Why read this? : We show that as fun as creativity is, it also has serious business benefits. But sometimes you need a nudge to get started. We share 3 of our favourite easy creative ideas to get your creative juices flowing. Read this for easy ways to start being more creative.
We love the word creativity.
Who doesn’t? Creativity puts a smile on your face. It’s fun. Create something, point to it and say, “Look at what I made”. It’s satisfying, right? It makes you feel good.
Combine this creativity with marketing and you’ve got a serious business benefit. A serious competitive advantage. As one of our favourite marketing quotes puts it :-
“It may well be that creativity is the last unfair advantage we’re legally allowed to take over our competitors.”
Great line, right?
Creativity makes you more competitive. Brilliant. Creativity improves how you connect with customers because it generates ideas they’ll love.
Serious business benefits, right?
If that’s the case though, why do many businesses do it so badly? What stops them from being better at creativity? Where do you start if you want easy creative ideas?
Creativity is like cooking
Thinking creatively (!), we’d say creativity is very similar to cooking.
Some people do it for a living. They put in the time and effort to master the skill. True masters find fame and fortune and pass on their skills to others.
Then there’s most of the rest of us. We know enough about the skill to get by day to day. But we’re not masters at it.
And of course, some people can’t be bothered learning it. They’re happy to pay someone else to do it for them.
You find the same 3 groups in businesses when it comes to creativity. There are the masters, the get-by-ers, and the outsourcers.
Mastering a skill takes time and effort. No one starts as a master. Improvements come from regular practice. Masters get it wrong many times before they get it right.
Given time, master creatives can smash out the creative equivalent of a chipotle peanut souffle on Masterchef. But their first efforts are more like the creative equivalent of beans on toast.
As you learn a new skill, there are always hacks and tips like those on Masterchef’s masterclass sessions. So, think of the 3 easy creative ideas we share this week as like a mini-masterclass in creativity. Easy creative ideas you can use to become more creative.
They’re the creativity equivalent of the bacon sandwich, stir fry noodles, or the midweek one-pot wonder. Reliable short-cuts which hit the creative spot every time. (We’ll stop the cooking analogies now as it’s making us hungry …).
Easy creative ideas #1 - Location, timing and creativity styles
Our first easy idea involves finding ways to get into a creative state of mind. You can’t create without getting into a creative state of mind.
Think of creativity as like a big switch in your brain. Its default position is off. You have to choose to turn it on. Being creative is an active mental state.
You may think it runs by itself in the background – like when you have an idea in the bath, or you’re out for a walk. However, those creative ideas were usually prompted by a prior creative problem or question.
Creativity takes conscious effort. You flick a mental switch to activate it. That usually means you need a signal or trigger to tell your brain you need its creative power.
Build your own signals and triggers for creativity
If you’re trying to be creative on your own, say writing a blog post about easy creative ideas (!), then you have to figure out which creative signals and triggers work for you.
For many people, location influences their creativity, for example. That’s why artists and musicians have separate studios.
Your “studio” can be anywhere you feel creative.
It might be a wall at home with a bunch of post-its. Or sitting with your laptop at your favourite cafe.
Just try to make it a different place or view from where you do your normal (non-creative) day-to-day stuff.
Your creative approach also depends on timing. Many creators work to regular schedules. They focus on creativity at certain times of day or certain times of the week. (Check out Stephen King’s On Writing for details of his creative writing routine, for example).
Routines help you build the habit of being creative. Habits are important in all creative skills. (e.g. see our writing habits article).
If you know you need to be creative at certain times, your creative brain gears up to be ready for those times. For example, you’ll know best if you’re a morning person or an evening person. Or if you’re a “do it well in advance” creator, or more a “leave it to the last minute” type. (See also the “when” and “where” sections in our 5Ws of idea generation article for more on this).
Know your creative working style
It also helps to work out your creative working style and develop signals and triggers which fit that style.
In our three monkeys of creativity article, we share how your style changes depending on whether you’re more introverted or extroverted. And whether you get more energy from tasks or from feelings.
For example, if you’re introverted and task-focused, your creativity comes from quiet observation and reflection. But if you’re extroverted and feeling focused, your creativity needs other people around you to interact with.
Making smart choices about location, timing and working style gets you to easy creative ideas faster. The right choices switch on your creativity.
But of course, many times, it’s not just your creativity you have to worry about. It’s other people’s. Members of your team. Your agencies. Customers and clients. You have to work out what their creativity signals and triggers are too.
Other people's creativity triggers
If location, timing and creative working style help you get more creative, then use these factors to help others also be more creative.
Think about the location where you want people to be creative. In most businesses, this means going “off-site”. Somewhere away from where you do your day-to-day work.
Hotels, conference centres and other venues regularly hire out rooms for these types of meetings and workshops.
The rooms come with all the equipment you might need. (e.g. projectors, flip charts, marker pens). And there’s lots of space to move around.
