By far and away, this is my most popular post – originally titled ‘Solo Creativity.’
Sometimes being part of a crowd helps. Take brainstorms, for example. If you’re feeling less than creative, you can build off the energy of other people; help define (or redefine) the goal, problem or need; get inspiration from the conversation; or expand upon ideas generated among the team. Even when I’m in my introverted mindset, it’s good to thrust myself into an extroverted setting if, for no other reason, to get outside of my own head. ‘Mental fresh air,” I call it.
But what happens when you need to be creative … and there’s no one else around? How do you stimulate your imagination when brainstorming alone?
Here are my top ten suggestions to stimulate your imagination when you’re brainstorming by yourself. All can be adapted to suit your personality, style and work environment. You may even find that your creativity actually increases because you don’t have typical negative aspects of a brainstorm, like group think, negativity or cynicism. (See the note at the bottom of this post.)
A few general tips to start:
- Always start by articulating the goal (what are you trying to solve?), and the need or problem (what’s preventing you from being successful?)
- Write or draw your ideas on blank paper. Using coloured pens or pencils actually helps encourage creativity. Be environmentally friendly and use old pages from your printer. Doodling is typically more imaginative than writing words.
- Don’t worry about how long you brainstorm. Sometimes it’s best to brainstorm for 10-15 minutes, return to a previous project, then return for another stretch of brainstorming an hour or so later on. You can keep this up for several days, returning whenever you need a mental break. If so, always keep your notes handy and visible to your eye.
Finally, all of these tips are useful for group brainstorm activities (especially ice-breakers) as they are for individual ideation.
At the very least, getting up and away from your problem will clear your mind so that when you return to your problem you’ll be refreshed and re-energized.Test
What’s the worst that will happen? You may not get a new idea, but you often find that you’ve re-thought your problem by trying to explain it to someone wide-eyed and without prejudice.test
Another way to use this tip is to transfer the problem you have in your specific industry or category to an entirely different situation or to an entirely different occupation. When I was looking for an early-warning device for a particular company in the chemical industry, I switched the chemical industry for the agricultural industry. What does the agricultural industry use as early-warning devices? Or, I changed the chemist to a different occupation: what early-warning devices does an airline pilot use? A fireman? A policeman? A beautician? Go here for some occupations to get you started.
New research from the University of Amsterdam suggests that solo creativity may actually produce better results than a group brainstorm. Some people focus more when working alone. They feel they have less distractions from other people There’s generally a stronger sense of satisfaction when the ideas finally emerge. Perhaps we need to rethink the adage that “Two heads are better than one,” because in reality, one brain – our own – is all we need to be creative.
Any other suggestions to boost your creativity when brainstorming alone?