“You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not’?” – George Bernard Shaw
How does your creativity work?
Do you think that you need to be in your creative place, your studio or your usual work area for the creative ideas to begin flowing?
Do you delegate creative idea generation to specific locations and time?
You may have sometimes wondered how to get your creative mojo on.
You may have hit a wall, a creative doldrum or a writers block that you may be finding difficult to get beyond.
It is always good to have a few unconventional ideas and places to get the creative juices flowing because many times it is the most counter-intuitive things and places that release the best of our ideas.
Here are a few suggestions to get those creative juices flowing:
“The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.”- Emily Dickinson
1. At A Coffee Store Or A Local Teahouse
“But the other thing that makes the coffeehouse important is the architecture of the space. It was a space where people would get together from different backgrounds, different fields of expertise, and share. It was a space, as Matt Ridley talked about, where ideas could have sex. This was their conjugal bed, in a sense — ideas would get together there. And an astonishing number of innovations from this period have a coffeehouse somewhere in their story.”-Steven Johnson, TED talk
If you are used to working alone, I cannot overemphasize the importance of hitting the local cafe circuit to freshen that perspective you are trying to enhance.
Coffee houses have traditionally been the hot bed of ideas and creativity because of the mixing and matching of ideas and the close proximity of people and the interaction that takes place.
In fact, according to Steven Johnson in his TED talk, the last five hundred years or the period known as the enlightenment was fueled by ideas that were spread by the interaction between people in coffee shops and cafes.
Johnson argues that a researcher Kevin Dunbar undertook the project of discovering where good ideas came from in the field of science and went and videotaped people in laboratories around the world.
Dunbar taped people at their microscopes and at the water fountains and at their laboratory meetings.
Surprisingly contrary to the isolated scientist sitting at the microscope going “eureka,” he found that breakthrough ideas mostly happened when people got together in their weekly laboratory meetings.
When people bounced their experiments, their successes and failures against others and sat in a group setting, their creative juices began flowing.
Companies like Google and IDEO have recognized the importance of the contribution of cross-collaboration between people and have created work environments that foster the transfer and mixing of ideas.
“And something about that environment — and I’ve started calling it the “liquid network,” where you have lots of different ideas that are together, different backgrounds, different interests, jostling with each other, bouncing off each other — that environment is, in fact, the environment that leads to innovation.”
2. While You Are Asleep
“I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking”― Albert Einstein
There is a crucial stage of creativity called the incubation phase where ideas that you have imbibed previously and the concepts that you are currently working on along with the problems and questions that you have manage to come together, collide and incubate.
Consider this: Do you grind some coffee beans or steep some tea leaves and then remove them moments later demanding great tea or coffee.
Unfortunately, we all know only too well that it does not work that way. We need to give a good blend its time to incubate and brew.
Much like a finely aged wine, ideas come to fruition and maturity when they are ready to mature. Does that mean you have to let it all go and then just forget about it? Yes and no.
After you have put in your work, you may be better off by allowing the power of your sub-conscious mind to generate some creative mojo and do some of the power lifting.
After all, the sub-conscious is capable of processing a lot more information and patterns that your conscious mind might get overwhelmed with.
Your active involvement is the part where you define your problem very clearly before you go to sleep and then release it to the powers of incubation and the sub-conscious mind to come up with novel solutions.
You may also need to facilitate the mojo by having a notepad and pen handy by your bed stand that you can quickly scribble onto if you happen to chance upon the solutions that you are craving.
The sad truth is that many people these days are overworked, fatigued, stressed out and do not get enough sleep.
Perhaps just the opposite approach is more valuable to the rediscovery of creative mojo.
Research from Harvard Researcher Teresa Amabile’s work has conclusively shown that when the focus is lacking, deadlines, urgency and stress do not facilitate creativity and end up hampering progress.
One of the famous examples of the value of sleep and dreams is the story of the discovery of the benzene cyclical structure by the scientist Friedrich August Kekulé.
It is said that after being unable to figure out the structure that confounded contemporary scientists, Kekulé saw the structure in a dream with molecules as snakes dancing around.
One of the snakes grabbed its tail much like the circular structure of benzene. The snakes and molecules in his dreams miraculously formed the repeating single and double bonded and ringed circular structure of benzene giving the scientist vital clues to the structure while in his sleep.
The great mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujam is known to have received many of his theorems and mathematical proofs in his sleep.
According to him:
“While asleep I had an unusual experience. There was a red screen formed by flowing blood as it were. I was observing it. Suddenly a hand began to write on the screen. I became all attention. That hand wrote a number of results in elliptic integrals. They stuck to my mind. As soon as I woke up, I committed them to writing.”
Ramanujam even attributed some of his formulae as divine gifts from a hindu goddess in his dreams that he would confirm and verify after he woke up.
Are you getting enough sleep and are you allowing your sub-conscious to work on creative solutions by clearly defining the problem and releasing it to your sleep and dreams to be incubated upon?
3. In The Bathtub Or The Shower
When you are besieged by a problem that you need a creative solution to and you are just not getting anywhere, you may benefit by taking a creative break in the shower.
Many theories have been put forth to explain the sudden outpouring of creative mojo in the shower but clearly changing the environment and the warm or the cold water relaxing the person may have to do something with it.
Regardless of what the mechanism is, the shower might just work wonders as it has done historically.
