Note: This is a guest blog post by Nikos Acuna, author of the book, Mindshare: Igniting Creativity And Innovation Through Design Intelligence. The book is a fascinating and interesting read. Thank you, Nikos, for the guest blog post on how creative habits in business bring success. – Howard-
Everyday Genius: 10 Creative Habits For Producing Mind-blowing Work by Nikos Acuna
I’ve worked for international media companies, big brands, ad agencies, and tech startups, in operational leadership roles, countless creative projects, product launches, and marketing initiatives. Over time I learned that creativity is an integrated craft that leverages different approaches to produce remarkable work. But prolific inspiration and ingenuity are often elusive. We all go through bouts of writer’s block, the dissipation of energy, a lack of focus and motivation, a loss of interest in our projects, the frustration of creative conflicts that arise from intense collaboration, and the inability to bring our most imaginative ideas into consciousness.
This article explores ten creative habits for improving creativity to produce remarkable work that I’ve learned through the years, while exploring how producers manage creative energy, break through roadblocks, and leverage integrated thinking to ignite brilliance on-demand. Creating remarkable work means being remarkable.
1) Get the Blood Flowing
Energy is the source of life. When blood is flowing efficiently, it catalyzes neurons to make new network connections. That’s when new idea combinations occur. Blood pumps through the veins and into the brain. Working out or engaging in a strenuous activity keeps the creative mind refreshed and more motivated to tackle action items. Energy provides motivation and gets the mind back into flow states.
2) Focus Your Energy
I’ve been working with startups for the past five years, and one thing is clear—there will never be enough to do. Platform development entails focusing on requirements that you may not be sure about—so you must focus on the user experience goals and beta testing as often as possible, in order to refine the minimum viable product (MVP). But focusing energy not only benefits product development. It’s also intrinsic to business strategy.
Why is it important to gain deep insight into your company’s root challenges? The root of the problem affects the entire project and reveals a strategic path early in the process. As Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative, writes, “In order to generate brilliant ideas, creatives must effectively define their work. ‘Challenges’ are short problem statements that summarize the key issues of a problem and help focus the mind on the heart of the matter. This makes it easier to present a solution with deliverables that can be agreed upon and develop this into a shared vision.
3) Incubate Ideas by Tuning into Your Creative Rhythm
Pain will eventually set in. Writing another word feels like climbing a mountain. Everything is garbage. Energy levels are low, and there’s no motivation. Stress will follow, and then a headache. The pain comes in the absence of inspiration and energy. But producers don’t worry. They just breathe and embrace it. Accidental Creative author Todd Henry shares this advice: “You need to incorporate practices that instill a sense of structure, rhythm, and purpose into your life. You need to create space for your creative process to thrive rather than expecting it to operate in the cracks of your frenetic schedule.”
According to creativity psychologist Keith Sawyer, “Incubation works because it gives people’s minds rest because it provides an opportunity to become less fixated on incorrect solutions, and because it provides time for spreading activation in the unconscious mind. In the real world, it’s likely that taking time off also provides opportunities for ‘opportunistic assimilation’—as you go about your daily activities, you may randomly encounter a stimulus that is related to your problem, one that connects to the ‘failure indices’ that remained when you stopped working.”
4) Plow Through When You Need to Deliver
Sometimes it’s necessary to push forward no matter what. Deadlines need to be met. People are counting on you to produce. You may be against the ropes, but you can’t give up now. Make yourself accountable. You have a job to do, and no excuse will remedy the situation. Excuses never do. You sit in front of our project until your head bleeds. You know that the experience is going to enrich your life and strengthen your creative muscles. It’s all heart now.
5) Condition Abstract Thinking to Bolster the Imagination
When you’re stuck in a rut, it’s time to get abstract. Abstract thinking allows the unconscious mind to wander. Abstract imagery provides a platform for your unconscious mind and represents forms that are seeking structure but haven’t quite found it yet. Abstraction allows you to explore potentiality through fluid interpretations.
When you feel like you’ve hit a wall, work on a completely different creative project—the more abstract, the better. Paint, take an improvisational acting class, or attend a poetry workshop. Write a short story, a poem, a song, or lyrics to a spoken word piece. Write in your journal. Just express yourself.
6) Play: Create an Innovative Work Environment
Playing is about experimentation and releasing constraints to free the imagination. Peter Sims, the author of Little Bets, has this to say: “Creating an atmosphere that allows for playfulness and improvisation is one of the most effective ways to inspire the experimentation that leads to the best ideas and insights.” Encouraging play in all forms develops creativity—through games, music, painting, or just about anything that taps into the imagination. According to flow psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility. There is no question that a playfully light attitude is typical of creative individuals. But this playfulness doesn’t go very far without its antithesis, a quality of doggedness, endurance, perseverance.”
