Everybody gets good ideas. That includes you and me and anyone else you can name. It’s how we’re wired. So why do we call some people “creative?”
Sometimes, it’s the kind of work they do. We’re likely to think of anyone in art or design as creative. People in mathematics and music get creative credit, too. And, yes, writers (at least fiction writers) are supposed to be creative.
The other folks we call creative don’t necessarily get more ideas than the rest of us. But they do have a system to process the ideas they get and turn them into something. You can develop your own process. Then you’ll be “creative” too.
Develop a creative process
“Creative” people seem to get more ideas and do more with them. You can get similar results if you develop a process. This doesn’t take a lot of brainpower or talent, just paying attention, work, and adjusting things as you go. The first step is to give your brain more to work with.
Improve your inputs
Start by paying attention to what goes into your mind. What you read, watch, and talk about becomes the raw material for your ideas. Get better ideas by increasing the value of your inputs.
You’ll prime the creativity pump if you make the effort to learn things outside your general areas of interest. One easy way to do that is to listen to a different TED talk every week or so. They’re free, only twenty minutes long, highly nutritious brain food.
Improving your inputs will increase the quality of your ideas. But it won’t solve the problem of getting ideas when you need them.
Do more of what has worked before
After a century or so of research we know the situations where most people are likely to get ideas. Relaxation is important. Stress drives out creativity. So quit stressing about getting that good idea and take a break.
Use that break to do something that will improve idea flow. There are some common situations that work for lots of people.
Create situations where your body is engaged and your mind is free. Some situations that fill the bill are washing dishes, doing housework, exercising, running or walking, driving a familiar route and that perennial favorite, taking a shower. Eliminate as many distractions as possible.
Figure out what works best for you. If you have gotten several good ideas while driving, go for a drive when you need a good idea, just turn the sound system off. If you’ve had good ideas while out walking, go for a walk. Whatever has worked before will probably work again.
Capture your ideas
How many times have you said to yourself, “Wow! I just had a great idea, but now I can’t remember it.” It’s a common human problem. Good ideas don’t hang around long. They float away like butterflies on the wind. So be ready to capture your ideas when you get them.
Be ready to write them down. Have index cards or a notebook along with a writing implement ready. Writing down ideas is especially good for times when you can’t talk, like in church.
Use a simple voice recorder to capture your ideas. This is especially good if you’re driving or walking.
Review your ideas
To get even more value from your ideas, review the ones you’ve captured from time to time. Look for the dots you can connect and ideas you can combine and modify. That’s where great results come from.
If you’re human and pay attention to the conditions for getting ideas, you shouldn’t have any problems generating lots of them. Capture your ideas and review them from time to time. That’s how you make your natural creative process productive.