Your brain is a muscle. You have to use it in order for it to grow stronger and remain sharp. If you don’t, it will atrophy. It will slow down. Get sloppy. And it won’t be raring to go when you absolutely need it.
There are times when you feel like your brain is literally dead. Maybe you spend 8 hours a day doing mindless tasks instead of good work. Maybe it’s an hour a day when you’re looking off into the distance on your commute. Maybe the two hours an evening that the average American spends watching television is slowing your synapses.
We all have the potential to sharpen our most important weapon. The time to do so is sitting there in the cracks of laziness of our normal routines. The challenge is to try to change your routine.
Have a conversation over dinner instead of watching TV. Actively learn instead of waiting to be stimulated. Be proactive at work, dreaming up amazing projects instead of simply executing the boring ones.
Your brain is your strongest tool. In order to create great things, you have to keep it in shape by using it. Only boring people are bored. The interesting and creative folks always have their minds churning.
Our brains are hungry for content. Human beings are curious by nature. You can see it small children. Their eyes are constantly wandering and exploring new things. They want to touch, tug and taste everything they come in contact with. They’re thirsty for knowledge about the world around them.
You can see this thirst for information in yourself. Your brain loves to be entertained. It loves to learn. It loves to experience new things. If you’re on a boring commute to work, chances are that you’re mind is itching to absorb information. You’re reading a book or a paper. You’re listening to music or a podcast. Or even if you’re doing none of those things, you’re observing the world around you. Checking out the landscape. People watching. Doing mental math on the timing of the rest of your commute.
You can feed your thirsty mind with the correct diet of content or the wrong diet. The main components of a creative diet involve ignoring comfortable, easy to access information. Don’t waste your time with mainstream media.
Mainstream media caters to the lowest common denominator. It caters to the popular opinion. Mainstream media caters to the mediocre. It’s speaking to the stupid. The stories in mainstream media are not designed to provoke thought. They are designed to provide you with an opinion. They make it easy, so that you don’t have to do the thinking yourself.
When you stop thinking, your creativity dies.
You have to keep your mind nimble by thinking. You have to take in raw information and form opinions. You have to see situations from different angles. That means not relying on one source of information. Don’t just read one newspaper. Don’t just read a handful of blogs that all express the same viewpoint. Get out of your comfort zone. Read something that you disagree with. Watch a show that makes you angry. Listen to a podcast that’s from a completely different area of interest.
One of the best podcasts that I stumbled across was something called the Naked Scientists. (It’s not as dirty as it sounds. Trust me.) Basically, it’s a group of physicians and researchers from Cambridge University who use radio, live lectures, and the Internet to strip science down to its bare essentials, and promote it to the general public. It’s fascinating. The first podcast was about how certain areas of the U.K. have high proportions of the population that are genetically resistant to H.I.V. due to their ancestors surviving the Black Plague. It was something that was totally out my obvious sphere of interest, but was amazing to learn about!
The best inspiration comes from when you expand your knowledge base and are able to connect to the creative problem you’re trying to solve. You’re not going to do that by just reaffirming the beliefs that you already have. So stay away from mainstream content. Dig a little deeper than the easy stuff. Learn about science, art, music, sport, business, innovation and history. Learn about it all. Because knowledge is what fuels your creativity.
I’ve always wanted to learn how to skateboard, but never had the gusto and dedication to go through with it. When you’re older, it’s pretty embarrassing to try and learn a new sport. Especially if that sport prides itself on being cool. It’s like someone trying to learn how to be cool at the age of 30. It’s just uncomfortable.
And then in a conversation with my friend Gabe (who is over 30 – don’t tell him I said that) and I found out that he was learning to skate. I thought that it was really cool. He didn’t have the same predilections as me. He didn’t give a fuck if people saw him trying to learn. He didn’t care if he looked like an ageing hipster. He didn’t care if he fell. All he cares about is learning and getting better. He’s a teenage boy living in a 30 year old’s body.