If the location feels creative, it’s easier for people to be more creative there.
Ceiling height triggers different type of creativity
For example, did you know ceiling height influences the type of creative solutions you get?
Known as the Cathedral effect, a University of Minnesota study showed ceiling height primes the brain to think in certain ways.
High ceilings prime thoughts about freedom. Creative thinking in rooms with high ceilings delivers more open and wide-ranging ideas.
Low ceilings, on the other hand, prime thoughts about confinement. They work better when you need action-focused short-term ideas.
Creativity with others takes more time, so use it wisely
As for timing, group creativity often takes longer than individual creativity. You should plan ahead and organise diaries. Set an agenda. Structure how the session will run. There’s a temptation to try and cram a lot into one session if it’s hard to get everyone together at the same time.
But, in our experience, it’s tough to ask people to be creative for long periods. It’s a huge energy drain for most people. Giving people time to switch their creativity on and off during a long session works better than trying to be creative all day.
Most people don’t spend their “normal” days being creative. Non-creative work tasks still have to be done. You should allow people time to manage those tasks so that when you ask them to be creative, you get their full focus and energy.
We’ve found creative thinking sessions which start later and finish earlier work better. Think 9.30 – 3.30 or 10 – 4. This gives people time to clear any overnight emails before the session starts. It gives them time to clear stuff at the end of the day. This means they’ll be more focused on your creative task during the day.
Give them plenty of breaks too. When your brain’s in creative mode, it’s like putting your mind on turbo charge. You get higher performance, but it drains energy fast. You need to give people “off” time to recharge their creative batteries.
Group creative working styles
Groups can and should include different creative working styles. Diverse styles bring a greater range of thinking and ideas to the creative problem. But, it also brings the challenge of how to get different styles to best work together in a group.
If you’re leading the group, try to think ahead. Pick people you know who can work with other styles. But if you have to use people who find that hard, plan for how to handle them.
Dealing with difficult people
This can be a problem, because there may well be some less than ideal creative styles in the team. Knowing who they are, and how difficult they can be is a big help.
For example, one Sales Manager we knew was a particular pain. They’d be happy to come up with ideas during creative sessions.
But we could always guarantee 5 minutes before the end, they’d say, “But of course, the trade customer will never go for any of these ideas.”
Way to piss on everyone’s creative bonfire.
Then there was a super extrovert Innovation Manager we knew. They felt they had to be the most innovative one in the group.
All the time. Every time.
So, they dominated conversations, rewrote everyone else’s ideas, and made everyone feel superfluous to the process. They also got super huffy when the group didn’t go for their ideas.
Way to motivate a group to be creative.
Then, there was the digital marketing manager who agreed the process up-front. But then refused to ever adjust it on the day. That’s the plan, and we’re sticking to it. Even if the plan clearly wasn’t working.
Way to push the boundaries on creative thinking.
Plan for creative group quirks and foibles
Of course, nobody’s perfect. We’re all human and have our own quirks. But, if you lead a creative group, it’s important to prepare for this. Build strategies to counteract them if they threaten to disrupt the group.
Ask the sales guy to present the customer’s point of view up front, so they can’t derail you at the end.
Rotate the chairing role between sessions. Give the innovation manager the first go, so they get their moment in the spotlight.
Build a fast brainstorming chaos session into the process, and ask the digital marketer to lead it, so they’re forced to be more flexible.
Whatever the quirks of your creative team, plan ahead so they don’t derail the day.
Easy creative ideas #2 - You’re more creative when you play
Creativity comes when ideas come together to create new ideas. The most innovative creativity comes from ideas which don’t normally “go” together.
To encourage this sort of creativity, you have to park the natural mental barriers which tell you things “go” or “don’t go” together.
Think of creativity as like a game you play. This helps remove those barriers.
Being creative and being playful are very similar concepts, with related patterns of thinking.
It’s why so many creative books use the concept of play, and being playful. Most people’s associations with play go back to childhood.
Playing is how children explore and learn about the world. The toys they play with and the stories they tell are great sources of creativity.
But often in adulthood, play is seen as something that’s not “grown-up”. It’s not serious or important. It’s not “real work”.
Well, pbbbt to that.
(Incidentally, we found out that blowing a raspberry is actually Cockney rhyming slang. Blowing a raspberry tart. Fart. Our inner child loves that!)
Yes, adult life means doing serious things. Like tax bills and visits to the doctor. But you don’t have to be serious all the time. You can still do fun and creative things too.
Because without creativity, nothing outside nature would exist. No internet to read this article. No device to view the internet on.
Creativity made the design for your comfy sofa, the label on that bottle of wine, and what you’re watching on Netflix tonight.
Someone, somewhere had a creative idea which made those things happen.
