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We’ve all been there. The dreaded block. Whatever it may be–staring at a blank document, tearing your hair out over a website that you wish would design itself, or lying on the ground, defeated by a speech that you will seemingly never be able to craft, the inability to generate quality creative ideas is one of the most frustrating feelings man has ever known. It doesn’t have to be that way. Believe it or not, there are strategies that can and will help you combat how to come up with ideas.

I wanted to share with you the ones that work for me personally, and when you’re finished reading, I would love to hear what helped you come up with creative ideas when it seems like you’re out of juice.

1) Free Brainstorming – The Idea Factory

A lot of the time, we experience the inability to come up with good ideas because of our desire for quality. So just settle, the perfect ideas that you desire will probably never come, and there’s no use waiting around for them. Just kidding. What I mean is that we are so critical of ideas that pop into our head that we get discouraged, and that only serves to make it even more difficult to our brains to come up with new ideas. The solution to this problem is to let go of our own harsh self judgement and let any ideas–brilliant, mediocre, or atrocious, flow through our minds. I call this the idea factory because a good factory is wildly efficient, producing massive amounts of product.

However, because of the speed and error, some products may be imperfect. But because of the massive amounts of product produced by the factory, there are always diamonds in the rough. And that’s how the creative ideas are born: with you writing down ideas as quickly as your brain can think of them in this state, without judgement, you have a massive pool to choose from. Some ideas you come with are going to disgust you, that’s an inevitability that you are going to have to come to terms with. None of us are brilliant all of the time. But some of the ideas that you come up with are going to astonish you, and you will swell up with pride at your own ingenuity.

how to come up with ideas

Brainstorming at its best.

 

2) Random Association

Sometimes all your brain needs is a trigger. Triggers can come from the most unexpected and random places. Obviously since you haven’t come up with any ideas, the stimulations your bodily sensors ordinarily receive are not helping your brain create the ideas you want, so it’s time to mix it up. Do a couple revolutions in your swivel chair, and slowly observe your surroundings, and see if your brain makes any connections between the objects around you and the idea that you’re attempting to concoct.

The brain works in mysterious ways; neural pathways that we would never suspect are related give our powerful brains the ability to access subconscious knowledge and make connections by way of random association, which you’re trying to aid with novel stimuli. Listen to a song. Maybe the lyrics are related to your childhood, which will evoke memories of an emotional story that will be the theme of the commencement speech you have to write. Who knows.

3) Collaborate

Sure, I understand the pride behind the origination of ideas. You allow yourself to be that frustrated for that long because you want the recognition as “that guy” or “that girl” who came up with the brilliant new idea. The thing is, that shouldn’t matter. All it is is another obstacle for the birth of ideas. Collaboration provides an extremely powerful tool, another perspective. Discussion and outside perspective can open your eyes to new avenues. Bouncing around ideas with a colleague (most of the time) is a refreshing, encouraging, and exciting process. Don’t think that you have to go it alone when it comes to producing ideas. As long as it gets created, who cares who gets the credit?

4) Put on someone else’s shoes

Studies have shown that wearing shoes that don’t belong to you stimulates the brain to tell the body to produce abnormally large amounts of dopamine, providing encouragement and fulfillment to the individual and allowing them to come up with good ideas as easily as breathing oxygen. Just kidding, that was all completely fabricated and I came up with it while wearing my own shoes.

What I mean by this point is that when you’re stuck coming up with ideas and have no one to collaborate with, it would serve you well to try adopting someone else’s perspective, and “put yourself in their shoes.” Figuratively. Choose an individual, and deeply consider how they might approach your particular problem. Really, all you’re doing is attacking your problem from a different mindset, but imagining yourself as a different person makes it easier for your brain to make a change in thinking. Instead of your brain thinking “Hey! I’m (insert name here) and I don’t normally think like this! This is hard!” it will think “Hey! I’m (insert chosen person’s name here) now and I normally think like this” ¬†Who knew sampling the footwear of others could be so beneficial?

5) Outsource

Just kidding.

 

6) Give up (aka take a break)

Sometimes no matter how hard we try, we just don’t have it. I don’t know if imagination is a limited resource, but energy and focus most certainly are, so there’s no point in trying anymore when it’s clearly evident that the results aren’t going to come. So give up. Go home. Take a walk. Shower. Work out. Paint. Whatever floats your boat. But hey now, that’s not where it ends, don’t think you’re off the hook. After you’re done, feeling refreshed and revitalized, get back at it. Don’t let yourself get discouraged and mired in frustration. Don’t take this as a suggestion to give up as soon as you meet difficulty. Persistence is crucial. All I’m saying is that when you’ve poured your entire self into an endeavor, and it has yet to yield positive results, sometimes giving up and coming back is immensely more rewarding than trying to grind it out.

 

Well that’s what works for me! Like I said earlier, I would love to hear what kind of strategies you use to get past the block. Comment and discuss!

-Eric

  • This is Broken

    Hi Eric, great post! Another way to generate ideas is to write down things you get frustrated about as you go through your day. I started a Twitter account to try channel these problems to one places and perhaps more ideas will spark as a result. Share your frustrations using #thisisbroken and I’ll retweet ; )