10 Ways to Kick Start Creativity when you’re Stuck in a Rut

brain image -stuck in a rut

Creativity is a tricky creature…

It thrives on change, excitement, novelty and stimulation…and these things aren’t always readily available. Sometimes life can be a little bit routine (lockdown, I’m looking at you).

So, what do you do when you’re in a routine, feeling a bit stale and uninspired — and you still need to find some good ideas?

As someone who works in a creative industry, this challenge is my life’s work (literally). And I’ve come up with a few tactics to try and get around it, and catch creativity by surprise.

Here are ten of my best ones. Next time you’re struggling for ideas, give one of them a try. You never know what might work!

 1. Stop

Are you going round and round in circles over the same thing? Then, in the immortal words of the Spice Girls: stop right now, thank you very much.

Exit the page (don’t just minimise it, I see you). Close it properly so it’s totally out of your head. 

Go off and focus on something very different for a bit. You’ll come back to it feeling glad you gave it some space. And you’ll be ready
to smash it.

 2. Give yourself a change of scene

Creativity is like oxygen: the longer you stay in the same room, the more of it you use up, until eventually both you and your ideas have suffocated.*

So, if you find you’re stuck, pack up your things and find somewhere new to work.

 *Disclaimer: this science is definitely wrong

 3. Get an outsider’s perspective

This works well when you talk to a colleague, but it works even better when you talk to someone completely random who has no prior knowledge/vested interest in what you’re trying to do.

That person could be your school friend, your personal trainer, or even your mum. As long as they’re someone with an outsider’s perspective, you’ll learn something interesting from their take on things.

4. Try river jumping

I’m not encouraging you to stick on some wellies and go wading through your local pond. This suggestion is about finding a way to deliberately override the brain’s normal classification system.

I’ll explain what I mean.

When you’re getting dressed in the morning, and you see a pair of socks, you think ‘socks!’ and you put them on your feet. It’s an automatic muscle memory, drilled into you after years of doing the same thing — and seeing socks the same way.

But when you’re trying to find a new approach for a product or a brand, you have to break out of this normal pattern of thinking. You metaphorically have to try putting the socks on your hands, on your ears, and maybe on the dog ;-).

There are lots of ways to do this (most of the following suggestions are in fact forms of river-jumping). They include: 

  • re-expression of a challenge using alternative words / perspectives (i.e. how would a 5 year describe the issue)
  • related worlds – ask yourself where in the world has a similar challenge been faced before?
  • revolution – deliberately change the rules and assumptions that exist… i.e. imagine insurance wasn’t just a product you claim on when things go wrong (yes, that ship has sailed)
  • random links – select a random piece of stimulus and somehow find a connection between it and your product/service.  For example, if you’re selling financial products, you might choose cake as your stimulus, and try to find a connection (good luck).  

 5. Borrow from your peers

This one’s not original: just google what your peers have done in the past, and see if that’s a good starting off point for you (but obviously never outright copy).

 6. Look around for inspiration

Let’s say I was working on a new challenger bank. I would type random related words like ‘bank’ and ‘finance’ into these places, and see what I find: 

7. Thesaurus it

 It sounds simple, but sometimes synonyms are the solution.

8. Go back to the brief

If you’re struggling with a brief or an idea, it might be because you don’t fully understand what you need to do. So, have a look at the brief again.

Do you know exactly what you’re being asked to deliver? Do
you know why? Do you think the why matches the what? Do you think the brief needs to change? (do you see where I’m going with this?)

9. Do something very, very mundane instead

I like sorting my emails into folders in my inbox. Sometimes while I’m doing this my subconscious whirls away in the background and comes up with an idea. 

Also works with hoovering, washing up and pairing socks (but don’t try these at the office, assuming we ever get back there).

10. Write something terrible 

I often start a piece of writing by being deliberately simple and terrible, just to get some initial ideas out. This might then inspire you to come up with something a bit more exciting on your second pass.

With this blog post, for example, I started out by saying: ‘This blog post is about not having ideas. I am going to explain how to get some ideas. I will talk about what I do when I need to be inspired.’

Once I had this in place, I then went back and made it into something a bit more creative and fun (at least, I like to think).

Hopefully you’ll find a few of these tricks useful next time you’re stuck in a rut.

And, if you have any useful creative hacks of your own, please share them with me — I’m always in need of more!

In the meantime, I wish you luck in all your creative endeavours! And if you need any assistance in adding some creative spark drop us a lin