The human mind has a funny way of shooting itself in the foot. Just when you need to come up with an inspirational idea or a solution to a thorny problem, it has a nasty habit of over-thinking, locking itself into an endless loop and destroying any hope of a breakthrough.
You know what I’m talking about. It’s insidious. But fear not, there is a way out. You simply have to break the loop. Change things up. A simple change of place, process, players or perspective usually does the trick. If that doesn’t work, I’m afraid you’re out of luck.
When the ideas just won’t come, here are a few ways of getting the creative juices flowing:
Shut the computer.
When I need inspiration but my mind won’t play along, I shut the computer or whatever I’m working on and walk away. Then, when I’m doing something totally unrelated -- taking a shower, gardening, driving somewhere or lying in bed half asleep -- that’s when the light bulb comes on. Happens every time.
End the meeting.
When you’re in a meeting intended to brainstorm or problem-solve, don’t be surprised if the winning idea or ideal solution comes up after the meeting is over. Sometimes long after, when different people are around, or when some seemingly random event triggers an answer to a question you’ve been subconsciously pondering for weeks.
Planes, trains. and automobiles.
There’s something about a quiet conversation while moving that brings out epiphanies. I can’t tell you how many business strategies I’ve come up with that way: walking around the neighborhood with my CEO, driving to the airport with the head of a distributor, on a bullet train in Japan with the CTO, or on a cross-Atlantic flight with a random individual I happened to be seated next to. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s uncanny.
Quit being logical.
Near as I can tell, the part of your brain responsible for creative ideas is not the same as the one responsible for reasoning. Inspiration is not logical, nor is it task-oriented. I believe most people have a much easier time accessing that part of their mind when they’re relaxed, tired, engaged in some mindless task or casually bouncing ideas around with someone in an unusual but safe surrounding.
Give up and zone out.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stared at a blank screen, a white sheet of paper or a media board and racked my brain for a big idea that just wouldn’t come.
Finally, I give up, plop down in a chair and say, “Screw it, I’m done.'' It takes a while for my mind to shut off, but when it does, that’s inevitably when the answer comes.
Get outside perspective.
Consultants routinely interview top executives of companies that hire them. As a management consultant, I do the same thing, but not in the same way. That’s how I determine what problems need to be solved, but the solutions usually come from conversations with lower level employees, customers, or outside analysts. The reason is that leaders are always too close to the situation. They’re actually inside the loop, so they lack perspective.
Be alone with yourself.
I’m not an expert on meditation, but I do practice mindfulness as a means to quiet my thinking brain so I can spend quality time with my deeper, more intuitive inner self. I’m still a novice, but I think it’s indispensable for neurotic people who tend to over-think things with voices in their heads, as I'm known to do.
As I sit quietly, lost in thought while exploring this fascinating but elusive subject in the company of my trusty MacBook Air, I’m finding it frustratingly difficult to come up with a compelling end to the story. There’s only one thing left to do. (clunk)