The old business models are crumbling, and their integrated, co-creative counterparts are rising amid the ashes. Regardless of your level, or industry, everyone's now expected to be a creative problem solver.
Even more pressing is that an "always on" business world will require you to be creative on demand, and that’s when mental blocks pop up the fastest. Accessing your creative mind daily (or the creative minds of your team) can be close to impossible in a high-growth business, however, and the paths leading to it are always changing. Going for an inspiring walk, a change of scenery, and the Shower Principle have never worked for me twice in a row.
Luckily, I have stumbled upon some side-door tactics that help—even when the front door to creativity is sealed shut.
Something magical happens at the last minute. People think more clearly and are desperate enough to go for broke. When my teams are stuck and a deadline is looming, I give them a free pass in the eleventh hour to present any idea, no matter how "out there" or ludicrous it may seem to the group. It’s amazing how much pressure dissipates when you tell a group of creative people, "Pretend that you could do anything you wanted for this project."
Be aware that this method only truly works at the last minute, and you may have to stand up and set an example in order for people to really feel comfortable throwing around out-of-the-box ideas. You can try to give them that freedom early in the process, but they won’t believe you enough to actually try. Save it for when you can really feel the tension in the air.
Once you have an idea in early form, find something tangible to have in the room with you. An artifact that speaks to what it could become, how someone else has done it before or how it could be better. A competitor’s product, a piece of material that would go into the construction, a gear in the gadget, a magazine that represents the target audience—something that visibly reminds you to take that idea and make it bigger. Often, engaging a tactical sense will spark new connections in your brain, and sensing something that is more real than an inkling in your mind will inspire further creativity.
Ah, the ideas that simply will not die. So dear to our hearts, we look for any opportunity to make them work. We all tend to fall in love with our own concepts and there are some that grip us so strongly, we can’t move past them.
Don’t kill it. Just file it and move on. Forgive yourself the burden of having to make that one awesome idea come to life this time. It’s time to think of something newer, better and more applicable to the situation at hand.
You might think you can imagine beyond it, but you’ll only be limiting your lens with emotional blindness. Put it someplace safe in the recesses of your mind, tell yourself it’s okay to drop it for now, and move on.
When my company was smaller and there were just the three co-founders, one of us would usually have to fight the other two to get our ideas through. Democracy can be your best friend or your mean uncle, but at least it makes you stand up for what you believe in.
Unfortunately, as a company gets bigger, that fighting spirit has a tendency to get lost. Your creative teams increase in size, making it easier to become complacent and let the collective brain trust come up with something for "the group."
Getting your teams down to three or four people can spark the thrill of debate once more and stir something deep within the creative process. Forcing yourself (and your colleagues) into a position where it’s understood that the best ideas will have to be defended can go a long way in fueling the creative process, just as necessity is in fact the mother of invention.
Andrew Loos has helped build Attack! into one of the largest experiential marketing agencies in the country. He is a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs.