Over the course of the year, we’ve devoted ourselves to figuring out what makes creative people tick and what keeps their ideas flowing. Here are some of the best tips we’ve gathered; none requires a big budget or an in-house creative lab. Each one of them can be shamelessly stolen and applied by anyone who wants to up their creative game going into 2015.
If you don’t know where to start, it’s here. Whatever creative projects you want to undertake, start by sharing your work and pointing yourself in the direction of others who share your interests, says Austin Kleon, 2014’s SXSW keynote speaker and author of Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered. It can be small, it can be incremental—just get it out there.
“The technology is really important, and we all have tools that turn us into media producers now,” says Kleon. “But what’s more important is attitude and spirit, that attitude of jumping into the world you want to join and making your own thing.”
Earlier this year, a group of Pinterest employees pitched their bosses the idea of taking Pinterest on the road, largely to promote a new location-based Pinterest feature called Place Pins. Their boss responded with a simple image: a classic Winnebago, only with the Pinterest logo where the iconic “W” would be. They called it the “Pinnebago,” a name that stuck. And while the trip was a great marketing move, it also unlocked new ideas within the team.
“As soon as we got on the open road, the ideas started flowing,” said Skip Bronkie, a member of Pinterest’s creative team who went along for the ride. “You start to get more comfortable with your coworkers, and you talk about things that you normally wouldn’t inside the walls of an office.”
Julia Galef, president of the Center for Applied Rationality, runs courses for individuals and companies like Facebook and the Thiel Foundation about the science of decision-making, so it makes sense that she is keen to understand her own personal thoughts. Her technique? The Surprise Journal. She keeps this journal with her at all times, writing down when something surprises her and why.
For example, she noticed she was surprised that both older and younger people were attending her workshops, because she assumed people would self-segregate by age. She was surprised that her students would mention a concept from one of her colleague’s classes, because she didn’t expect that idea to be very memorable. “I started thinking about surprise as a cue that my expectations were wrong,” she says. Once you start to understand your own faulty assumptions, it creates a space to generate new ideas that address things as they actually are.
For the past seven years, editor and designer Brian McMullen had a dream creative job as the senior art director and one of the senior editors at literary and humor publisher McSweeney’s. He founded and ran the company’s award-winning kids’ book department, McSweeney’s McMullens, helped to launch food magazine Lucky Peach, and oversaw much of the creative direction of a brand known for its unique and dynamic visuals. And in his spare time, he’s a Lyft driver.
“Lyft has offered me a drastic change of pace and scenery,” says McMullen. “I think it’s probably useful for all creative people to put themselves into new and strange situations from time to time.”
Stumped for ideas? You might just not know how to brainstorm.
“As sexy as brainstorming is, with people popping like champagne with ideas, what actually happens is when one person is talking you’re not thinking of your own ideas,” Leigh Thompson, a management professor at the Kellogg School, told Fast Company. “Sub-consciously you’re already assimilating to my ideas.” To avoid these problems, Thompson suggests another, quieter process: brainwriting, or having everyone write down their ideas beforehand and share them in an orderly way.
Forcing yourself to be creative backfires every time, says Karin Hibma, one half of the legendary design firm CRONAN, founded in the early ’80s and known for naming products like TiVo and Kindle. Learn her unique approach to getting away from the everyday and letting ideas flow.
It may sound frivolous, but Circa CEO Matt Galligan devotes a good chunk of his mornings to making coffee. It’s a routine that’s paid off in helping him intensely focus. So whether caffeine is your muse, or something else, take it to the next level.
FiftyThree has a one-to-one engineer-to-designer ratio, and an interestingly holistic approach to hiring: Every employee should excel at something outside of their job responsibilities. This model helps light people on fire about their own ideas and collaborate more effectively to make them happen. When creativity is institutional, everyone is better off.
Three times a year, management at The Via Agency surprises their employees with “go dos,” shorthand for “get out, do things,” and they’re part of a larger effort to promote creativity. The ad agency operates under the theory that creativity comes from having a life outside of the office. “We have found some of our most productive afternoons are after we’ve done a spontaneous go do,” says president Leeann Leahy. “The energy level is raised for the rest of the day.”
Legendary animated filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki can’t stand to see his own creations, lest he get caught up in his own mistakes. His solution? Move onto the next project. “Making films is all about—as soon as you’re finished—continually regretting what you’ve done. When we look at films we’ve made, all we can see are the flaws; we can’t even watch them in a normal way. I never feel like watching my own films again. So unless I start working on a new one, I’ll never be free from the curse of the last one.”
Back in 2012, when Bespoke Post was just a startup with handful of people, it began as many new businesses do: with conversations around beer. The gang met for a weekly happy hour at Lolita Bar on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which offered pints of better-than-average brews for $3. Like at a lot of companies founded by young folks—like a lot of companies, period—booze found its way into Bespoke Post’s DNA early.
Then, in the summer of 2013, the drinking took a curious twist. “We wanted to give the interns a fun way to contribute,” says Rishi Prabhu, the company’s founder. “We were like, ‘Why don’t you each make a cocktail?'” Now, all new hires make a cocktail for the team, and it’s become a bonding ritual that helps coworkers easily share and generate ideas and show off their creative flair in a tasty, boozy way.