Skateboarding is the perfect paradigm for creativity. It’s self taught. It’s monkey see, monkey do. You learn from seeing someone do something and then trying it yourself. Throwing your own swagger and style at it. You learn from your mistakes. You practice. You improve your skill. And the better you get, the more and more everything you see starts looking like a skate park.
The same thing happens with creativity and art. The more that you use your creative muscles, the more that you start seeing creative opportunities all around you. And you want to capture them. Paint them. Write about them. Bring them to the world. And just like skateboarding, you can start developing your creativity at any age.
But the thing that I like best about skate culture is the do-it-yourself mentality that comes from teaching yourself the sport. They don’t wait for a director to find the best skaters and make a video about them. They film it themselves. And edit it. And design the cover art. And post it online. There’s a blue collar mentality of doing what’s necessary to get it done. So, part of you is a skater. But part of you is also a producer. A designer. A director. A salesperson. Maybe even a seamstress.
What drives this do-it-yourself frame of mind? Easy. Skateboarding is fun. It’s relaxing. It’s scary. It’s thrilling. And when you’re having fun, you don’t mind doing the extra stuff. It’s rewarding. The first time that you’re able to see yourself pulling a trick on film, you feel like a bad ass. All of that extra work learning how to use a camera, figuring out iMovie, learning about lighting is worth it. It’s all about creating a product that you’re proud of and showing it tot he world.
And sometimes we forget that about being creative – especially if it’s part of our job. But you’ve got to take the time to find the fun again. To be a bad ass. To get inspired. To be excited about your work.
A desk jockey sits and waits for opportunities. They don’t see opportunities. They see instructions. They’ll happily progress through their day doing exactly what was defined in the confines of their job description. They sit around waiting for their sergeant to tell them what to do. How to do it. When to do it by. They’re looking for orders. When they deliver on those orders, they know that their job is done.
Entrepreneurs write their own briefs. They don’t sit around waiting for someone to give them permission to start a project. They just do it. Entrepreneurs recognize and create opportunities for themselves, regardless of process, budgets or expectations. Entrepreneurs fuck shit up. They do whatever is necessary to take their project from an idea on a napkin to a product in the real world.
So, my question to you is this: on your down time, are you an entrepreneur or a desk jockey?
If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re willing to take risks. You’re passionate. You’re exited to push a tough project through. You’re willing to risk failure.
Or maybe you’d rather be a desk jockey. You value stability. With free moments, you organize your emails. You clean your desk. You gossip at the water cooler.
Here’s the thing – you make great work by chasing opportunities and turning ideas into products. You don’t make work by having the cleanest desk. It doesn’t matter where you are in the organization. You could be the CEO. The receptionist. A cog in the machine. The guy in the mail room. Use your free time to THINK. To innovate. To inspire greatness. To take risks. Come up with ideas, pitch them and try to get them made.
I understand that it’s intimidating. There is a fear of failure. What if you come up with a stupid idea that flops? Let me help you out with that one – it’s going to happen. You will fail. And then fail again. And then you’ll learn bit by bit from your failures and you’ll start succeeding. Don’t get me wrong, it’s going to be hard. You’ll be going up against roadblocks. You have to put in effort. You have to sweat. You have to chase people. You have to bully your way through. But it will be worth it.
Staying within your box is definitely the easy way. Just hide behind your job description. You won’t get fired. You’ll maintain your current reputation. You’ll be a good employee. You won’t rock the boat. You’ll be safe. But then remember this – well behaved bitches seldom make history. So write get out there and your own briefs. It’s when you stop playing it safe that you start to have fun.
Thanks to all of the people who make the free shit. To the artists that write, draw, compose, publish or just plain make great stuff. Thanks to those who do amazing work and then release it on the internet for free.
Free art is an interesting concept. Just because it’s free, doesn’t mean it’s good. In fact, to many people, it could mean the opposite But free makes things accessible. It’s a low barrier that allows for people to have an introduction to you and what you do. If it’s good, we pay attention. If it’s not, we won’t remember you in five minutes.
