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12 Creativity Hacks to Give You an Edge


Derek Blaszak

Director of Digital Marketing

Creativity isn’t just for artsy people and those of us who work in ad agencies. It’s something we can all use in our jobs and daily lives.

There may be some people who are naturally more creative than others. However, creativity can also be developed – even built – like a muscle group you work on at the gym.

Whether you’re solving a problem in your company, developing a new product, or trying to figure out a crossword puzzle – we have 12 creativity hacks that can help.

1. Surround Yourself with Blue


Your working environment can have an interesting impact on how your brain functions. That includes the color of the walls in your office or conference rooms.

Researchers from the University of British Colombia published a study in 2009 detailing an experiment that explored how 600 people responded to color. Researchers measured cognitive performance and made some eye-opening discoveries.

They found when test subjects saw blue they performed better on tasks requiring imagination and creativity.

The conclusion lead-researcher Dr. Juliet Zhu makes is that blue rooms are ideal for things like brainstorming sessions or finding an inventive solution to a problem.

However, the study also suggests making use of the color red when you need to focus and pay attention to details. Read more about this study online from the New York Times.

2. Put Yourself in a Box

think outside the box_creative tipsNo, not literally – in your mind!

When we think about creativity, we usually think of “outside-the-box thinking.” However, sometimes imposing strict rules can encourage you to look for more creative solutions.

There are many examples of how this works. One of the best comes from a king of creativity – Dr. Seuss.

As the story goes, Dr. Seuss’s publisher once made a bet with the author/illustrator that he couldn’t write a book using only 50 unique words.

Dr. Seuss took the challenge and won the bet.

The book he came up with? It’s now a classic – Green Eggs and Ham.

3. Get Frustrated!

creativity hack - get frustrated

Think about times when you’ve had some of your biggest mental breakthroughs and generated your best ideas. There’s a good chance you were extremely frustrated right before you had that insight.

Neuroscience author, Jonah Lehrer, wrote in his book Imagine: How Creativity Works that we often forget about all the frustration and instead focus on the breakthrough when we talk about figuring something out. But facing frustration head-on is part of the creative process.

Author Robert Greene wrote a piece for the Huffington Post explaining how masters of creativity deal with what he describes as “creative tension.”

“At certain points in this process, lesser types would simply give up or settle for what they have – a mediocre and half realized project. But Masters are stronger. They have been through this before, and on an unconscious level they understand that they must plow forward, and that the frustration, or the feeling of being blocked, has a purpose.”

Greene says at some point, you need to let go. Don’t give up – but reach that point where you’re ready to bang your head against the wall – then stop thinking about it. Soon after that is when your creative insight will hit like a flash.

4 . Go for a Nature Walk

creativity hack - nature walk

When you do reach that point when you need to let go, you should consider going for a hike.

There have been some in-depth studies about how spending time in nature is good for the mind. What it comes down to is this: In a world where we are always connected and always multitasking, sometimes you just need to clear your head.

There are also physical things in nature that could help you be more creative. For instance, being out under the bright, blue sky supports the theory of the color blue boosting creativity.

Scientists are also studying how birdsongs can have psychological benefits. Chirping birds could help get those creative juices flowing. This may be because birdsongs in nature are random and not repetitive. The sound simultaneously soothes you while gently tugging your mind in different directions.

If you can’t leave the office to take a walk in the woods, try turning on some nature sounds instead, or put some bird-feeders outside your office window!

5. Take a Shower


Many people claim they get their most-brilliant ideas while taking a relaxing, steamy shower.  There are actually some scientific reasons for this.

An article from Wired.com explains that the shower phenomenon is all thanks to a particular part of the brain known as the default mode network.

This section of your brain turns on when you’re able to shut out distractions and focus on your internal thought process. That’s exactly what you’re doing when you take a shower…or a bath.

Bathing and good ideas have a long history. Greek scholar Archimedes was in the bath when he had his famous “Eureka!” moment.

6. Cheer Up!

creativity hack - cheer up

They say laughter is the best medicine. It’s also good for improving creative thinking.

Research on emotional intelligence suggests people who are more lighthearted and humorous tend to be more creative.

Sometimes we think of artists as these tortured souls who are always depressed. That may not be completely true for every type of creative person. An article from Scientific American explains that test subjects who are in a good mood do better on tasks requiring imagination – like solving puzzles and word association.

Even watching goofy stuff on YouTube could help out. One research experiment found showing people a short clip of Robin Williams’ standup made a measurable impact. Those people solved about 25% more puzzles than subjects who felt angry or upset.

Find out more about humor’s connection to creativity and ideation from Psychology Today.

7. Sleep On It (or Don’t)

creativity hack - sleep on it

Many different studies back up the effect a good night’s sleep can have on creativity.

When we sleep, our brains keep working on problems we’re trying to solve. That’s why you might wake up in the morning and suddenly have an idea or remember something you forgot to do the day before.

Your dreams could help you out too. There are many stories about creative people having breakthroughs while they sleep.

Paul McCartney’s biographers say the tune to the Beatles hit “Yesterday” came to him in a dream.

