Why you can’t think of original ideas
And what you can do about it.
Everyone now and then goes through a creative block. It is one of the most stressful situations — especially when you are on a deadline. The work-chair suddenly becomes the scariest place on the face of Earth and a good nights’ sleep grows futile.
That happens to a lot of us, until some of us realize that everything is a mash-up of everything else. That, good ideas come from smaller hunches that combine over time (called the incubation period) and turn into a great idea.
Let me walk you through it.
Most of the ideas around you are the result of a varied spectrum of stuff. We borrow ideas from old movies and new, memories, people, shapes, music, books, paintings, photographs, art, buildings, bridges, water, atoms, plants, thoughts, conversations, spaces and so much more. Then we take these ideas, combine and recombine them into something “new”. An idea is like a molecule. It is never a single entity by itself but it’s made up of several atoms who fuel it and move it.
A good example here is Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. It clearly embodies combinatorial creativity. It turns out that the printing press is far from simple. The technological innovations that Gutenberg developed were much more than the modification of a wine press and the addition of the idea of movable type. Gutenberg was versatile. He did not stick to a single field but explored, unearthed and combined innovations and studies from various fields to construct something absolutely remarkable. Only by having the combined knowledge of all of technologies did the printing press become possible and cost-effective.
The modern day canvas rests on computers. Computers themselves have a large history of ideas getting multiplied, added, subtracted and divided to eventually boil down into everything that we own today. Had it not been for people who took an idea from a paper, combined it with their knowledge and expertise and released it for the world, we would not have been writing on medium in the first place.
Another good and simple example is genetics
You are the remix of your mom and dad and definitely embody a part of them. But you might have a wide variety of interest in things that speak to you, that inspire you, spark creativity in you, and fuel your imagination. Most of these things are inherently different from your parents. You don’t get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to and you can pick the books you read and you can pick the movies you see. And these make a “new” you.
The French writer André Gide puts it perfectly:
“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”
So what should you do?
1) Read: From psychology to quantum mechanics to designing to types of rocks, read stuff from fields that are not at all related. Don’t stick to one field but explore. There’s plenty of stuff to know and remix. Reading will help broaden your knowledge which in turn will fuel creativity.
2) Steal: There’s plenty of ideas up for grabs. Make use of them and combine them to make something entirely new and original. But don’t forget there’s a difference between good theft and bad theft.
3) Create anyway: Don’t wait for the right moment. You learn by making mistakes. Get some ideas and create something out of it. The idea is to stop consuming and start creating. How will you know what else you will require to make it a beautiful idea unless you create? Don’t imagine creating stuff. Create stuff you imagine, anyway.
4) Have side projects and hobbies and get extremely good at them. Dig deeper, research more, research again and again and build stuff side by side. Don’t kill your creativity thinking that it won’t make sense after a while. Nobody’s asking you to do stuff that makes sense.
5) Share: Share your ideas with people and wonder. The Internet can be more than just a resting place to publish your finished ideas — it can also be an incubator for ideas that are not fully formed, a birthing center for developing work that you haven’t started yet.
Here are some articles on ideas and creativity that you may find useful:
1) Creative Problem Solving with SCAMPER
2) 5 Unexpected Ways To Spark Your Creative Genius
3) The Secret To Creativity, Intelligence, And Scientific Thinking
4) Secrets of the Creative Brain
5) 8 Ways to Get Your Creative Juices Flowing
6) Using Your 5 Senses To Jump-Start The Creative Process
7) Where Do Eureka Moments Come From?
8) Advice from Artists on How to Overcome Creative Block, Handle Criticism, and Nurture Your Sense of Self-Worth