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What’s Next: How To Get The Creative Juices Flowing

Idea sent in by Rachelle Harding of


The creative mind, however prolific it may be, can and will on occasion, have a dry spell. Call it writer’s block or burnout – the brain sometimes needs a little help. There’s no shame in resorting to outside help – many of the worlds’ most inventive and creative thinkers had various tricks that came to their rescue from time to time.

So feel free to take advantage of these ideas, tips and techniques when you need a little extra horsepower between the ears:

Borrow From Others

Looking at how others solve problems is a great way to simulate new ideas. For example, when B.F. Goodrich wanted to make it easier for customers to put on rubber galoshes, the answer was already helping soldiers dress themselves in uniform – a flexible fastener developed by Gideon Sundbach.  After refining the idea and fitting them into galoshes, he called the device a “zipper” because of the sound it made when operated.

Another example is the ubiquitous drive-through window at fast food restaurants. It didn’t take long for banks and dry cleaners to borrow the idea. Today, all types of businesses use the drive-through concept: there’s even a place in Las Vegas that offers drive-through wedding ceremonies.

Imitate Art

When film director James Brooks was looking for ideas for a scene in his movie “Spanglish” he found inspiration in a painting hanging on his wall. The artwork depicts a certain style of fashionable woman. In the movie, one of the leading actresses wears the same shirt that was worn by the woman in the painting, and the set décor included the same banana plants and African lilies as seen in the painting

Turnabout is fair play — as art inspires filmmakers, film inspires designers. After viewing “Something’s Gotta Give,” designer David DeMattei, created five headboard designs for the Williams Sonoma Home Collection inspired by the furniture he’s seen in the movie.

Take Notes

Leonardo da Vinci was an obsessive note-taker. His notebooks overflowed with sketches and notes on nature, art, architecture. Thomas Edison, too, filled thousands of notebooks with ideas and sketches.

Note-taking gives the creative process time to steep – they way a tea bag needs to soak in order to brew and release its full potential.

Time Travel

Designing a restaurant in the New York’s Lower East Side, AvroKO paid tribute to the neighborhood’s garment-district history. A backlit wine wall was inspired by herringbone fabric. Banquette pillows are held in place with straps imitating men’s suspenders. Lamp shades mimic the curved patterns of old-fashioned girdles.

And for another restaurant, AvroKO turned to municipal buildings from the 1930s. Decor includes bronze post-office boxes, restroom doors with mail slots, library-card files—even menus made from vintage government forms.

Avoid the NIH Attitude

A while back, the Not Invented Here philosophy prevented ideas from being shared and exchanged with those outside an organization. Now, more than a quarter of P&G’s innovations come from outside sources. IBM, too, depends on strategic partnerships. Even self-reliant Apple reaches out to Motorola and Hewlett-Packard for inspiration and assistance.

And products from one industry inspire ideas in another industry. Electric toothbrushes inspired the development of the Dawn Power Dish Brush. Ballpoint pens inspired the clever Clorox Whitening Pen.

Open Your Mind

Hallmark Cards finds inspiration by venturing out into the world at large. Hallmark designers, writers and photographers regularly tour metro areas for creative exploration. On a Chicago visit, they dined at new restaurants and enjoyed shows at Steppenwolf Theater. The result was the creation of gift wrap inspired by theater costumes.

In addition to going out into the world, Hallmark brings the world in. A gallery in its Kansas City, MO, headquarters hosts ten shows a year. Recent shows presented watercolors, embroidered fabric, antique furniture and a 19th-century photographic process. Hallmark also offers an on-site lecture series, bringing in creative leaders to share their work and experiences. Recent guests include poets, book designers and poster printers.

One Person’s Trash is Another’s Treasure

Ideas can be found in the most unlikely objects. San Francisco-based designer Bill Cahan gathers sidewalk “flotsam and jetsam” while walking to work: an apple core, a cabinet lock, a wood scrap. He finds the assorted items a source of inspiration.

Designers often use found objects as creative materials. Joe Duffy, of Duffy & Partners, embeds found objects into portraits—oak leaves found on a tree-lined street in Paris, a tribal headdress found in Thailand. These random objects add texture and interest to art.

Don’t Move!

Sometimes it pays to stay right where you are. After Charles Pajeau sat in his living room and watched his children build small bridges with their collection of pencils and thread spools he came up with the idea for Tinkertoys.

An unknown actor in New York received a nun’s habit from a friend as a practical joke. Dan Groggin dressed an old mannequin in the habit and posed it around his apartment—washing dishes, vacuuming and carrying out other household chores.

One day, after noticing his guests laughing at the mannequin, Groggin recognized an opportunity. Soon he had written the play “Nunsense,” and filled it with funny songs and skits. “Nunsense” and its sequels have grossed more than $300 million in ticket sales and earned Groggin more than $7 million.

When your mind is blocked, the best way to release the obstruction is to open it. Get outside, let external inspiration in and see what happens. You just may open the doors to greater success than ever before.

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