Creativity isn’t just for “artsy” people or those who work in ad agencies. It’s something we can all use in our jobs and our lives every day.
Some people may be naturally more creative than others. Have no fear, because creativity can also be developed like a muscle group you work on at the gym. Never skip leg day … and never skip “creative brain” day.
Whether you’re solving a problem at work, 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.
The concept that color impacts how we feel and think is not new. In fact, ancient cultures often used color to treat different conditions or influence emotions, and even used them in certain spiritual practices.
Researchers posit that blue evokes feelings of wisdom, hope, reason, and peace—all emotions that lend themselves well to brainstorming and creation. As Verywell Mind reports, blue is a popular color for office spaces as it is shown that people are more efficient and inventive when working in blue rooms.
Lastly, blue is one of the least appetizing colors. So, while not great for food product packaging, a cyan or aqua room might keep your mind off snacks and help you focus. #alwayshungry
2| Put Yourself in a Box
… not literally—in your mind! When we think about creativity, we usually think of “outside-the-box thinking.” However, sometimes imposing a few rules can encourage you to look for more creative solutions. There’s a name for this method. It’s called SIT, or Systematic Inventive Thinking. As Ness Labs explains …
“Thinking inside the box necessitates a shift in mindset: one that states that all the building blocks for innovation are right there in front of you, and that the solution only requires the reorganization of existing elements.”
By flipping the script and thinking inside the box, you create a fun puzzle for yourself. It also helps you repurpose existing resources and ideas, so you’re not necessarily reinventing the wheel. Perhaps you need to develop a new product but are constrained by the machinery you already own. By using that existing machinery, you contribute to cost savings and efficiency.
3| 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 aha! moment. Neuroscience author Jonah Lehrer wrote in his book Imagine: How Creativity Works that when we talk about figuring something out, we often forget about all the frustration and instead focus on the breakthrough. But facing frustration head-on is part of the creative process.
As Neuroscience News explains, you can unlock your creative potential and enhance creativity by embracing frustration and harnessing it to innovate. Radwa Khalil, PhD (Neuroscience) at Jacobs University Bremen says dissatisfaction can be irritating, but it can also inspire invention and creativity.
“We must encounter unpleasant consequences, but if we handle them differently and turn them into a motivator for our persistence, we may unleash our creative potential.”
Let frustration push you into new possibilities.
4| Go for a Nature Walk
When you reach the point when you need to let go, you should consider going for a hike. A walk in the fresh air will do, too. There have been some in-depth studies about how spending time in nature is good for the mind. Architecture researchers explain it well.
“Our study indicates that viewing natural environments stimulates curiosity and fosters flexibility and imagination, highly natural environments distract our minds from work, and the benefits of attention restoration can improve the uniqueness and diversity of creative ideas.”
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 that the color blue boosts creativity.
If you can’t leave the office to take a walk in the woods, try turning on some nature sounds or decorating your space with lots of plants. We’re plant people at Element, so we have an entire section dedicated to things that grow later on …
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 the Washington Post says what is known as the “shower effect” happens because many of our best, most creative ideas occur when going about everyday tasks with ideas incubating in the background.
Bathing and good ideas have a long history. Greek scholar Archimedes was in the bath when he had his famous “Eureka!” moment.
6| Laughter Works
They say laughter is the best medicine. It’s also good for improving creative thinking. Research on humor and creativity suggests that an effective “ha ha” helps people to “a-ha.” (Who said scientists aren’t clever copywriters?!)
Even watching goofy stuff on YouTube could help. One 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.
But, to reiterate our aforementioned info on frustration, all emotions are valuable and valid. Don’t force yourself to feel a certain way. Let it all flow, and the creativity will follow.
7| 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 dreamt up 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.
8| Plant Big Ideas and Let ‘Em Bloom
We talked about bringing nature inside in #4, and we’re going to reiterate that. As Healthline shared on X, indoor plants are shown to increase creativity and productivity.
There are lists aplenty detailing the plants that are easiest to take care of in offices, so let your inner plant parent blossom. Failsafe, low-maintenance plants that will thrive in lower light include ZZ plants, Chinese evergreens, pothos, and philodendrons. We love a good Guiana Chestnut too (a.k.a. money tree).
9| Start Doodling
Doodling might be a distraction, but it’s a good one. Canva lists a plethora of reasons why doodling is a powerful tool for creators:
- Doodling “opens a safety valve” that allows us to release pressure (a.k.a. stress)
- Doodling gives us a mirror into our subconscious, letting us tap into other ideas that might not otherwise have been considered
- Like showering, doodling gives our brains a reprieve and lets “better” and different ideas take shape in the background
Grab your favorite notebook and get to it.
10| Make a Playlist
Music is an inherently creative thing, with musicians being among the greatest creative minds throughout history. But, the opinions on music listening being good for creativity are somewhat divided.
We’ll take a stand, though. We believe music is a catalyst for creative thinking, and that’s why we play music at our office. That said, we’re selective about what we play, and here’s some backing for our strategic choice of soundtracks.
Studies have shown that “happy” music, classed as upbeat, stimulating classical songs, helped people perform better on tasks that involved “divergent” thinking, a core component of creativity. This is why you’ll often hear cheerful music playing at Element, though we don’t only play classical tunes. You’ll also hear indie rock with bubbly lyrics or a peppy baseline. Lively country sometimes drifts through the hallways. If you visit, you may also hear some soundtracks we’ve developed for our clients.
11| Rediscover Your Inner Child
We are at our most creative when we’re kids. Then things like school, growing pains, and the pressures of adult life squeeze much of that ability to imagine out of us. But if you can think like a six-year-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 water balloon fight.
The reason we have Jenga, playing cards, and a basketball hoop at Element is that we understand how beneficial a little bit of play can be to productivity. That might seem counterintuitive since some folks assume play is the opposite of work.
Big Think takes a different stance, saying,
“As we get older, however, we begin to worry more about the opinions of others. Gradually, we stop playing quite so much. This could be a grave mistake. Research has shown that adults who make time for play reap the benefits in terms of greater productivity, more creativity, and greater health and happiness.”
12| Your Nose Knows
Creativity relies on our senses as much as our brains and hearts, and that includes our sense of smell. Quartz discussed the power of scents, describing how smells make us think differently, and speak and write more vividly.
An ad agency exec describes how smells have improved their brainstorming, saying …
“Thinking in terms of smell can improve writing too. ‘It helps even if you’re writing for the eye or the ear … It’s just a departure from how most business conversations happen, and different is really important,’ he notes. ‘It definitely engages people in a more vivid way.’”
So, how does a conscientious officemate introduce smells into the building without exasperating or distracting others? Lemongrass, peppermint, and vanilla are all pretty inoffensive. Go ‘head, get smelly.
How Do You Inspire Creativity?
We see a lot of value in being creative at our agency.
Do you have your own creativity tips? Drop us a line and tell us how you make big, new ideas surface.
There may come a time when you’re tapped and need someone else to do the creative heavy lifting for you. When you’re looking for help finding inspiration for your company’s advertising and marketing, you can turn to us!
This article was originally published in February 2016 but was updated in February 2024 with new tips and tricks for creative geniuses.