Most people think we live in the age of information. Because, well, Google. Information flows from our desks, and frankly, our pockets. Want to know an actor’s age? Google it. Is your phone broken? Google it (on your phone) (based on a true personal story). Need to research for your paper? Google it. Have an undiagnosed sickness? Google it. Even doctors are starting to use Google! So it is quite apparent that we live in the age of information.
Plot twist, the successful people use the information>> and understand that we really live in the Age of Conception. Okay, I’ll prove it. Give me the name of any one founder of a successful company and without fail, you will notice that those people started with an idea. And in many cases, it was a very new idea. The funny thing is, a lot of successful people become so thanks to other people who know stuff (Steve Jobs, anyone?). It’s a back and forth, Information vs. Conception.
Without a doubt, an idea is prized above a mere fact. Don’t believe me? A fact is all but free now, an idea isn’t, and a good idea could make a person a whole bunch of money. Now, to be fair, I don’t think that Googling my symptoms really wins out over a doctor. I’d much rather pay a doctor to give me a prescription. However, any one industry can stand for some insightful innovation (and anyone who tells you otherwise is prideful and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon). As a marketer, ideas excite me. In business, an idea is worth more than an innovative website, or good management structure, or a building>> these things are vital to the business, but none of it will amount to much without a solid idea. I have been blessed by what I believe to be a very modern education that is probably very ahead of our time (post about that to come later) and through this education, I have become extremely excited about the possibility that lies behind the idea. In all honesty, I think many people are starting to recognize it also, which is why, when you scroll through Pinterest, you see pictures that say, “WHAT’S STOPPING YOU” or “Ignore negativity, explode with creativity” or “See what others don’t see” or the ever-and-always cliche, “Think outside the box.” Don’t get me wrong, I love inspirational quotes as much as the next guy, but sometimes pointing out that people should have ideas doesn’t exactly help them have ideas. Most of us aren’t able to sit down and have an idea on purpose. Yet, in many cases, this is what the world is asking us to do; so how are we going to make this work?
I’m living proof that forced creativity is actually possible. My dad is an animator. He is the most disciplined creator I know. Because of the nature of his job, pretty much every day he sits down and says, “Okay brain, have an idea.” Except that that’s not really how it goes, but we’ll get into that. I can’t draw for my life, but I do play the piano and I am a songwriter. When I was twelve, my dad did what any loving father would do and all but chained me to our piano and made me write songs for an hour every night (needless to say, I cried a couple of times). Before you call child protective services, I’m here to tell you that I look back on it as one of the best experiences of my life. And that was only the beginning of my disciplined creative journey.
Being creative on the spot is hard. And I would wholeheartedly agree that sitting down with a blank page in front of you is honestly the worst creative environment for our poor brains. How do you do it? It’s all in the system. I’ve had some of my best ideas when I’m driving and I can’t write them down; but then I sit at my piano and nothing ever comes. My point is, in order to be able to fill a notebook or a portfolio or an album (or a blog), a system should be created. But that system will be different for everyone.
I’ll give you an example>> I’ll write a better song based on cool words I’ve heard and jotted down over the week combined with the rhyming words app I have on my phone than I will directly after an emotional experience (however, there are exceptions). So when I sit down at the piano, whether I’m completely drained of inspiration, or spilling with it, I know I only have to come up with two things>> a recent experience and a beginning chord progression. Now I have my “THAT WAS EASY” button. And no it wasn’t as easy as brushing my teeth, but it was sure a lot easier than screaming at blank page, and my finished product much better.
Some tips I have learned over my creative journey.
one. Write down your creative system. Study yourself: what gets you excited, what takes your breath away, what inspires you, what is your best work about? When are inspired? Where are you inspired? Why are you inspired? How are you inspired?
two. Work at strengthening a sense of discipline. If you have a goal, reach it. If, in the middle of the week, you want very much to change your plan, keep your plan, and tweak it next week. In my case, this is one of the hardest things for me to do.
three. Push yourself and build stamina. Think of creativity like working out. Be creative a little longer than is comfortable every day.
four. Do the hard stuff first. Yes, the big picture of two years from now matters, but recognize the work you’ll have to do to get there. Try not to spend too much time on the future. Obviously, it is definitely worth spending energy on, just not as much energy as the present.
five. Think of your creativity as something very specific, not vague. It might be difficult to get to this place, but it makes execution much, much easier. Don’t confine creativity, but keep it controlled. There is a time to just let the creativity flow (because it actually is flowing), but it is important to have a specific idea of what you’ll be creative about when that inspiration just isn’t coming.
six. Set goals. Set some big goals. Then set little ones. But not too many. I usually try to set a maximum of three goals to work on at a time. I add goals as I check other ones off. Otherwise, I’ll get overwhelmed quickly.
seven. Finally, understand your limitations. For me, it’s my piano-playing injury (don’t laugh, it’s real, it’s like tendinitis) that limits how long I can spend at the piano and at the computer which are probably the two places that demand most of my creative attention. If I’m not careful, I can hurt myself to the point that I can’t play the piano or type without lots of pain. When this happens, my creative opportunity vanishes. Push yourself, but don’t hurt yourself.
I hope this helps! I’ve learned a lot over the six or so years of controlling my creativity. It really is, in many ways, a matter of getting into shape. Learn yourself, figure out what lights the fire for you, and then push yourself to execute through a defined system. Being creative on the spot becomes much, much easier once you get to that place! Let me know in the comments below what other tips you may have for being creative! I’m still learning, and I’d love to hear it!
Thanks for reading!