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How Starting Over Can Revive Your Creativity

Having to start over doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Sometimes it’s just what your creativity needs.

How Starting Over Can Revive Your Creativity
[Photo: Flickr user Hernán Piñera]

Starting over isn’t always about giving up. Sometimes, it’s exactly what you need to give your creativity a fresh boost. “When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there,” Steve Jobs said in an interview with Newsweek in 2006. “But if you keep going and live with the problem, you can oftentimes arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions.” Here are five ways to know when it’s time to press the restart button and how to start over once you do.

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1. Put Aside Your First Idea.

If you’re looking for a fresh approach to a problem, it’s usually smart to lay aside the first idea that pops up into your head. That’s usually the one most other folks would have, and it may not be the best. We can always return to our first ideas, but starting over and digging deeper typically leads us to more interesting solutions.

In the development process for the iPhone 6, Apple’s first idea was to make it 5.7 inches. Lead designer Jony Ive and his team felt good about that size, but they didn’t stop there. They each carried a 5.7-inch prototype around for several days and found the phone was too big. So they restarted, ultimately designing a 5.5-inch phone. As CEO Tim Cook later told The New Yorker, “Jony didn’t pull out of his butt the 4.7 and the 5.5.”

2. Find Opportunity In What Looks Like A Setback.

Fifteen years ago, entrepreneurs Andrew Farrar and Rustam Booz created a ball that made funny noises when it rolled on the floor. They called it the “Wiggly Giggly Ball” and set out to market it as a kids’ toy. But when they arrived at the Atlanta Gift Show to exhibit for the first time, they found their booth space was located in the pet section.

Rather than stomping their feet and going home, Booz and Farrar took a deep breath and started over right there at the trade show, presenting the Wiggly Giggly as a toy for dogs. It was a big hit, and annual sales soon reached $2 million. Wiggly Giggly is now available in dozens of varieties for both pets and children.

3. Don’t Wait—Be A Quick-Change Artist.

Making a quick decision, rather than taking time to mull it over before you start afresh, can be risky. But taking risks sometimes leads to faster results and bigger rewards.

That’s how Academy Award–winning actress Jennifer Lawrence landed her first leading role. In 2010, she auditioned in Los Angeles for the role of an Ozark teenager in Winter’s Bone. But the casting director said Lawrence wasn’t right for the role because she looked more like an L.A. starlet than a backwoods mountain girl.

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So Lawrence started over that same night, jumping on a red-eye flight and following the casting crew to New York, where auditions were continuing the next day. She showed up with rumpled clothes, tousled hair, and no makeup. She got the part.

4. Do Something New With The Same Idea.

Sometimes starting over isn’t a matter of throwing everything out and beginning from scratch. You might just have a round idea that you’re trying to cram into a square hole–and it will fit perfectly someplace else.

When acclaimed chef David Chang first opened Ssam Bar in New York City, he intended it to be an “Asian fast food” lunch spot. But Ssam’s location on lower Second Avenue wasn’t a great place for lunch crowds.

So Chang started serving the same menu at night, focusing on 10:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. This time shift attracted a late-night crowd and, more importantly, chefs from other restaurants after they got off work. They liked what they found there and created a buzz in the food community. A two-star review soon appeared in The New York Times, helping Ssam Bar thrive.

5. Figure Out What You Can Accomplish That Your Last Idea Didn’t.

Slipping up can help you reassess your abilities and decide where they can take you next. Maybe your old approach once worked great but isn’t paying off anymore. You’re failing, and you need to start fresh. Well, what are you still really good at?

Coping with old age and illness in his later years, Henri Matisse could no longer hold a paintbrush. So he put away his oils and restarted in a new medium. Discovering he could work with scissors, Matisse began what he called “painting with scissors,” creating his famous cut-out works. It became one of the most prolific–and stunning–periods of his career.

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About the author

Sam Harrison is a popular speaker and author on creativity-related topics and presentation skills. His books include IdeaSpotting: How to Find Your Next Great Idea, IdeaSelling: Successfully Pitch Your Creative Ideas to Bosses, Clients and Other Decision Makers and Zing!: Five Steps and 101 Tips for Creativity on Command.

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