What is it about new projects that are so exciting and yet so hard to begin? Have you ever been flooded with ideas at the onset --but lost your resolve when faced with a blank page? Or, have you ever sat down with your team to ask for ideas, only to be met with silence? Or, have you had a client who threatened to lock you up in the boardroom until you come up with an idea? All of these have happened to me. Luckily my partner in the boardroom was a quick thinker--she cracked a joke, and defused a tense moment.
My explorations in the creative process began over 20 years ago when I experienced a creative block while I was at the height of my career as a graphic designer. This led me to an inquiry about the creative process from a multidisciplinary perspective. What can art, design, social science, and leadership in organizations teach us about creativity and innovation?
The first step in beginning a creative project is to prepare mentally and emotionally. If you find it hard to get started, follow the King's advice in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: "Begin at the beginning ... and go on till you come to the end: then stop."
1. Start with "Why?"
What is the purpose or cause of this project? And why should anyone care? Knowing your purpose and the impact you can make will propel you to take action.
2. Capture initial ideas before they fly away
That way, you aren't faced with a blank screen when it's time to write. It doesn't matter if they are good or not; they alert your brain to get to work. You can edit and refine later.
3. Do your homework
Louis Pasteur (renowned for discovering the principles of vaccinations and pasteurization) observed, "Chance favours a prepared mind." When you take the time to research your topic, you prepare your mind for flashes of insight.
4. Address your fears
André Gide (winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1947) stated, "You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore." I liberate my emotions through journal writing, exercise, mindfulness practices, and yoga.
5. Voice your hopes, fears, and concerns with a trusted friend or colleague
Having a sounding board will help you clarify your thoughts and speed up the creative process.
6. Follow your curiosity and feed your brain on a regular basis
The more diverse your sources of knowledge, the more connections you can make to produce creative ideas. Choreographer Twyla Tharp says, "Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable. Everything feeds into my creativity. But without proper preparation, I cannot see it, retain it, and use it." I like to browse through magazines and books to trigger new ideas.
7. Step away from your desk when you experience brain fog
Moving your body changes the chemistry in your brain and gives your intuition a chance to be heard.
8. If you are going to procrastinate, be productive about it
My favorite way to procrastinate is to clear the clutter in my surroundings. It has been said that clearing clutter clears your brain, and it works for me.
9. Ask for help if you need it
It is not a sign of weakness; it is an indication of smart leadership if framed strategically. For example, let people know you value their opinions and ask for advice, rather than help. When you ask employees or co-workers what they think about your topic, you honor and empower them, without making yourself vulnerable.
10. Stop preparing
Finally, as Walt Disney said, "The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing." Being prepared will give you the courage to create, and the grit to get through any mental roadblock.