Play also creates an environment through which innovation occurs 27/7. Steven Johnson remarks in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, “The secret to organizational inspiration is to build information networks that allow hunches to persist and disperse and recombine. Instead of cloistering your hunches in brainstorm sessions or R&D labs, create an environment where brainstorming is something that is constantly running in the background, throughout the organization, a collective version of the 20- percent-time concept that proved so successful at Google and 3M.”
7) Explore Your Challenges Through the Power of Writing
I’ve been writing since I was a child. Throughout my career, I’ve revised countless scripts, storyboards, books, and moderated many writing workshops. Writing was always a way of thinking for me. This form of iteration leads to breakthrough because it allows you to prototype ideas, and refine them by removing imperfections. Whether you are creating a new strategic proposal, ebook, sales sheet, or writing a comprehensive white paper—the process starts with the externalization of your ideas.
Prototyping, sketching, and drawing are also critical. But writing enables you to experiment with the shape of your project, giving it meaning, texture, and depth. It also allows you to explore your process as a form of documentation. It allows you to articulate that which seems nebulous, because ideas from the unconscious are so raw. It could be as simple as writing an Evernote, or Tweeting an interesting thought that comes to mind. Blogs provide a platform in which ideas can converge and evolve.
Writing clarifies the direction your project must take and refines your vision. Your imagination does more work as you craft your project into a more concise form. Writing allows experimentation, activating your unconscious and unleashing your visionary powers.
8) Force Connections Between Diverse Ideas
Diversity inspires innovation. Forcing connections between different ideas provides a layering effect that leads to breakthrough creative solutions. The result is a fresh new perspective, a new neural connection in the brain. Through these connections, you will find the fluidity that gives your work its unique form.
Is there anyone out there who has solved a similar problem to yours? It doesn’t necessarily have to be within your business segment or even your same industry. In fact, it’s better if you can identify your challenge in a different industry altogether. This forces you to look at your creative challenge in a different way. It allows you to integrate new ideas that could immediately solve your problem, or solve a future problem that emerges.
Innovation and management consultant, and the author of Borrowing Brilliance, David Kord Murray writes: “You build your idea on a foundation of well-defined problems. Once defined, you borrow ideas from places with a comparable problem. You start close to home by borrowing from your competitors, then you venture farther by borrowing from other industries, and finally you travel out- side of business and look for ideas with that problem in the scientific, entertainment, or artistic worlds.”
9) Workshop Your Projects
Experienced creatives know how to provide criticism that helps to amplify the quality of a creative project. Creative workshops are a great place to hone your ideas and your craft and to collaborate with a group of other like-minded individuals. In a creative workshop environment, always point out what’s working well with each piece. It’s just as critical to identify the strengths of a piece so that the producer knows she’s on the right track. Sometimes this is more important than telling her what’s not working. Articulate suggestions, but don’t be too specific—it’s the producer’s job to interpret comments and enhance her work. Workshops are fundamental to the process of design thinking.
Design thinking strikes a delicate balance between the freedom of imagination and disciplined action. Global organizations are partnering with innovative design firms like IDEO, Continuum, Ziba Design, and frog design to help them devise more immersive ways to refine their business strategies. Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO and author of Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, remarks: “Tricks from the designer’s toolkit—user observations, brainstorming, prototyping, storytelling, and scenario building—are invaluable in building an innovation capability, but taken by themselves they are rarely sufficient. Over time, and after countless experiences with organizations throughout the world, we have learned that innovation has to be coded into the DNA of a company if there is to be large-scale, long-term impact.”
10) Inspiration is Everywhere: Use the Power of Stimuli for Ideation
Creativity comes from energy and inspiration. What inspires you? When you emulate success, you transform. Therefore, the more ideas you absorb, the more ideas come to fruition. It’s a reciprocal process, and reciprocity gives you momentum. If you’re not a voracious reader, become one. The more you learn, the more you earn. Put yourself on a steady diet of remarkable knowledge. Ken Robinson has this to say: “If you want people to be literate, you have to get them passionate about reading, and that’s a creative job. To think of it as an afterthought or in conflict of the core purpose is a misconception of what creativity is. Creative leaders get that. And if they don’t they will.”
Nikos Acuna is a creativity and innovation specialist and currently the SVP of operations and marketing at digitaladtech, a digital platform innovation company that connects brands and media companies with audiences in meaningful ways. He is also the creative director of Nioverse Media, a creativity, innovation, and design company. For more information on Nikos and the book, Mindshare, click here. You can follow Nikos on Twitter: @niovate