Golfer Jack Nicklaus claims he dreamed a way to improve his swing.

Author Robert Louis Stephenson got the idea for his novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in a dream too.

Surprisingly, a lack of sleep could also have positive results when being more creative is the goal. It’s known as “creative insomnia,” but there have been far fewer studies supporting this idea.

8. Have a Beer

creativity hack - drink beer

See! There’s a reason we have beer on tap and a fridge full of craft brews here at Element.

No, really, we’re serious. Beer helps. Don’t believe us?

Psychology Today featured studies indicating alcohol intake can improve creativity. The strange reason behind this may be due to the fact that alcohol causes you to think less.

“Research has shown that alcohol tends to reduce people’s ability to focus in on some things and ignore others, which also happens to benefit creative problem solving.”

For instance, drink a few beers and you stop worrying about inconsequential things and let your mind wander. You might laugh a little more (we know that’s good too) and you’ll relax (also good).

LifeHacker.com suggests drinking beer to come up with big ideas. Then drink coffee to get them done. Sounds about right.

Of course, drinking has diminishing returns. Too many drinks and you’re no good to anyone. So drink responsibly if you want to be creative.

9. Start Doodling

creative tips_doodle
Maybe you got in trouble with your teacher for doodling in class back in high school. Maybe your boss gives you a condescending look as you sketch something out in a notebook during meetings.

Well, let those people know you were actually being quite productive!

An article from Fast Company explains why drawing makes you a better thinker.

“Studies have shown that doodling can free up short- and long-term memory, improve content retention and increase attention span. It can also produce creative insight…”

Creativity consultant, Sunni Brown, told Fast Company doodling works because, “when the mind starts to engage with visual language, you get neurological access that you don’t have when you’re in a linguistic mode.”

Put simply, doodling helps you think differently.

10. Make the Perfect Playlist

creativity hack - perfect playlist

Music and creativity go hand in hand. Some people like to work while wearing headphones or with music in the background. Others say it’s a distraction.

However you feel, it’s clear that music impacts the mind.

It might be best to tailor the music you listen to to the task at hand as well as your personal preferences. Certain performers and song are likely to put you in a particular mood that could boost your creativity. Other types of music might have a beat that keeps you focused.

Music is universal. It can be found in every culture throughout civilization. It’s so important, an article from the National Science Foundation expresses the idea that cutting music programs from schools could be a huge mistake.

That’s because research shows music can spark creativity in math and science. Remember,  it’s not only artists who need to be imaginative. As Parag Chorida from Georgia Tech told the NSF…

“To be a great engineer; to really produce innovative products and to advance the frontiers of science, you have to be creative.”

Classical music may be the most beneficial to the brain – Mozart in particular. Find out more about the so-called Mozart effect.

11. Rediscover Your Inner Child

creativity hack - inner child

Pablo Picasso is famously credited with saying, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

We are at our most creative when we are kids. Then things like school, constant criticism, and life in general squeeze much of that ability to imagine right out of us as we grow older.

But if you can think like you’re 6 years-old again, you can tap into that childlike creativity. Easier said than done, right?

The best way to feel like a kid again is to do what you loved doing back then.

Play! Get some Legos or some Play-Doh. Find some crayons and coloring books. Have a tea party or a squirt gun fight with your kids.

The reason we have a ping-pong table at Element is because we understand how beneficial a little bit of play can be to productivity. That might seem counterintuitive, since we assume play is the opposite of work.

However, there’s tons of research into how constructive play can be for both children and adults. There was even a 2008 TED conference dedicated to “serious play.”

Watch a TED presentation from well-known designer Tim Brown in the video below.

12. Let Your Ideas Make Sweet Love

creativity hack - ideas make love

So if playing is the kid-friendly creativity tip – this one is for adults only.

It comes from the concept of viewing creativity as the combination of separate ideas to form a new idea. There’s really nothing new under the sun. The things we think of as new are actually born by adapting and combining concepts from the past.

In order to “give birth” to a new idea there needs to be some conceptual copulation – if you catch my drift.

Michael Michalko wrote a tongue-in-cheek article about ideas having sex for CreatitivyPost.com. He says the digital age makes it possible for ideas from all over the place to have one big orgy of imagination.

“The modern world with its gigantic interconnectedness has made it much easier for ideas to meet and have sex with other ideas from all over the planet with ever-increasing promiscuity.”

A less sassy way to think about combining ideas is that they are like plants cross-pollinating. That’s how Tina Seelig of Stanford Technology Ventures described it for Fast Company. She has five tips for encouraging innovation by cross-pollinating ideas.

Of course, cross-pollination is just another way of saying plant sex.

How Do You Inspire Creativity?

We see a lot of value in being creative at our agency.

Do you have your own creativity tips? Leave a comment below and tell us about how you stay innovative and come up with brilliant ideas.

There will also come time when you need someone else to do some creative heavy lifting for you. When you’re looking for help finding inspiration for you company’s advertising and marketing, you can turn to us!

Meantime – Follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn to keep in touch. We’ll be sharing more from our blog as well as the projects we’re working on.