Creative Marathon

Editor’s Note, by Jessica Kuhn: I never thought I’d be running double digits in mileage, but after weeks of training, I’m confident that I’ll be ready for my half-marathon goal in 30 days. Why? Because I’ve been preparing, practicing and challenging myself steadily. I can’t help but wonder if the same thought process can be applied to other aspects of life where your mind can be the biggest hurdle: Such as jump starting creativity.

I went to one of the most creative and inspiring people I know to discuss the topic: HOW contributor Sam Harrison. As it turns out, there’s no magic formula for calling the creative gods into action, but there are boundless amounts of tips and tricks for flipping the switch in the “on” position, and one is to keep your mind active with exercises that take you outside of your comfort zone.

Just like a marathon runner trains for their big race, we challenge you to complete a month-long creative marathon. This involves following weekly training schedules with exercises laid out by Sam Harrison, aka The Creative Coach.

Do you have what it takes to reach your creative potential? Are you up for the challenge?

Well, get started!

Creative Marathon: Week 1 Training Schedule

It’s the first week of the Creative Marathon, and we know you’re in for the long haul (a new training schedule filled with creative exercises will be released every Monday for four weeks), but we’re going to ease into things to get those creative juices flowing, starting with a warm-up today.

It’s important to stay motivated and sometimes that requires finding a friend or co-worker with similar goals, such as reaching your maximum creative potential. If you’re a part of a team, involve everyone and watch what happens. You just may find that big idea you’ve been awaiting. Let’s get started.

  • Tell other creatives what you’re doing on Twitter for extra support: I will complete @HOWBrand and @ZingZone ‘s Creative Marathon, starting today!

Below are creative exercises from Sam Harrison, renowned author, speaker (Don’t miss him at the HOW Conference this year), creative enthusiast and for our purposes, The Coach.

Week One

Warm-Up. Grab a sheet of paper and pen. Check the clock. On “go,” spend three minutes rapidly filling the page with words and images — anything that pops in your head. Don’t lift pen from page, don’t stop to ponder. Whatever you’re thinking goes down on paper. Ready — GO!

OK, now that you’re done, search for patterns. Make connections with the thoughts, words and sketches on your page. Try connecting these patterns with projects you’re working on today.


Cross-Train. Try mixing verbal and visual skills. Study the lines below, then relax and let your mind make associations. Add letters to solve the puzzles.

Example: 12 — M o n t h s in a Y e a r

26 = L _ _ _ _ _ _ in the A _ _ _ _ _ _ _
7 = W_ _ _ _ _ _ of the W_ _ _ _
12 = S_ _ _ _ of the Z_ _ _ _ _
54 = C_ _ _ _ in a D_ _ _ (with J_ _ _ _ _)
1 = W_ _ _ _ on a U_ _ _ _ _ _ _
64 = S_ _ _ _ _ on a C_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Diet. Take a project you’re working on and try reducing or eliminating elements to arrive at a fresh, better solution. Assume elegance happens not when there’s nothing left to add, but when there’s nothing left to take away. Save muscle, trim fat.

Think of Apple products, Japanese cuisine, French films. What can you remove from your project to provide a strong, simple solution?


Rest. Click to this site and then do absolutely nothing for two minutes.

Personal Best. Ideas surge forward when we prevent judgment from blocking their pathways. Challenge yourself to go the distance today without judging ideas — not a single one. Don’t judge the ideas of others or those happening in your own head.

Write “DON’T JUDGE” or “DJ” on the back of your hand to remind you. Stop yourself before criticizing ideas from co-workers, friends and family. Don’t judge ideas you run across on the Internet or TV. Soak it all in. Bite your tongue. Say “yes” rather than “no.” Say “and” rather than “but.” And if you catch yourself blocking your own ideas, throw down a penalty flag. For the rest of the day, step out of the way and let creativity race toward the finish line.

Creative Marathon: Week 2 Training Schedule

Do you feel the burn yet? HOW teamed up with creative coach Sam Harrison for a month-long Creative Marathon full of exercises to revive and strengthen your creative muscles. Click here to see Week One’s schedule.

If you completed week one’s exercises, then go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back. Be proud, and connect with other designers on Twitter who also are participating in this Creative Marathon.

  • @HOWbrand @ZingZone ‘s Creative marathon week 1: check. Time to kick things up a notch with week 2.

Tip from the coach: Keep a Logbook
Do you use a notebook to capture ideas and insights? If so, up your entries during this month — and use the notebook for the marathon’s creative exercises.

If you don’t currently carry a notebook, buy one today and commit to keeping it with you this month.

Don’t wait for profound thoughts or poetic paragraphs — add entries whenever the mood strikes. Include words, sketches, random lines. Avoid composed sentences and overworked drawings. Keep it simple.

Tell yourself it’s OK to also use the notebook for grocery lists, reminders, appointments, whatever. The more you use it, the more you’ll use it.



Give yourself 30 minutes to sketch out a Goal ID — a quick logo and tagline to represent something you really want to make happen this week — a personal or work goal you want to reach. Tape the GOAL ID on a wall or mirror.