In a study by Verstijnen and J M Hennessey titled “Sketching and creative discovery,” the authors describe the importance of Combining, Restructuring, Expertise and Creativity and their impact on sketching behavior.
In their words:
“One day, the story goes, Archimedes jumped out of the bath and ran joyfully and nakedly through the streets of Syracuse. Finally, he had discovered the solution to a problem which had been bothering him. For a long time, he had wondered how to measure the volume of an irregular object. Obviously, the discovery came to him at a moment he had not anticipated. This aspect of discovery is more frequently encountered in anecdotal evidence and self-reports.”
Archimedes was bothered by the problem of how to measure the volume and purity of an irregular solid.
Heiro of Syracuse had posed this problem to Archimedes because he suspected his pure gold crown has some silver mixed in by the goldsmith.
While Archimedes stepped into his bath he saw that the water level rose and as he was having his bath, he was struck with a flash of insight that made him jump out of the bath naked and run joyfully through the streets of Syracuse screaming “eureka” or “I have found it.”
I do not know about you but I confess that I have had and still have many great ideas in the shower.
4. In a Bus or a train
Have you ever received great ideas and felt like you were unable to stop the flow of creative mojo while on a journey in a train or a drive across the countryside or while peering out of the window in a bus?
In an interview given to Time magazine, psychologist R. Keith Sawyer talks about the 3 B’s of creativity research.
The three B’s are the bathtub, the bus and the bed and they are the places that creative ideas are plenty and may be the places where you can re-discover your creative mojo.
However, this involves taking time off the problem or changing the context and usually many tiny sparks of insight add up to the solution.
“When we take time off from working on a problem, we change what we’re doing and our context, and that can activate different areas of our brain. If the answer wasn’t in the part of the brain we were using, it might be in another. If we’re lucky, in the next context we may hear or see something that relates—distantly—to the problem that we had temporarily put aside.”
When you are traveling in the bus or the train, you can allow you mind to aimlessly wander in search of that next creative masterpiece.
Do you think that this is wishful thinking? Let us see:
It is well known that J. K. Rowling conceived of the much-loved Harry Potter character while on a delayed train journey from Manchester to London.
Scientist and nobel prize winner Kary Mullis received the idea of the chemistry of amplifying DNA segments in a reaction now famously known as PCR while he was on a late night drive with his girlfriend.
When I go to a new place, I love to explore it by traveling in the local bus, tram or train and allowing new ideas come to me through watching the new place and unfocused attention on the problems that I am attempting to creatively solve.
The key is to be non-focused and not try to concentrate too hard to solve a creative problem while changing the environment to facilitate the generation of new connections and combinations.
5. While taking a hike, working outside in the fields or in the garden
Hanging out in nature, working in your garden or going for that next hike might just reconnect you with your creative mojo because you are in a relaxed and natural setting.
Elizabeth Gilbert describes her meeting with the extraordinary American poet Ruth Stone in her TED talk. Gilbert tells the story of Ruth working in rural Virginia and how she received ideas for her poems.
According to Gilbert in her TED talk:
“She would be out working in the fields, and she said she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. And she said it was like a thunderous train of air. And it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And she felt it coming, because it would shake the earth under her feet. She knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to, in her words, “run like hell.” And she would run like hell to the house and she would be getting chased by this poem, and the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page.”
Ruth would run fast in an attempt to get quickly to paper and pencil to capture the poem when it thundered through her.
She explains that at other times, she would not be fast enough and the poem would barrel through her and move on to some other poet.
Another story worth mentioning is that of the discovery of the television.
While ploughing a field of his family farm, Philo Farnsworth was watching the straight rows of corn and the rows of dirt that he was generating in the ground when he received the idea of television.
The Idea that Farnsworth came up with was to show moving images by separating them into straight and parallel lines of light and then transmitting and projecting them on a screen.
Working and hanging out in nature or taking a hike is a wonderful way to get the creative juices flowing.
Now over to you! Please let me know in the comments below if this post resonated with you. Which idea is your favorite one and why? Where and how do you get your creative juices flowing?
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Kathleen McCormick says
I agree with you about these ways to stimulate creativity. I often got my best ideas while running. The endorphins were flowing and I sometimes totally forget about the exertion and became totally involved in what was going on in my head. In a good way………
Harish Kumar says
Thanks for your comment, Kathleen!
I agree that exercise is a wonderful way to stimulate creativity. Enhanced circulation, endorphins and the change of environment while running make it very ideal for idea generation! Not to mention all the good exercise does for our systems…it is a win-win situation.
Thanks for stopping by! 🙂
Michelle Dobbins says
I get ideas a lot in the bath or shower and while I’m sleeping. I have been wanting to try going to the coffee shop and write and see how it goes for me. Thanks for the ideas.
Harish Kumar says
Thanks a lot for your comment, Michelle! And you are most welcome.
The shower and sleep are also big idea generators for me. I have been going to the coffee shop for a few years now and grabbing the most comfy couch or seat if it is available. I think that just by looking at the activity in the coffee store with people chatting or studying or working is a big stimulant for me. Not to mention, the smell and taste of great coffee does not hurt the creative process either.
Recently, I have been listening to favorite instrumental music on Pandora and have figured out which music allows me to relax and get into a creative flow zone and then the writing just flows. It is almost as if the music sets the tone and acts as a intrinsic motivational trigger and gets me going. In any case, I believe that environment is a big factor for the creative flow to happen.
Have a wonderful and inspiring week!