How to come up with creative ideas under pressure by Claire Bridges, founder of Now Go Create

We’ve all been there – be creative and do it now! 

As if generating ideas is a tap we can just activate, on demand. 

At its most basic, creativity relies on two factors: your physical, neurological and emotional state, and stimulus (internal or external). 

In the previous article we explored state and which factors can help or hinder your ability or ‘state to create’. 

Here are different ways to stimulate ideas when time is short.

1. Tackle a taboo

Consider: What are the things in your industry that are taboo or skeletons in the cupboard? What's a perceived no-no for your clients or the customer? “We can’t do that, we’d never do that, they won’t go for that.” What would happen if you brought one of these issues out into the open and explored it?

Think: Women’s shaving brand Friction Free Shaving showing actual hairy legs in its ads, Bodyform’s Blood Normal (goodbye blue blood), Marmite – love it or hate it – admitting that some people don’t like your product.

2. Play war games

List your top three competitors.

  • Given your challenge what would they do?
  • What wouldn’t they do? What weaknesses do they have that you can exploit?
  • What weaknesses of yours would they exploit? If they could have five minutes with your customer or target audience what would they be saying to make them switch to their brand or service?
  • If you were a start-up in your industry today what would you do differently from scratch to what you’re doing now?

3. I’m an idea starter, twisted idea starter

• What ideas do you already have? Sounds obvious I know, but often people come to a meeting with ‘their’ idea and then wait for their airtime, rather than really participate. Ask everyone to write them down and bring them to a meeting one per Post-it. I like this as a mental declutter.

• What’s the easiest thing to do?

• What’s the bravest thing to do?

• What’s the controversial thing to do?

• What’s the fun thing to do?

• What’s the counter-intuitive thing to do?

• What’s the fastest thing to do?

(Adapted from the brilliant Do More Great Work by Michael Bungay Stanier)

4. Be the 10th man (or woman)

Sometimes when we’re in a hurry we don’t interrogate ideas thoroughly enough. 

Once you’ve got some concepts you think are worth pursuing, ask one person in your team to deliberately disagree with you once you’ve explained your ideas. 

You can do this in pairs in a meeting too. The ‘contrarian’ helps to prevent 'groupthink' and tackle bias conscious or unconscious. 

The 10th man principle has its roots in Israeli military strategy from the 1973 Yom Kippur War. More info here

5. Make like Bowie

If you feel completely stuck in a rut, then throwing a random element in your thinking can trigger fresh ideas. 

The idea of cutting up lines of text is a technique used by the Dadaists in the 1920s and referenced by many creative people as a way to inspire and generate surprising new ideas. 

It’s a simple method – take lines of text from anywhere and everywhere and cut them up into one or two words. Take the pieces at random from a bag or table then put them together to form new words, sentences or longer texts. You can also do this with images as an alternative.

David Bowie shows you how he used this for inspiration in this short clip.

6. Flex your risk muscle

Often a conversation about creativity is a conversation about risk. The newer something is the more likely it is to involve unknowns. Move your ideas through a risk filter and see what it does to the idea:

  • What’s the riskiest thing you could do? Why is it risky? How could you mitigate the risks?
  • What happens to your existing ideas if you make them MORE or LESS risky?
  • What might happen if you take a risk? What might happen if you don’t?
  • What’s your personal attitude to risk? Your company’s?

    You don’t have to bet the farm. Take little bets now and then and see what happens to your ideas.

7. Climb Heineken's creative ladder

The Dutch brewing company came up with a ladder that is designed to help the company have better creative conversations and to measure its ideas objectively. 

Down near the bottom are the rungs you don't want to be on: confusing and clichéd; higher up are ground-breaking, contagious and legendary. It can be a great way for you to evaluate your ideas or as a springboard for new ones. 

For example: list everything in relation to your challenge that would be considered a cliché or stereotype, must-do or always-do, then see what you could do differently.

Claire’s book In Your Creative Element explores 62 different facets of creativity and includes hundreds of ways to tackle the blank page.