But thank you. Thank you for putting yourself out there. For trying to create something.
And artists like to create art that’s free as well. In the words of Bill Cunningham, “If you never take money, they can’t tell you what to do. That’s the key to the whole thing.” By shipping art for free, you retain control. You can experiment. You can try new styles, new rhymes, new hooks. You can walk the grey line of stealing stuff that would normally get sued for if you were making money off of it.
Like the mixtape scene in hip hop. Artists – big or small – drop free albums for their fans to download. If you’re small, you have the potential to blow up. Kid Cudi and Mike Posner both broke out into the mainstream through the success of their mixtapes. If you’re already big, like Eminem or Ludacris, it gives you a creative outlet to try new material. To continue to create art. To keep your shit sharp.
You don’t stay creative by keeping all of your good ideas inside. You get creative by letting them all out. By releasing all of them into the world, so that you have to come up with more. You develop your creativity by producing.
One man’s string is another man’s fang floss. Or perhaps put a more correctly, another monster’s fang floss. It’s simple but intelligent. All it took was a different perspective and a quick repackaging to breath new life into a boring product.
Your desk, your office, your home, and your computer … they are all filled with products that can inspire creativity and reinvention. All you need to exploit them is a different perspective. And then all of a sudden:
- You can fry an egg with a piece of paper and a binder clip
- Your note taking program can start organizing your whole life
- Your scripts from your beer client get sold in as a concept for a new bodywash.
Lifehacker has made it’s bread and butter on thinking of innovative solutions to problems using ordinary tools.
The next time that you’re stumped with a problem, look at what you have in front of you. Cultivate your inner Maguyver. What tools do you have at your disposal that can solve your problems? A different perspective can open a whole new realm of creative solutions.
Creativity is …
Wearing a snapback hat with a bowtie.
A hand dryer without hot air that uses 80% less energy. Beer aged in scotch barrels.
Blending two genres of music together to create musical poetry.
Lighting a home with a plastic soda bottle and bleach.
Creativity is …
Breaking the conventions.
Questioning the norm.
Trying something different.
Putting your thoughts into action.
Creativity is a fairy tale where the princess tells the prince to fuck off.
You consume something. Your body digests it. Then your body uses the energy from what you put in it to produce. This is true for food. And it’s true for ideas.
What you put into your body impacts what you get out of it.
If you put in food that your body is able to easily process and digest, you’ll get a lot out of it. If you put in junk, your system gets overloaded and you feel like shit.
HACKING YOUR DIET
I’m fortunate to be a genetic freak. My body seems to have a metabolism that runs high and is able to process most things. Wendy’s Baconator? No problem. Raw fish? Hell’s yeah! Salad? Sure. It all seems to go through the same.
But recently, I began to learn how to hack my body. There are certain things that I can put in my body that jump starts the system if I’m feeling tired. There’s meals that I can eat to give me sustained energy before a big tournament. There are shakes I can consume to speed up recovery after workouts.
The same applies to creativity and ideas. What you put into your mind impacts what you get out of it. If you consume inspirational stories, interesting knowledge and actual learning, you produce great ideas and insights. If you’re reading gossip sites and watching Jersey Shore, you liable to end up producing the standard entitled teenager bullshit.
And when you’re in a crunch, you can hack your brain. You can consciously control the inputs to maximize creativity. Consume information that inspires. Learn things that provoke. Observe insights that spark ideas.
YOUR CREATIVE DIET
Consider your creative diet. What is it that you’re putting into your brain? Is it fine tuned to generate the creative output that you’re looking for?
Sometimes, simple awareness makes a big difference. By being conscious of what the type and quality of content that you’re consuming, you’ll become much more in tune to what your habits are. That awareness allows you to tweak them to your specific needs.
The simplest solution is to consume better content. Read a book. Avoid the standard internet distractions of Facebook, daily news and gossip websites. Look for intelligent content that will provide you with different perspectives. Look to uncover new information. Look for inspiration in the real world and online.
