Ignite possibilities

Ten Tips to Spark Innovative Thinking

To fuel growth, many of our clients are pursuing company-wide innovation initiatives.  We often assist in these large scale efforts by providing innovation processes and creativity training.  A client recently requested a few tips to help individuals think more creatively as their company-wide innovation effort takes hold.  Here are ten tips I shared with my client:

1. Find creative inspiration.  One great way to keep your ideas flowing is to surround yourself with things that inspire you.  Gather a variety of things that you associate with creativity and put them in important places in your home and workspace.  Post a picture of your creative hero in your office.  Put a few pieces of colored paper in with your bills.  Hide crayons in your silverware drawer.  Write inspiring quotes on your project files.  Keep things fresh by changing your inspiration objects every few weeks.  Whether you use the supplies or not, you’ll remind yourself of your own desire to live more creatively.

crowded_crayon_colors2. Change instruments.  To gain a new perspective, use the tools of someone else’s trade.  If you’re an actor, use a saxophone to help learn your lines.  If you’re a lawyer, write your briefs with colored pencils.  Try these simple instrument switches while you generate ideas for your challenge.  If you normally work on a computer, try writing by hand.  If you typically use a pen or pencil, type.  Or write with a crayon, a magic marker or a paintbrush.  Simply using an unfamiliar instrument can change your frame of mind and give you a fresh perspective.

3. Find a creative hero.  Think of a person, fictional or real, that you admire for their creativity.  Spend 30 minutes learning everything you can about that person.  What are their skills, habits and philosophies?  Where are they from, and what are their hobbies?  What were they like when they were 5, 15 and 50?  When you’re looking for creative inspiration, ask yourself, what would your creative hero do?

left-brain-right-brain4. Drain your brain.  One day a week before you go to work, hand write two full pages in a notebook.  You can write about anything you want and in any way you want.  Don’t worry about grammar and punctuation, or if your writing is smart or funny.  Don’t look back and read what you wrote before and don’t let anyone else read the pages.  Simply use this exercise to put down on paper whatever comes to mind.  When you need new solutions, read your brain drain notebook.  Highlight interesting words or phrases and imagine how they might apply to your challenge.

5. Put it on pause.  At least twice per day, take a deliberate one-minute pause from activity.  Take a moment to connect with one of your senses.  Let your mind clear completely.  Resume your work with renewed energy and a fresh perspective.

6. Plan a creative adventure.  At least once a month, treat yourself to a one hour adventure, a play date by yourself that you schedule.  Think of something that you’ve always wanted to do.  You could visit a local museum, watch a new cooking show, listen to a musician you’ve never heard before, go bowling or go anywhere you can see, hear, smell, feel or taste something that has been made with care, joy or deliberation.  To bring a new perspective to a challenge, we draw from an inner well of experiences.  Think of these adventures as filling your well of creative experiences.  Write down your thoughts about your adventures in a notebook and consult the notebook the next time you need inspiration.

7. Forget about it.  It’s really true.  Your best ideas can come in the shower or any time you allow your brain to rest and think of other things.  So leave your challenge behind and take a walk, bicycle, bus or train ride.  Take a nap or just move on to other work.  When you return to your challenge, you’ll have a fresh perspective and new solutions.

8. Use your eyes.  Some of the greatest inventions result from careful observation.  A US Navy engineer who watched a torsion spring fall to the ground and flip flop in a fascinating way invented the Slinky.  Tinkertoys were invented in 1913 by Charles Pajeau who was inspired by watching children play with pencils, sticks and empty spools of thread.  Make it a habit to be on the lookout for ideas all around you.  Carry a notebook to record your observations.  When you’re in need of new ideas, consult your notebook.

pinoy-kid-laughing9. Spend time with a kid.  Kids are naturally creative and are masters at finding new ideas everywhere.  If you give a kid a piece of rope and a stick, they are suddenly fishing on the Nile or taming a lion.  Jump into their game with abandon.  Don’t sensor yourself, just go with the game, knowing there is no set beginning, middle and end.

10. Laugh out loud.  Medical researchers have found that laughter boosts the immune system and releases endorphins in your body.  Laughing puts you in a lighter, more open frame of mind.  Ok, so it may be tough to force yourself to laugh out loud.  Try this. Ask your friends to recommend funny YouTube videos that may induce a good laugh.  Or invite a co-worker to your office and pretend that you both heard the funniest story, do your best impression of a belly laugh, and before you know it, you’ll both be laughing out loud.



  1. Chris –

    Great post! I especially like #9. I often share my projects with my kids – even the ones that are ‘too complex’ for them to really understand. I find that simplifying the project explanation for them forces me to think about it in a way that I hadn’t before and challenges me to focus on just the key elements. Plus, their untainted perspective is always refreshing, and usually funny which is also a nice break. 🙂


  2. Chris Fagan says:

    Thanks Ted. It’s amazing how kids can grasp the essence of ideas and help us find clarity!

  3. Lindsey says:

    These are fun tips! Thank you for sharing!

  4. Chris Fagan says:

    Glad that you liked the tips Lindsey! Let me know if you find any of them particularly useful.

  5. Fabulous post. Just what I needed to read today as I’m feeling kinda tired. Reset button to creativity. Love it!

  6. Love the post! A plethera of jumpstarts,this will have to become an emergency checklist. Feeling low, have I laughed, colored, picked up the tool of another, played with the expert (kids!) gone blank, performed uncensored writing, found planted quips. If so I can always re-read for other built in suggestions.

  7. Rhoni says:

    Great fun list, I would add asking “why?” as much as possible. Something we can all learn from a small child and sparks thinking beyond the status quo to create answers.

  8. Chris Fagan says:

    Yes, I agree Rhoni, asking “Why?” is a great way to spark creative thinking.

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