4 ways to stimulate your creativity

December 10, 2012
Jennifer Cooley Senior Art Director

Earlier this fall, Regina Corbin and I headed to Chicago for a little re-inspiration at the Re:Design conference. The two-day event included small-scale conversations led by inspiring design industry leaders. We chatted, traded ideas with our peers and created connections.

Get out and become inspired. Look around for inspiration, from the ordinary to the unordinary.

We walked away with a number of ideas to help us draw from what inspires us on a daily basis so we are better at sparking our own creativity. We’re driven by service and deadlines. We can be tied to our desks. But our job is to deliver quality creative. You can read about Regina’s thoughts – be filterless, immerse yourself in inspiration, slow down, look locally – in her blog from November.

What did I take-away from the conference? To play more, to think differently, to remind myself I love what I do and to “see” what I’m looking at. Read on for how I’m going to do that.

Speaker: Shannon Downey (@ShannonDowney)
Title: An Unlikely Muse: How a little absurdity can go a long way

Shannon Downey, a Chicago-based business owner for a digital marketing agency, was the first speaker to kick off my Re:Design conference experience. Filled with fierce energy and optimism, she preached her mantra: “We don’t play enough at work.” I couldn’t have agreed more. However, when our days are filled with emails, meetings, instant messaging, deadlines, more emails, and hotter deadlines, how can we possibly squeeze 15 minutes out of our work days to play?

Shannon had us partake in a group activity. The goal: let’s play. Being a hard-core trekkie, she has us break into groups and take one of her coveted Star Trek action figures. Each group was assigned the task of taking photos of the action figure and creating a story line behind the images. My partner and I chose Captain Picard. The plan: introducing him to tequila. It was a great activity that allowed us to:

  • Develop a creative and comedic scenario,
  • Meet others from our session,
  • Simply laugh and wake our brains up,
  • Share our stories amongst the group via Facebook.

Our 15-minute activity with the Captain reminded me about the importance of resting and rejuvenating our minds, even if for short amount of time. Taking a brief timeout during the day allows us to recharge our brains so we can chill out, be a bit wacky and feel more refreshed when we dive into work again.

Speaker: John Bielenberg (@J_Bielenberg)
Title: When Wrong is Right

“To be Steve Jobs is to make decisions that are uncomfortable.” -John Bielenberg

John Bielenberg, a design genius from Maine, presented a session focused on looking outside our typical comfort boundaries. He stressed his most influential and successful projects were those that pushed limits and forced designers to think completely different when solving problems. John suggestions for doing this:

  • Get out. Force yourself to get outside your comfort zone. Explore and engage in your community. Become aware. Participate in pro-bono projects where you can make a difference. Small budgets don’t have to dictate a poor project opportunity — push those limits.
  • Fail harder. We learn more from our failures than our successes. Accept failure and feel comfortable about it. Feel = growth.
  • Make stuff. Become creative in ways outside of your comfort zone. Work the senses you’re not used to working. This can reveal hidden talents and allow us to see creativity in a different light rather than the methods or ideas we’re used to.
  • Thinking wrong goes pro. Don’t be intimated by thinking in opposite ways. This approach allows one to problem solve from differing angles. Be mindful enough to recognize when you’re thinking the same, and be active and brave enough to change that.

Speaker: Dawn Hancock (@dawnhancock)
Title: The Journey from Junk Mail to Inspiration

Dawn Hancock is a Chicago-based designer, business owner and, most importantly, a selfless do-gooder. Her session began in a hard-hitting way. 10 years ago, Dawn was feeling empty and completely burned-out in her career. She desperately wanted more … a change in scenery … to make a difference … to start something new. Dawn left the design life she knew to pursue a career in giving back. She was able to merge design with community service in a big way. Dawn focuses her work solely on nonprofits, which allows her to feel personal career satisfaction.

During the session, we were asked to reflect on ourselves and our level of overall happiness. She asked us to fill out the following lists:

  • 5 things that make me smile.
  • 5 things that inspire me.
  • 5 things I want to learn to do.
  • What would be the most amazing day?

Dawn encouraged us to take stock of ourselves. She was inspired by nonprofits and pushed herself to achieve a career goal with that in mind. The takeaways: don’t ignore what interests you and take more ownership of your happiness.

Speaker: Michael Surtees (@MichaelSurtees)
Title: Turning Serendipity into Predictable Patterns of Inspiration

Michael Surtees is a New York based designer who believes in finding inspiration 365 days a year from photography. He performed a photo experiment for an entire year – he took the same photo, of the same subject, each day at 10:15 a.m. The subject: the New York City skyline. After the year was up, Michael was able to step back and review the differences in the entire group. Michael stressed the importance of getting out and taking photos of life.

During the session, he had us head out on the streets of Chicago with our smartphones in hand. Our task: For 20 minutes, take photos that inspire us. Our photos included anything from nature to architecture, and the beauty behind a sewer grate.

The key takeaway: get out and become inspired. Look around for inspiration, from the ordinary to the unordinary.



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