Content is brain food. The videos, books and articles that you consume impacts what your brain produces. You can hack your inputs to generates the results that you want. Be conscious of your creative diet. What are you consuming? How you could be putting in more of the right stuff to get the ideas you want?
My head is full of stupid ideas. A lot of them. And I found that as I get older (and more mature) it’s a lot easier to recognize which ones are stupid. Experience tells me when not to follow through just because something pops into my head.
So, I guess that makes me a “mature adult”. But the stupid ideas keep coming. They’re still in my head, taking up valuable real estate. It got me thinking.
What do you do with your stupid ideas? The ones that are ridiculous. They don’t make any sense. Not only are they impossible, but you’re pretty sure that they’d be stupid if they were possible.
What do you call them? Are they dreams? Or hallucinations?
And then I figured out what to do with stupid ideas.
LET THEM OUT!
Release them out into the world. Tell people about them. Stop keeping them cramped up in your skull taking up space.
Because once they’re out there in the real world, you never know what can happen. They can fall flat. They can die. But they can also spark something. They can act as inspiration. Or they can get recognized as not-so-stupid. Maybe even as good ideas.
Think about the person who invented the GoPro cameras. Every single other personal video camera on the market had one thing in common – there was a viewfinder so that you could see what you’re shooting. Why would you make a camera without one? That’s stupid.
But the people behind GoPro thought that people don’t care about seeing the world through a viewfinder – they want to see the world themselves.
So, don’t discount what’s inside your head until you’ve had a chance to test it in the real world. You never know. It may be that you think your idea is stupid because it bucks convention. Because it’s truly different.
Downtime happens. You’re waiting for feedback on a project. A supplier hasn’t gotten back to you. The client needs approval on a budget. But what you do with it can make a big difference to yourself. Most people will waste downtime. They’ll do something like watch movies or troll the endless gossip websites for entertainment. But all you get accomplished is a temporary reprieve from boredom. You don’t actually get to take anything away from it. Where you are at the beginning of the downtime is the exactly the same as where will be at the end. Nothing has been accomplished.
But you don’t have to do that. You can do small things that will kill two birds with one stone: (1) keep you entertained, and (2) set you up for better creativity and productivity when the work comes back. Here are a couple of things that you can do in your downtime that will help you stay creative:
1. Get the boring shit done.
We all have shit that needs to get done, but is boring to do. Pay your bills. Do your timesheets. Sort out your expenses. When you’re busy, it’s easy to push this stuff to the bottom of the list. But then it lingers there. It sits there not getting done and all of a sudden your company owes your $350 from three months ago because avoided the 10 minutes require to fill out an expense report. Get the boring shit done. Handle your business and get paid. It’ll keep your mind at ease.
2. Read a book.
Television entertains you with pictures and sounds. A book entertains you with words and your imagination. Guess which one allows you to flex your creative muscles? Exactly.
If things are slow, drop out of work for an hour and go for a run. Or go to the gym. Or play a game of pick-up basketball. Just exercise. Get your body moving and start a sweat. A healthy body equals a healthy mind.
4. Declutter Your Life.
Clean up your desk. Organize your hard drive. Go through your closets and get rid of stuff that you don’t need. The goal is to get down to get rid of the clutter that inhibits your life, your creativity and your productivity.
5. Invest In A New Experience
Creativity is fueled by experiences. Things that you get to witness, participate in or do that open your mind to new perspectives. So go to a museum and check out a fashion exhibit. Or watch a folk band live on stage and jive with the rest of the crowd. Or go skydiving and see the world as you free fall at equivalent of an 18 story building each second. Exposing yourself to new experiences create new opportunities for your creative mind.
So that’s the list. Either way, doing any one of these things is better than doing what most people do to entertain themselves during downtime (shopping, watching movies and reading gossip websites). What are you favourite ways to stay creative during your downtime?