Creativity is an awful lot like gardening. To have the healthiest, most productive garden, you need to create appropriate conditions. The soil has to be the right acidity for what you want to grow. You need the right amounts of sunlight, water, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, appropriate drainage, etc. for maximum potential.
However, you can create all of the right conditions for a perfect garden and still get no results if you don’t have any seeds to plant in it. Without seeds, you might get the random stray weed, but that’s about it. Conversely, if you have seeds from plants that are hardy and appropriate, you can get a reasonably good garden even out of relatively poor conditions.
Creativity isn’t much different. One of the reasons we struggle with being creative may indeed be poor conditions. If you work in an office that doesn’t fit how you create, you’ll struggle mightily. Some of my friends need background noise and bustle to make things happen; other friends can’t even write a coherent sentence in conditions like that. However, more often than not, conditions that don’t foster maximum creativity is an excuse for when we’re stuck. The real problem is that we don’t have any seeds.
You need material to work with and a reason to create. Most of us have a reason to create, even if it’s not thrilling. Writing a blog post for the company blog is generally enough of a reason, even if you’re not itching to hit the keyboard as soon as you walk in the office door. But where do the seeds come from? Where can we go to get some seeds?
For whatever medium you’re tasked with creating, that’s where you need to seek seeds of ideas for creation. If you’re a writer, you need great literature to draw from. I recently started re-reading the works of HP Lovecraft because no one writes quite like he did. (if my newsletter starts getting unusually creepy, that’s why) If you’re a photographer, brush off your Ansel Adams compendium or hit up the art museum to refresh familiar friends, ideas, and memes. If you’re a musician, warm up the MP3 player and visit some familiar friends.
Once you’ve gotten back in the habit of consuming great content, take a step outside your comfort zone. Read an author you don’t know in a genre you might not like. If you love impressionism, try Cubism for a change. If you love classical violin, try jazz for a change. One of the greatest dangers of the digital age is that we have so much to choose from that it’s all too easy to stay inside our comfort zone. Willfully take that step to someplace you’re not familiar with in order to challenge your creative mind.
After you’ve refreshed your stock of creative seeds, see if your range and ability has increased. I know after doing this exercise that I always find new and different ways of looking at familiar friends. It happily keeps me from getting stale and stuck.
Want to get a start on some new seeds? Here are five interesting, very different starters:
1. Read the Complete Works of HP Lovecraft. Unless you’re already a fan, you’ll find this free eBook filled with some really weird stuff. If you write, it’ll definitely give you some different material.
2. Go listen to Andre Rieu conduct O Fortuna from Carmina Burana.
3. Check out what’s popular on 500px in photography.
4. Walk through the Claude Monet gallery.
5. Watch Damien Walters do some ridiculously amazing acrobatics.
Good luck with the gardens of your mind!
Want to read more like this from Christopher Penn? Get updates here:
Get your copy of Marketing Blue Belt!