity, you also need to start by warming up your creative muscles. Whether you are brainstorming, ideating, or co-creating, preparing your brain for creative thinking is the first step. It is a signal to yourself that you're entering a different mental space--different from emailing, writing, or talking on the phone.
My favorite creative warmup takes a mere three minutes. It is the first thing we do with any creative session. It helps break the ice, gets people to laugh, and, most importantly, puts the team in a playful mindset.
Just like you wouldn't dream of running or swimming or playing tennis without warming up your body, don't dream of doing anything creative without warming up your right brain.
Here is warmup exercise:
All you need is a stack of copy paper and pens. Let people know you're going to start the session by warming up their creative brains. Then simply ask them to turn to the person next to them, to their left or to their right, and draw each other. Instructions for the warm up:
- You only have three minutes, so no masterpieces!
- Your face is like a rectangle, and the eyes go in the middle of it. Everything else can go wherever you like.
- Have fun and remember to sign and gift your portrait to your neighbor once you're done.
Here is why doing the warm-up is important:
Break the ice.
People often feel awkward in the first minutes of an ideation session. Will they be creative? Will they rise to the occasion? When they start by drawing each other they engage with their neighbor, they start laughing at how they butcher each other's portraits, and the energy in the room rises. Before they know it, the awkwardness is gone and they're in this experience together.
Cardinal rule of creativity and design is to be playful. When we play, we're like kids--we're not afraid of making mistakes. We try things, experiment with ideas, and learn by doing. There's nothing like getting people to draw each other to signal we're in a playful state.
Transition into the creative space.
A creative meeting is different from other meetings. It is about generating ideas, breaking your preconceptions, and stretching your mind to imagine new possibilities. This warmup, or others you might try, disrupt people's daily work routine and help them enter a new, creative thinking space.
Make something difficult, easy.
For so many of us, drawing someone else is tough. By doing a difficult thing together, from the get-go, and doing it in a state of collaboration and fun, you're actually priming people for the whole session. The underlying message is--you got this, you can be creative, and have fun.
Collaboration is social. It is about working with other people. This warmup is also about looking each other in the eye and starting a dialogue. That dialogue will continue for the rest of the session, and potentially, longer.
We all have favorite warm up routines when we exercise. This is mine. Give it a try and be ready for its effectiveness.