I am a strong believer that creativity is a skill best realized when put into regular practice. Similar to an exercise routine, we may all be able to grind out a workout on occasion, but the more regularly we do it, the easier and more enjoyable it becomes—and the better the results.
However, in our fast-paced world, creativity often takes a backseat to developing other vital skillsets like project management and analytical thinking. The reality is that while most organizations claim to value creativity, many fail to commit adequate investment towards helping their people develop it. In other words, we expect people to be “in shape” creatively without giving them the time or resources to train and exercise that skillset.
But with travel and commutes on hold and many of the things that usually keep us so busy now unavailable, we find ourselves in a situation where one of the biggest barriers to practicing creativity—the lack of time—has been lifted.
That being said, even with the desire to practice and the time to do so, it can be hard to know exactly how to go about putting your creative muscles through a proper workout. With that in mind, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite exercises to get you started. Give these a try, have fun and when we can all meet again, your creative muscles will be in shape and ready to face the world’s challenges with the innovative solutions they deserve.
1. Make a Mind Map
Google the term “mind mapping” and you’ll find a ton of excellent examples. Essentially, mind mapping is a brainstorm with your challenge at the center of a page, rather than at the top. The value of placing the idea at the center is to let your mind wander as it wants, without forcing it into a linear list or outline (which is often what happens with paper and digital tech). Another advantage of mind mapping is that it works great solo or with other people.
Step 1: Get a blank sheet of paper and put a challenge statement at the center. Having trouble thinking of a challenge? Here are a few examples to borrow.
How might we maintain healthy eating habits?
How might we be helpful to those in our lives who are feeling vulnerable right now?
How might we tackle (insert business challenge), which always seems to get deprioritized during typical times?
Step 2: Start brainstorming solutions. Quantity, not quality, is the goal here. Try to develop as many as possible. Start with the obvious ones that come to mind, get them out of the way, then challenge yourself to keep thinking and building. It often helps to create some general themes or buckets, then ideate specific ideas from there.
Bonus points: Do you love or feel particularly inspired by one of your ideas? Then take action and make a prototype. Don’t worry about it being perfect, the point of a prototype is to learn. Make a rough sketch, build it out of household materials, or simply give a solution a try. Then, self-evaluate or ask a friend or colleague for feedback. Next, you can refine your idea and continue to work that creative brain as you prototype your way to better and better solutions.
And be sure to check out our in-depth article on mind mapping for more information, pointers and even a video of an actual mind mapping session at Seed.
2. Card Challenge Game
This simple two-part creativity exercise really helps refine creative and divergent thinking skills. It requires a spare deck of cards—or you can use Jenga blocks as an alternative.
Step 1: Think of 52 questions or challenges. These can be anything from coming up with solutions to a real tension in your life to solving a riddle or showing off a hidden talent. Use the principle of diversion to develop as many as possible. Resist the urge to search online and, instead lean on your own brain to come up with them. If you get stuck, simply walk away for a while. When you clear your head and you’re doing something else, a flood of new questions or prompts will likely come to mind. Once you have 52 (or 54 if you’re using Jenga blocks), write them on the cards/blocks.
Step 2: Find people to play with. If you live with other humans, then invite them for a game. If virtual connection is your only means right now, then schedule a video call with a friend or colleague. Move through the challenges simultaneously or take turns drawing blocks or cards.
Bonus points: Not only will this exercise improve divergent thinking skills, it will also give you a fun activity to get to know people on a deeper level.
3. Hack A Room
Whether it’s an office, yoga studio or even a child’s preschool, now that most of us are hunkered down at home, many people are missing some of their favorite places. Unfortunately, this isolation can also negatively impact our creativity. Changing our scenery and our activities helps creativity thrive, but this has obviously become exponentially more difficult. With a little ingenuity, this exercise can help replicate the effect of experiencing our favorite places—without leaving the safety of our own homes.
Step 1: Think about a place you are missing and what specific elements you are missing the most. Is it a quiet, distraction-free atmosphere? Is it the space and tools you need to exercise your body and mind? Is it dynamic, stimulating surroundings? It could be anything.
Step 2: Identify a room that is either underutilized or that could be modified to do another job.
Step 3: Make that your “second place” at home. An office in a closet? A preschool in the basement? A yoga studio in the living room? Move some furniture (within reason) and make it work. Don’t worry about making it perfect—no one is coming over. Instead, focus on function and how it makes you feel. Innovate with things around your house to help infuse those elements that are important to that space.
Bonus Points: Not only will this exercise give you a change of scenery that can boost creativity and deliver a mental lift, but it will also get your wheels spinning about changes you may want to make to your “second place” once you can return.
Catherine Salzman is Director Social Science and Analytics at Seed Strategy where she uses her 10+ years of experience across strategic, media and research disciplines to illuminate vibrant stories that compel action and inspire clarity.
Edited by Adam Siegel. In addition to being the Editor of The Accelerator, Adam is VP, Creative at Seed Strategy where he draws upon his diverse experience in advertising, research and innovation to craft breakthrough creative and winning concept copy.