Nothing is truly original. Everything we come up with, no matter how genius the idea seems to be, is based on something we saw or experienced before.
Our brains almost constantly receive an enormous amount of data through all of our senses.
We don’t particularly remember everything, but some bits of pictures, sounds or feelings are saved somewhere in our subconscious.
When we have a brainstorming session, we start connecting dots and coming up with what may seem like a completely new idea but the truth is that we put it together like puzzles from the data we received before.
So, we steal the ideas, but there’s nothing wrong with that! That’s how it works and understanding it can help us be more creative.
I believe there are two things we need to generate new ideas:
- We need to absorb good information from the world that surrounds us.
Have you heard that you are what you eat? It’s pretty much the same with ideas. The better information you take in, the better ideas you can produce. Don’t expect great ideas from crappy ingredients.
- We need a place and time to process the information and generate ideas.
You can’t constantly be on the go and only collect information. You need to stop sometimes and process what you’ve learned into some creative work. You also need a fixed process and routine in place to do so.
Ok, now let me break these down further with some more details:
Explore the world for new ideas
We now know that we need to feed our brains with some good information and ideas.
It seems like we have access to everything with the internet. However, sometimes the internet is the real problem. We shouldn’t limit ourselves just to what we see online.
I mentioned before that we take in information with all of our senses. You can’t smell, feel, and fully experience what you see on your screen (if you can, it’s time to clean up your workstation). It’s like using only one channel of data and that’s very limiting.
The good thing is that the real world still exists.
I lived in a small town in Poland until I graduated high school. I always wanted to get out, explore the world, and live in different countries.
Moving to Chicago inspired me and boosted my creativity. Everything was new and exciting. I also felt like doors opened for me and I could go anywhere and do anything I wanted. I believe it all had a huge impact on me.
I’m very lucky that both my wife and I love to travel and we choose different destinations as often as we can (sometimes maybe even too often… ;-)). Even having a baby didn’t stop us from driving around the States and flying to different countries.
I believe traveling can help us get some fresh ideas, and break from our routine and environment once in awhile.
Try some far away destinations to different continents. If you live in the United States and you go to Europe or Asia, you’ll find that everything is different there. Look closely and observe all of those little details.
You’ll notice that they use a different kind of asphalt, different pavements, different road signs, and even door handles are completely new and provide a new experience. There is a different smell when you walk into an European house and even all of the furniture is in different proportions.
You may not experience it if you go just for a week and spend it in a hotel or go to only popular tourist checkpoints. If you have a chance, go for a couple of weeks and live there. Talk to local people and try to understand their culture and customs.
Don’t be a tourist, be an explorer. Save and collect new experiences in the form of photos, videos, and sketches.
There is so much art you can see in urban architecture, coffee shops, local stores, and signage. You don’t even have to go to museums or art galleries. Look around yourself. Everything is designed. Try to find something beautiful in everything you see.
All of those new experiences will trigger your creativity and will teach you to look at things from a different perspective. You’ll notice how one problem can be solved with so many different solutions. That is a very useful skill to learn if you’re a designer.
Go back to your cave and create
I’m not sure about you but I can never create anything when I’m on the go. I may have some ideas but there are just too many distractions to really focus and work on them.
I can write some blog posts while I’m traveling, I can read books, articles, and I can even research some ideas but not really creating anything new.
While going out and exploring the world for new ideas is necessary, it’s only a temporary exercise. We can’t collect and consume forever. At some point, we need to go back to our cave, light up the fire, melt everything we learned, and start shaping our own ideas.
First, we need to make sure we have a room for that. It should be one place where you feel comfortable, flexible, can close your door, and have some peace. You need all your tools in there, so you don’t have to move around and distract yourself while you’re working on something.
Second, you may need a certain time of day to establish your routine, so you can set a timeframe and dedicate 100% of your attention to your work. It’s very hard to be creative in chaos where everything is unstable and you can be interrupted at any time.
Nobody can see clearly through ripples. Have a schedule, have a process, clear your thoughts, and some great ideas will emerge.
This is my way to create. I go, travel, move, research, explore, and collect. Then, I come back, I close the door, focus, calm down, clear my thoughts, and create. Rinse and repeat. Good luck.