A huge international campaign. A compelling headline on a city billboard. A viral video. They all have one thing in common: they started with an idea. And it’s likely that the journey to come up with The Idea behind them all was filled with many moments of delight, frustration, and self-doubt. I know this because I’ve experienced it firsthand. Perhaps you too have traveled along the winding path of the creative process and, like me, felt lost or stuck or overwhelmed by its infinite routes.
While there’s no real map or one way to take the journey, there are some tools that can help you stay on track. Here’s a few ways my team and I face those seemingly insurmountable creative roadblocks—and break through.
Define the problem you’re trying to solve
A common mistake I often see is the temptation to jump right into execution or right into inspiration. And while inspiration can be a very powerful tool, it is important to treat it as such, and not to expect that the answer to the problem is already there. Jumping into execution without defining the main message first is like putting the cart before the horse. Instead, consider: What are we trying to communicate? The answers to these questions will serve as your guide throughout this process.
Lightbulbs are bulls#it…Hone your own process, and then trust yourself to walk that path. Only then will you see the light.
Brainstorm with purpose
Here it comes…the B word! Brainstorming can be very polarizing—its success really depends on the individual or team. And while there’s no “right” way to run a brainstorm (despite Google offering countless suggestions), it’s very easy for them to go wrong. The biggest complaints I hear about brainstorming sessions are that they go on for far too long or, worse, that they end in more ambiguity. Regardless of how you brainstorm, the hallmark of an effective session is this: ideally, by the time you’re done, you should be able to walk away with a message, a core idea, and instructions.
Embrace self-doubt and accept the pressure to be creative
Whether we like it or not, vulnerability is essential to what we do as creatives despite it rarely being talked about. After all, thoughts and creative ideas come from a very unique place and the acceptance or rejection of these ideas can feel very personal. In addition, we’ve all had moments where the pressure to come up with a great idea feels overwhelming. I have to come up with a good idea by Monday. What if my boss or my client doesn’t like it? Will I lose my job? My house? My life?
Does this spiraling sound familiar? I have good news and bad news: that pressure is natural and never goes away (sorry!). But with experience and skills, you learn how to identify it as it comes and manage it. This is why it’s so important to know your own process and know your tools.
Now imagine it’s a Friday night. The pressure to come up with something great to present next week is building. You feel completely incapable of coming up with anything and then boom! You come up with your first good idea. A sense of relief floods you and life is good again. Now you have an idea to present, you are done! But wait a minute…
Go for high number, low fidelity
When it comes to ideas and solutions, never stop ideating! The sense of relief that can come from your first idea can actually block you from coming up with even better ones.
The trick to coming up with ideas is to continue down the path and look for other ideas that are beyond the obvious. Don’t focus on the details, just go for numbers. As you come up with more possible directions, you’ll eventually see how things line up and fall into buckets. Not limiting yourself is how you develop range and the ability to push boundaries.
Know your own system
How do you get inspired? Like most creatives, I look for inspiration and try to look for it in not-so-obvious places in addition to my tried and true sources. Music is a very important part of my process. In fact, the soundtrack to “Interstellar” has been in such heavy rotation for me that I’m in the top 1% of the composer Hans Zimmer’s listeners on Spotify! I am quite proud of that to be honest! I’ve listened to it for so long that now when I put it on, it’s almost as if I’ve trained my brain to know it’s time to focus and work. I think it’s similar to creating upbeat playlists in preparation for working out. You hear the beat, get more energized, and are ready to break a sweat.
Schedule and reserve time just to think
For new designers or people who work with designers, time is an incredibly valuable part of the creative process. You need time to connect the dots, to think, and have space to observe and collect your thoughts. Just like for your own personal process, ensure there’s time between the phases of creation (ideation, prototype, refine, launch) from a team perspective, too. This will create the space needed for better collaboration, reviews and refining.
Go forth and ideate
Look, ideas are hard to find. Lightbulbs are bulls#it. Inspiration is a lottery ticket with yesterday’s numbers. Even the most seasoned creatives have to put in the work to discover something new. So get comfortable with uncertainty. Hone your own process, and then trust yourself to walk that path. Only then will you see the light.