Creativity often needs a little push.
It requires time and techniques to fully blossom. And it’s worth the effort because creativity can help you do everything from excelling at work to solving everyday problems to inventing great things.
Here are six prompts and pointers to perk up your creativity on the spot or bring you continuous inspiration.
1. Try new uses for old objects.
Discovering new functions for objects can serve as a great problem-solver. “In a pinch, I’ve ground regular sugar in my coffee mill to create fine sugar for a recipe,” said Nellie Jacobs, a bestselling author, award-winning artist and creativity consultant. “I’ve baked a cake in my barbeque when electricity turned off my oven and microwave just as the batter mix was ready.”
2. Keep an inventory of irritations.
Instead of getting frustrated, get fascinated, according to Shelley Carson, Ph.D, a Harvard researcher and author of Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life. “Each week, pick one annoying item off your list and think about how you could reframe it to have potential creative value,” she said.
Take the example of Swiss engineer George deMestral, who was covered by sticky burrs after a hunting trip. Rather than getting irritated, he inspected the burrs under a microscope to see why they were so sticky, Carson said. His curiosity led to the invention of Velcro.
Single mom, artist and secretary Bette Nesmith Graham repurposed paint to create a product you’ve probably used at least a dozen times. Graham and her fellow secretaries were regularly frustrated at having to retype entire pages because of one minor error. So she started experimenting with water-based paint and created a correcting fluid. In 1956, after Graham was fired, she established her company and began selling “Mistake Out,” which later became “Liquid Paper.” In 1980 Graham sold her business for over $47 million!
In another example, Alexander Fleming became fascinated with a mold that spoiled his bacterial experiment, Carson said. The result? He discovered penicillin.
As Carson said, “Remember, everything that irritates you probably irritates others as well, providing a wonderful opportunity to turn annoyances into opportunities.”
3. Consider “What if?”
“So many solutions and inventions have arrived as a result of this question,” Jacobs said. For instance, Momofuku Ando asked “What if?” when he added boiling water to dry noodles and invented the first ramen noodles, which were used to feed people after World War II, she said.
One of the keys to creativity is to open your mind, and remember that the possibilities are endless. Asking “What if?” helps you go beyond what is. To get inspired, Jacobs suggested learning about other inventions.
4. Create an inspiring space.
Your environment can help ignite your imagination. Display inspiring posters and quotes along with showcasing your interests and accomplishments, Jacobs said. “Form or join a similar-minded group [and] share ideas,” she said.
5. Create unique characters when you can’t sleep.
Harness your creativity to help you improve daily habits, such as sleeping soundly. “Instead of ruminating about the events of the day or worrying about tomorrow’s tasks, begin to create a unique character,” Carson said.
Each night create details for your character’s past, personality, relationships and even mental health problems, Carson said. Remember that your character can be any age, race or sex, and they can exist today or centuries ago, she said.
Your character will begin to take on a life of his or her own and might even show up in your dreams, Carson said. “Whether or not you ever choose to write a novel featuring your creation, developing your character will exercise your imaginative powers of visualization and reduce bedtime stress levels, promoting better sleep,” she added.
6. Learn something new every day.
There are many ways to bring newness into your life on a daily basis. It could be as simple as taking a new route to school or work, Jacobs said. Or tasting a new food or grocery-shopping or walking in a different neighborhood, she said. “You just never know when the stranger you meet or experience you encounter might stimulate fresh ideas and possibilities,” Jacobs said.