Ideas come from creativity, and ideas move the world forward. Take the idea of creativity seriously, even if being creative rarely feels serious. In fact, the less serious you are when being creative, the better.
Many people’s creativity peaks in childhood
The peak of many people’s creativity comes in childhood. Think about it. When did you last paint, draw, write a story or make up a song?
Kids do those things all the time.
Adults? Not so much.
Kids do these things to learn about the world. To take in new ideas and express themselves. Their creativity comes from feeling liberated, having no fear, being excited by playing and experimenting.
Why should kids have all that fun? Shouldn’t we keep those things into adulthood?
Our natural childhood creative behaviours are ground down by the growing-up process. Adult stuff like keeping your boss happy, pointless meetings and HR workshops (!) kill creativity.
The sense of liberty, the lack of fear, the excitement of playing and experimenting all lead to finding better and easier creative ideas. The playfulness of childhood is a huge creative opportunity in adulthood.
Encourage playfulness in your creative teams
When you pull together a creative team, think about how they’ll play together.
For example, you could score people on their playfulness before deciding who to invite. Think about it like picking a team in the school playground. Pick the people with the most playfulness.
For example, give them a score out of 5 on factors like :-
- Openness and energy for new things and ideas – Are they the type of person who jumps at the chance to do new things? Or do they sit there with a face like a smacked arse when anything new comes up?
- Do they think differently to other people? Do they come out with unexpected things? Or are they predictable and just go with the flow? Unexpected ideas are gold in creativity.
- Do they play well with others? Can they listen to others’ ideas and build on them? Or do you see them shooting down ideas? Are they creators, critics or coasters? Which do you hear them saying more often – “Yes, and …” or “Yes, but …”? Saying “but” is kryptonite for creativity, it kills ideas.
When you plan a creative session, who needs to be there? Everyone in your team, or can you select a smaller group? Creative sessions usually work best with teams of up to 8 people.
Any more gets harder to handle.
Cherry-picking creative-minded people gets you faster and better ideas. And you avoid having to deal with people who drain other people’s creative energy.
Don’t invite people to creative sessions out of obligation. The goal of creativity is great creative ideas, not to make everyone feel nice. If you feel the need to be nice, throw a morning tea, or take people out to lunch.
Constructive healthy playful debate from the right team of people gets you to easier creative ideas.
Easy creative ideas #3 - Random connections drive creativity
As we said, creativity comes when ideas come together to create new ideas. One area where adults can beat children (as in do better than them, obviously) on creativity, is adults have a wider range of experiences to draw from.
The wider you read, the more you travel and meet different people, the broader your range of ideas you can use to be creative.
You find easy creative ideas when you open up your mind to a range of experiences and perspectives. Check out our wide range of book reviews on Goodreads, for example.
Other than a fondness for crime novels, you’ll also find a reading list which covers advertising, biographies, design, history, humour, leadership, politics, psychology, storytelling and writing.
Look for topics which broaden your mind. They help you come up with easy creative ideas because you have a much wider pool of experiences to tap into.
Read widely. Make an effort to read outside your normal area of expertise or comfort.
You’ll learn things that’ll give you new ideas. Or at the very least interesting anecdotes or stories.
In fact, next time you run a creative thinking session, ask everyone to find out an unusual fact related to the topic as pre-work.
Let’s say you’re having a creative thinking session about transportation. Did you know that in World War One, French troops stuck in Paris couldn’t get transport to the Battle of the Marne? So, they commandeered 600 taxis to get the troops there.
The first army to turn up for battle in taxis.
So, imagine thinking of transportation as a way to win a war. Not something which involves overcrowded buses and trains, and smelling other people’s farts and armpits.
Making random mental connections like this takes you in wonderful creative directions. Get into the habit of feeding your creativity with different experiences and perspectives.
As easy creative ideas go, this is one of the most enjoyable. You’ll feel more knowledgeable. You’ll make better small talk. And above all, you’ll find creativity easier and come up with better ideas.
Conclusion - easy creative ideas for any business
Clearly, creativity drives great marketing. In fact, great marketing demands creativity.
Even though marketers love to argue over other concepts in marketing (see our recent marketing 4Ps article, for example), few can deny creativity is a critical skill.
You need those activities to be creative to connect with customers, and grow your sales.
To do those things, like a creative cordon bleu chef, you need to practice the skill of creativity. In this article, we’ve given you 3 easy creative ideas to improve your own creative skills.
First, location, timing and an understanding of different creative skill styles make a big difference. These set the context and trigger the right thought patterns to flick the creative switch in your brain.
Then, be aware how much playing and being playful drives creativity. We’re not talking about regressing to childhood. But, put away your serious grown up self sometimes. You’ll be more creative, honest.
And lastly, build your range of mental associations to tap into for future creative ideas. Be curious about the world. Explore a wide range of topics. Know lots of little things about lots of different stuff.
These random mental associations are the seeds of your future brilliant ideas.