Ever sit in a brainstorming session and come up completely blank? Everyone has had those oh-so-special days, when you rack your brain trying to figure out a creative solution to a problem, but silently regret every thought that enters your brain or exits your mouth. Or those pesky times when it's on the tip of your tongue, but the idea somehow remains just out of reach.
You wrestle with this problem all day long, and by the time you get off work, you've almost resolved to give up. So you forget about it and get dinner, talk to your family, maybe read a book. Around bedtime, you jump in the shower...and then it comes to you. As soon as the water hits your shoulders, you have figured it all out! Why?
Doing mindless tasks (that is, functions that distract) like exercising or taking a shower relaxes our prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that handles goals and decisions. This frees up our subconscious brain to work in a different way--clearing pathways to make new, creative associations.
This is all well and good when you have time to be creative, but what about when you have deadlines? How do you tap into that when you have to get something to a client by 5 p.m.?
"Being an entrepreneur is so similar to being a Hollywood producer," says Gary W. Goldstein, producer of iconic films such as Pretty Woman and author of Conquering Hollywood: The Screenwriters Blueprint for Career Success. In both scenarios, you have to exercise big-picture creativity, gather the right pieces, and oversee all the moving parts. "It all boils down to asking yourself the right questions," he says.
Gary uses a variety of idea-generating methods on a daily basis to enhance creativity, cure writer's block, and make better creative decisions--without the mind-freeze others experience when working against deadlines.
Go to Your Happy Place
What is your happy place? For some it's reading. For others, it could be building model airplanes, exercising, cooking a meal, walking around the block, or painting. Whatever you do to relax and unwind, take a break and do it. Refocus your attention elsewhere. If you're on a deadline, set a timer and do the activity that relaxes you without worrying about work. This will give your brain a rest, allowing it to reset and refresh itself. But here's the key: Before you dive into your happy place, ask your higher self, the universe, your subconscious, or whatever name you choose to give it, for the perfect solution to the problem. Let your subconscious do the heavy lifting while you're chopping carrots or cleaning your closet. Magic happens when your mind is distracted.
Sleep on It
What exactly are you looking for? Before you go to bed, ask yourself "What will captivate my audience?" or "What is the one addition I can make to my product that will solve a big problem and deliver the wow factor?" Chances are, it'll come to you while you're busy sleeping! So keep a notepad or recording device next to your bed, and jot down those ideas so you don't forget them in the morning. Never let a good idea slip away because you were sure you'd remember it in the morning.
Let Your Mind Play
Train your brain to embrace creativity by letting it play. Whatever piques your curiosity, research it online and let yourself be taken on an unexpected adventure. Navigate without caring about your destination, only that you're excited by each new discovery. Again, this is a simple, valuable, efficient way to let your mind wander productively. Don't be rigid with your research--let it take you where it takes you. This will open you up to a world of creativity, by allowing your subconscious to be activated, engaged in seeking the perfect answer to your question.
Create a visual workspace. Gary has a whiteboard that takes up his entire wall, where he draws inspiration and ideas with big colorful markers. Putting all your ideas in one place allows you to see parallels between certain thoughts, and the markers inspire a childlike creativity, free of self-censorship. Giving yourself permission to play, literally and figuratively, is a brilliant habit that pays big dividends.
Gut Wins Over Grey Matter
Your mind wants you to play it safe, not take unnecessary risk. Its job is not to nourish, encourage, and grow your creativity. Your heart, gut, viscera, and solar plexus are your "truth zone"--the place where you know the deeper truth of what's being said, of how people are behaving, whether you're genuinely excited by an idea and, very importantly, whether it will elicit a similar response from others. Your head or mind will mislead; your gut is a better barometer. If you are moved or inspired or excited, others will mostly likely have a similar response.
Check Your Ego at the Door
In order to have an idea really resonate with others, you have to be able to see it from perspectives other than your own. The best way to do this is to ask questions of your creative team members. Listen deeply. Ask more questions, digging further into their mindset. Sometimes talking it out can jog other ideas or help refine ideas you already have.
Remember, ego is the disaster zone of creativity. Listen to your gut more than your head and watch your days of creativity block diminish.