Three ways to unlock your creativity

Every child is an artist; the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”

Pablo Picasso, Spanish Artist.


At Digital Innovators, we believe that everyone – not just artists – can be creative in their own way. They just need to learn how to let go, be a child again and unlock their inner creativity.

To help you do this we provide you with some of the techniques creative people, from many different artistic disciplines, have used to unleash their creativity. Here are three techniques you can try to get creative. We discuss many more techniques on our skills programme and pair these with some exercises that enable you to put them into practice.

Technique #1: Whatever you think, think the opposite

Paul Arden, Creative Director at the ad agency Saatchi and Saatchi, created many famous ads for brands such as British Airways (‘The World’s Favourite Airline’), The Independent (‘It is. Are You?’) and the (now slightly infamous) Silk Cut cigarette ad. After leaving Saatchi and Saatchi, Paul wrote two books on creativity: It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be and Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite. It is from the latter that we draw our first technique.

Silk Cut Cigarette Advert

The technique is disarmingly simple and, literally, requires you to do exactly what it says. Whatever idea you think of to solve a problem, write down the opposite to it, and then think (or discuss) how practical that is. Here’s how Paul sees it:

”It’s not because you are making the wrong decisions, it’s because you are making the right ones. We try to make sensible decisions based on the facts in front of us. The problem with making sensible decisions is that so is everyone else.”

Paul Arden, Creative Director of Saatchi and Saatchi.

Creative tip: Ask yourself a question, any question such as “what is school for”, or “why do we need banks”. Write down what you think the answers should be then repeat the exercise by writing the opposites. Some, even many, of these answers might be impractical but maybe one or two will be the germ of a new idea you can develop and build on.

Technique #2: Build a creative habit

‘Creative types’ are often said to be wild and unconventional. As such, it is thought that they don’t follow societal norms and do whatever they want in pursuit of their art. It might come as a surprise therefore to know that many of the world’s most famous writers, painters and composers actually practice rituals around their creative process that help by establishing patterns of behaviour. Such patterns can help when you are most in peril of giving up or simply chickening out because it just seems too hard and you have run out of ideas.

Having an ingrained habit can stave off those creative blocks which can stop the flow of ideas; establishing some form of ritual in our daily life can help prepare us when the dreaded ‘Blank Page Syndrome’ attacks. This is when you sit down to think what you are going to write, paint, photograph or build but your mind goes blank and inspiration most definitely does not strike!

”A lot of habitually creative people have preparation rituals linked to the setting in which they choose to start their day. By putting themselves into that environment, they begin their creative day.”

Twyla Tharp, dancer and choreographer, in her book The Creative Habit.

Creative tip: This technique uses disciplined actions to kickstart the creative mindset. Try to set aside a time of day where you purposely perform routine tasks in preparation for a creative activity. Use these simple tasks as triggers to get you into the right frame of mind and see if they enable you to enter into a regular working state that impels you to get started. Some examples of this include sitting down to write at the same time every day or forcing yourself to write three sentences every morning, no matter what they are.

Technique #3: Steal like an artist

“Nobody is born with a style or a voice. We don’t come out of the womb knowing who we are. In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying.”

Austin Kleon, artist and author, in his book Steal Like An Artist.

Whilst it is true that many famous artists at least appear to create amazing and unique works of art, the fact is they will have had influences from hundreds if not thousands of sources. Some influences they will have deliberately sought out and others will have been absorbed into their subconscious from a fleeting glimpse of a picture or an overheard conversation.

Even the most famous artists will admit to at least being influenced by others who they admire or follow. The singer/songwriter David Bowie once said “The only art I’ll ever study is stuff I can steal from”. Copying is more like reverse engineering, it’s like a mechanic taking a car apart to see how it works.

Creative tip: If you have a specific problem at hand, take the theme of that task and create a virtual mood board of images from a google search or you can just use Pinterest. Rearrange the images, group them, overlap them. What do you see? What do you think of? Write down words or sentences that come to mind. Store them away. The next time you have a problem or are struggling for an idea revisit your mood board and what you have written to see if anything sparks new ideas.

Learn more creativity techniques and how to apply them on our skills programme

These are three creative techniques we discuss during the Unlocking Your Creativity part of our skills programme. We include many more techniques, get you practicing them and show how they can be used in problem solving.

These are three creative techniques we discuss during the Unlocking Your Creativity part of our skills programme. We include many more techniques, get you practicing them and show how they can be used in problem solving.

To get a tiny taster, download our free resource. You can find our hub of resources here.

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Published by Peter Cripps

Software architect, digital activist, blogger and photographer.

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