Idea generation is easily the most difficult part of content production. Some days ideas come to you nonstop, but some days are marked by a glaringly empty document staring back at you as you wrack your brain for anything to write about. For those latter days, it pays to have a few creativity-boosting tactics on hand. The next time you find yourself stumped, try out some of these tried and true methods for jumpstarting your idea generation process.
1. Stay Playful
All work and no play makes every Tom, Dick and Susan a dull worker. If you’re constantly focused on the task at hand, particularly if that task is a creative one, you could actually be preventing yourself from coming up with ideas. Being playful allows your mind to wander a bit, which gives it a chance to come up with something organically. It’s part of why it feels like all your best ideas come to you in the shower, and also why big companies that demand high levels of creativity take care to ensure that their employees have space to relax and, well, play. The next time you’re drawing a blank, try to find something fun to do, even if it’s only for a few minutes. You’ll return to your task refreshed and ready to think creatively.
2. Keep it Positive
The first rule of idea generation should be the same as the first rule of improv: never say “no”. Saying “no” breaks the flow of action in an improvised scene, and it leaves nowhere for the actors to go; so too with idea generation. When you shoot down ideas, you take them off the table completely. In the early stages of brainstorming, there’s no such thing as a bad idea. Make a habit of treating each idea as a positive contribution and exploring its possibilities. By creating a space in which it’s okay to fail, you encourage risk-taking and more adventurous thinking, both of which are excellent for idea generation.
3. Work Within Limits
We’ve all been encouraged to think outside the box. If you’re anything like me, this advice has proved to be less than helpful—by the time some well-meaning sage offers it, I’m usually so far outside the box I’ve lost sight of it. It turns out that might actually be the problem. Sometimes it can actually be helpful to introduce constraints so that you have some structure to work with. For example, if you tend to write on a specific theme, try writing about something completely different to flex your creative muscles. Just having some artificial limitations can help give you something to work against, which helps push you outside of your comfort zone and get you thinking on your feet.
4. Ditch Your Electronics
Still straining to get your creative juices flowing? Try switching from a computer to pen and paper. The tapping of the keys and clicking of the mouse might be sending you into a utilitarian brain space; lots of authors and creative thinkers prefer to do their writing on paper. It may seem like a simple switch, but the act of writing something out helps you internalize and process it in a different way, which could be just what you need to get that brainwave you’ve been waiting for.
5. Work Collaboratively
If you’ve tried everything you can think of and are still drawing a blank, it may be time to call in a favor. Ask a coworker or two if they wouldn’t mind putting your heads together to brainstorm. The old adage that two heads are better than one is all the more true when it comes to creative thinking: a new perspective on what you’ve been thinking about could be the breath of fresh air you need to get in gear.
6. See What’s Already Being Said
When all else fails, it’s time to hit the books. Or, in this case, the blogs. Take a look at what others in your industry are talking about, at recent industry news, and at trending topics on social media sites. Browsing through relevant material will give you a chance to see what people are buzzing about and form your own opinions on those topics. If you have special insight into a current issue in your field, you can write a think piece on it. Has somebody written something that didn’t cover all the bases on a particular topic? Write a response that fills in the blanks. Writing on topics that are currently being discussed guarantees that your content will be relevant.
I’ve found myself flummoxed by an inability to think creatively on more than one occasion. The next time that happens to you, try some of these handy tips to get you thinking in a whole new way. Still struggling? Check out Content Runner’s Idea Engine!