How do creative people come up with their ideas?

Ted We are the X

Tedx events are great to go to for inspiration

As I prepared to attend the local TedxDetroit event, I wondered how other people come up with their creative ideas. (TED, a nonprofit Technology, Entertainment, Design group devoted to bringing together people to share ideas is the epitome of creativity.)  So I started asking people and found some key similarities. The creative gurus:

Regularly feed their brain.

Creativity begets creativity. Their advice is to get out of the cube farm and learn about different ideas and mediums—both new and old. Visit museums, listen to musicians, and keep a pulse on pop-culture. Check out things you aren’t personally interested in too! Matthew Adams, poet and web services specialist at the University of Michigan, firmly believes a large portion of creativity is skill, and that skills can be honed, practiced, or stretched. Adams recently wrote 30 poems in 30 days. You need to have ready inspiration to keep an intensive pace like that.

Research and develop a good understanding of the issue/problem.

Quality content/input makes for quality output. Toast can’t pop out on its own. You need to put the bread in the toaster first. The most critical step everyone stressed  was research and understand your topic.

  • At the TedXDetroit event, Veronika Scot, founder of the Empowerment Plan, shared how she spent five months learning and listening to homeless people.
  • Mike Muehmel, product planning and sales manager for Bright Automotive stresses how customer research was critical to developing their commercial light-duty hybrid truck. They hope to be in production in the near future.
  • Even people with extremely tight deadlines (not everyone can take 5 months), like Emmy-award winner and Executive Producer of the X-Treme Warrior Television Series, Leona Larson Gould-McElhone, immerse themselves in the topic. She confesses to staying up all night studying to make a deadline. Although, like most, Gould-McElhone prefers to take time to think and doesn’t recommend cram sessions.

Allow think time.

Where the creative pros began to differ, is in how they get in the “zone.” The important thing is to make a conscious effort to open your mind.

  • Chad Wiesbeck, Social Media & Interactive Marketing Director at PWB Marketing Communications, likes to doodle and brainstorm words on paper. Then he ponders the spontaneous thoughts.
  • Other creative pros take walks, listen to music, clean their work spaces, go for coffee, talk to other right-brains, you name it!
  • There are numerous formal processes and tools available to guide your brainstorming. Some favs are:

Capture your ideas!

Have your have paper and pen or iPad always at the ready, especially in the bedroom and in the bathroom! Adams described ideas as butterflies flitting in and out! Researchers have proven the mind solves problems when you sleep and shower. The brain keeps processing even when you are not intentionally focused on a problem.

Many of the people I talked to shared how they woke up with “the answer” or it “just came to them.” This is why I say ideas pop out of my brain like toast. It may feel like all of a sudden a moment of clarity comes and out pops the idea, but that’s because I’ve already done the homework.

And that is how you make creative toast! Do you have a different approach?



  3 comments for “How do creative people come up with their ideas?

  1. Sophia
    February 10, 2012 at 4:30 PM

    The evolution of the initial vision is what always frustrates me… When I start a project, I always remind myself it is subject to change. The key is to not fiixate on the end result, but where you are at that moment & how to move forward.
    Also, we have so much information at our fingertips via the web. Don’t let limitations direct you! Part of the fun is learning new skills.
    With an open mind and passion for the process you will be amazed at what you can achieve!
    Have fun!

  2. Jim
    January 31, 2012 at 9:05 PM

    I always enjoy reading how others summon and exercise their creativity. Thanks for sharing!

    Me? I’m still searching for a good, reliable process!

  3. Harmony
    October 14, 2011 at 2:40 PM

    I love the toast analogy. Do I have a different approach? Professionally, some of my best ideas are the result of tightest deadlines. And for creative projects at home, a glass of wine doesn’t hurt for getting in “the zone.” 😉

    In all seriousness though, the most creative people I know are people with passion AND discipline. It takes an approach like what you’ve outlined here to really focus and refine the initial spark of an idea and bring it to life.

    Thanks for this! Good food for thought!

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