Everyone knows that how irritating it can be to pour chilli sauce from the bottle sometimes. You turn it up upside down, shake it around, pat the base, but still nothing comes out. Why isn’t it coming out? Ironically, as mundane as it might seem, it’s like a microcosm of the creative process: when you’re feeling uninspired, trying to pour out great new ideas from your mind is just as frustrating, if not more so.
Unfortunately, even if inspiration can be finnicky about when it chooses to visit, you can’t always afford to wait around until inspiration knocks at your door before you can be creative. When you need to come up with new ideas, you need them stat, not just when inspiration hits. How exactly does one generate new ideas in the midst of feeling uninspired, though?
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One of the greatest paradoxes of creativity is that there’s no such thing as pure originality. Every good idea in history has been built upon the backs of previous ideas, histories, and stories. Mark Twain phrase it perfectly: “There is no such thing as a new idea… we simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations.”
In fact, sometimes striving for originality in and of itself can cripple you. In his New York Times bestselling book “Creative Quest”, musician and author Questlove alludes to this, writing the following: “where creativity is concerned, pure originality is at least partially a myth. Don’t worry about it.” Trying too hard to be original can stifle your inspiration and make you feel like you have to create something entirely new, from scratch.
The reality, though, is that some of the greatest artists, innovators creative minds in history were people who were influenced by other great artists of their time and before their time as well.
The reason they became such prolific creators was that they were able to borrow various ideas from their influences, build upon them, dissecting them, removing certain parts or adding others. It was through this process of “borrowing ideas” were they were able to come up with something truly inventive and original.
It might seem disingenious to go back to ideas you’ve already had in the past in order to come up with new ideas. Sometimes, though, it’s just the kickstart your mind needs to get going.
To that end, keeping an idea journal can be a massive help. Different people use their idea journals differently, but generally, it’s somewhere you can jot down your ideas as and when they come, right from the “germination” stage of ideas to the “implementation” stage.
Of course, not every idea you have will be useful or turn into something viable. Just having somewhere to jot them down as they occur to you, though, is useful, especially later on in your uninspired moments Leafing through all your past ideas, you might come across an old idea you initially abandoned that may actually be viable now, or it could simply send your brain off on a tangent until it discovers a bright new idea ripe for use.
Before you balk at the preposterousness of having to take a shower before you can be creative, consider this: it’s a scientifically proven fact that showers are where most of us get our best ideas. According to a study by cognitive scientist Scott Barry Kaufmann, 72% of us get our best ideas while we’re in showering.
As it turns out, the best conditions for creative thinking are when the mind is relaxed enough to wander freely. When this happens, it sets the stage for associative thinking, the kind of thinking that allows us to make links between different ideas and concepts in our heads. That’s essentially what creativity is: making connections between different things (as Steve Jobs himself attested to.)
Of course, a shower isn’t the only way to get into this frame of mind. The point is to minimise distractions and do something that allows your mind to relax. For some people, that happens when they’re out for a run after work, for others, it’s listening to music, and so on and so forth.