Tag Archives: creative process

Your Smartphone is Killing Your Creativity

When was the last time you were absorbed in thought? Or sat daydreaming, allowing your mind to wander wherever it wanted to go, tripping from one seemingly unrelated thought to the next? Most of us don’t allow ourselves the luxury of engaging in this sort of behavior because we’re all uncomfortable with the concept of unstructured time. This unease leads to an urge to fill the time with something, anything. When given a moment of free time our impulse is to reach for our smartphone and start scrolling. You’ve got mail and texts to read, Twitter feeds to review, photos to see, Facebook updates to scan and bank statements ready for your review.

All these urgent but unimportant tasks make us feel busy and productive and keep our minds from being bored but don’t allow for any moment of introspection or self-generated thought. We are forever stimulated and in a “closed,” task-oriented, purpose-driven state. We can easily fall victim to what Charles Hummel, in a 1967 essay, called the Tyranny of the Urgent. Urgent tasks are never finished, however, because there are always oceans of new urgent tasks to take their place.

This impulse to constantly be on the smartphone is reinforced by what I think are ridiculous TV ads that show people — guess what — constantly on their smartphones: a guy who is suppose to be on a date has to watch ‘the game’ on the phone in his lap; or the guy who portrays his boss as a Neanderthal because he actually expects him to work each day instead of playing games on his phone, so he plays games as he walks to work; or responding to anything someone says as “so twelve seconds ago.”

This constant barrage of activity keeps us busy but robs us of one of the most important mental states that foster the creative process, boredom. Strangely enough, the creative mind needs boredom, not stimulation. That’s because the bored mind is relaxed and free of distractions and demands upon its time, with no particular task to be accomplished. The mind must actually be bored so as not to feel put-upon; there’s nothing to do, nothing to produce, you’re bored. It’s that feeling we had as kids during summer vacation — endless, unstructured time stretching into the distance with nothing to do but what we could dream up doing. One thought leads to another, an image reminds us of a feeling, a scent brings to mind an event. We got bored. And then we got creative! This is where the subconscious mind can emerge with all its attendant imagery and symbolism. It’s in an “open” state where all things are possible. This is the point where creativity takes place, where we have the luxury of “playing” with ideas, exploring thoughts, curious about options and what-ifs. This is the place where hours can pass without notice because we are so absorbed in the moment.

Creativity can happen in groups or on teams but a deep creative process can only take place in solitude, far from the madding crowd, away from anything that would engage us in tasks.

There are things one can do to create an environment that facilitates the creative process:

• Find a quiet space where you are undistracted by anything that will take your mind from an open state to a closed state. No phones or computers, calendars or to-do lists.

• Give yourself a set amount of time, say an hour and a half, for this creative process to unfold.

• Ignore the mental chatter and resist the impulse to do something else. Stick with it and the impulse will pass. It takes time to achieve an open state where your mind is truly free of distractions.

• Be confident and don’t put pressure on yourself. There are no failures or mistakes in the open state.

For more on this, read 5 Tips on How To Be Creative On-Demand.

The next time you walk the dog or stroll to the corner store, leave the phone at home or put it in your pocket; give your mind a break, free of tasks, free to daydream…like that first day of summer vacation.

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5 Tips on How To Be Creative On-Demand

My Muse isn’t returning my text messages. I think she skipped town with all my best ideas.

If you’re in a creative field you are daily called upon to be creative on-demand. To those just starting out in their career this can feel daunting and can generate no small amount of performance anxiety. The weathered professionals among us feel it too but are just better at hiding it. Far from the simple formula of A+B=C, the creative process entails adopting an ethos of creativity in one’s life, seeing yourself as a creative person in every sense, not just in the compartmentalized setting of the work environment. You are a creative person, you don’t just do creative work, 9–5, M–F.

I remember my first design job out of college where I worked for a greeting card company. Due to schedule lag times, we were required to work on holiday themed products during times of the year that bore no relationship to the actual holiday. Christmas came each June, Valentine’s Day arrived in November. Hard to get into the Christmas spirit on a beautiful summer day. It was very difficult to find my muse, poetically speaking, and be creative at-will. I didn’t feel “inspired.” My employer, however, couldn’t wait for my inspiration to come knocking so neither could I.

I’ve learned several tips, from a combination of trial and error and observing more senior professionals, that assist me in coming up with original, fresh and creative ideas whenever I am asked to do so by following these steps.

1.Expose yourself. You’ll never come up with the next great idea living under a rock; get your butt out there and expose yourself to every different discipline. Go to gallery openings, go shopping just to gather ideas (when I worked at Mattel we called it cool hunting), look through design publications such as CA, HOW and Fast Company, follow inspiring people on Twitter. The idea is not to rip off other people’s work but to stimulate your mind with all the cool stuff you’re seeing.

2. Build a library. Gather a collection of books and other resources you can turn to when your next project comes along. Keep a journal of ideas, files of ads, business cards, brochures and web addresses that contain ideas you love. Typography books, design annuals, heck, even that cool paint swatch brochure you saw at Lowe’s last week could be your next great inspiration.

3. Create Sacred Space. This means carving out time to actually focus on design in a space that encourages this process. You aren’t going to have an “a-ha” moment driving around looking for a Starbucks, talking on the phone and listening to Lady Gaga on the radio. Creativity is the result of a complex set of processes that require interruption-free focus. Text messages, emails, phone calls and other interruptions are the enemy of this process. Find a place untouched by distractions where the mind has time to wander and weave, explore and imagine.

4. Get away from it. So I went to the museum, flipped through a magazine and am sitting in my sacred space but nothing is happening! Now what? Stop thinking about it. Put it away and go do something else. Stressing over not having an idea will only make it worse. Trust your creative subconscious. The ideas are there and will emerge in time.

I did a project last week. A straightforward black & white “appreciation” ad: the < one > company wishes to thank the < other > company for their continued support, that sort of thing. You know, cheery. I struggled all day to come up with an idea that should have taken an hour or two. I wasn’t happy with the result but sent it to the client for feedback anyway. To my great embarrassment their comment was, and I quote, “Looks sort of crypt-like and funereal, kind of like a headstone. Can you go in different direction?” After I recovered, I put it away and didn’t think about it until the next morning. When I got up and looked at it again, voilà, I had a great new idea that was approved that afternoon.

5. Consult with colleagues. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Or woman. Show your work to colleagues and other creative professionals for feedback — something I should probably have done with my “crypt-like” ad. Some of the best ideas are made better by having them seen by fresh sets of eyes from a circle of respected peers. They will see things from a different perspective and can challenge and provoke you to do that much better.

So go and be creative. Now.

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Read my related articles: 3 Tech-Related Ways to Fuel Your Creativity and Why Your Smartphone Is Killing Your Creativity.
For another perspective, read this article by Hollywood screenwriter Mark Sanderson: Screenwriters need to observe and be fully present.

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