“Rigor leads to rigor mortis,” says artist Deborah Kass. Break out of rigid routines today. Take a different route. Sit in a different place. Open emails at different times. Read different blogs. Try different suppliers. Have lunch with different people. Go to a different restaurant. Brainstorm in different ways. Ask different questions. Take different approaches. Develop different processes. View from different angles. Create a different day.

Feel the burn.
Time to burn your excuses. Think of a creative project you’ve delayed with excuses. Maybe it’s a work project you’ve talked yourself out of taking on. Maybe it’s an art class or other personal project you’ve put aside for vague and various reasons.

Take a sheet of paper and print the project’s name at the top. Draw a vertical line down the center of the page. On the left side of the line, list all excuses stopping you from jumping into the project — “too tired,” “don’t have time,” “people won’t understand,” etc. On the right side of the line, list actions you’ll begin this week to burn away those excuses. Get going!

. Deep breathing transports oxygen to brain cells and neurotransmitters, and helps calm the monkey chatter in our minds, so we can think more clearly.

Sit up straight. Deeply inhale through your nose, exhale from your mouth. Do this six times, working from your stomach rather than your chest. Focus on the air moving in and out of your body. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

Football coach Bill Parcells always posted this sign in his locker rooms: “Losers assemble in little groups and bitch about the coaches and the system and other players. Winners assemble as a team.”

Are you surrounded by people who constantly bitch, complain and point fingers? Turn a deaf ear or slip away before they drain your creative energy.

Have you assembled a team of co-workers, friends and family members who support your ideas? If so, send emails today to those people, thanking them for their help. And if you don’t have a creative network, make a list of candidates and start building your team today.

Creative Marathon: Week 3 Training Schedule

It’s week three of the Creative Marathon — a month-long steady flow of creative exercises intended to boost your mental stamina. You’re getting close to the finish line, and it may seem easier than in weeks past to forego an exercise or two on grounds of “good behavior.” This is what some runners call “the wall.” But don’t let this happen!

Stay true to the mission you set out to complete and tell yourself: I will make it to the winner’s circle in the Creative Marathon.


Look around where you are sitting at this moment. Quickly sketch or write down five objects or details you haven’t noticed today — or maybe for many days. Let this exercise remind you to pause wherever you are today and become totally aware of your surroundings.

Brain Aerobics.
Practice neurobics — techniques developed by neurobiologist Lawrence Katz to strengthen pathways in the brain. During the day, shift your mouse to the other side. Brush your teeth with the other hand. Hold your phone to the other ear. Sit on the other side of the desk. Write notes or sketch with the other hand.

Extra Mile.
“The important thing is to not stop questioning,” said Einstein. Pick a project or problem you feel you already understand. Now ask yourself a series of “why” questions about the topic and write down your answers. Go the extra mile — don’t stopped until you’ve asked yourself at least 10 “why” questions. You may find that the problem you thought you understood actually isn’t the real problem.

Get outside. Enjoy spring. Go for a run. Take a walk. Have lunch in a park. Toss a Frisbee. Chalk the sidewalk. Sit under a tree. Draw in the sand. Collect stones. Feed the birds.

Spoon creative energy into today’s ordinary or boring tasks. Alter your thinking or add something new. Listen to upbeat music. Wear a hat or mask. Pretend you’re a favorite designer. Mentally narrate what you’re doing as if you’re a screenwriter, novelist or newscaster. Ask yourself how you would do the activity differently if you were a filmmaker, rock star or scientist.

Creative Marathon: Week 4 Training Schedule

It’s the last week of The Creative Marathon, and you’re nearing the finish line (details coming soon). Keep up the momentum and finish strong.

Laugh. Stop right now and laugh out loud. Laugh about the project in front of you. Laugh about the nagging problem living rent-free in you head. Laugh about the deadline staring you in the face. Laugh about the jerk that slammed your idea. Laugh about the dumb mistake you made last week. Laugh about yourself. Laughter leads to lightness and lightness leads to creativity. So what are you laughing about?

Take a project or problem and give it a series of mind sprints. At the top of a blank page, write the challenge as a question. For example, your question might be: “How could I use social media for this?” Then mind-sprint by quickly writing at least 10 answers to the question. Don’t judge if the answers or good or bad – just make a fast list. Once the sprints are done, edit and prioritize answers. Then move into action.

Phone a new acquaintance. Pop in on a supplier. Tour a friend’s office. Immerse yourself in a client’s world. Visit a different retailer. Have a heart-to-heart talk with an associate whose opinion you value. Chat with another associate whose opinions you usually disagree with.

Head for bed tonight with pad and pen nearby. As you begin drifting off, notice any ideas that emerge when you’re not quite awake, not quite asleep. The subconscious often yanks off its chains and delivers wild ideas during this drowsy stage. Repeat the process tomorrow morning by setting your alarm for a few minutes earlier. Stay in bed for five minutes and let your mind wander. Capture ideas and insights on paper.

Finish Line.
Look back at your results with the marathon exercises. Celebrate breakthroughs. And while you’re at it, give yourself a shout-out for successful ideas you’ve had during the past six months. Make a list of those ideas – whether you’ve had two or two thousand—and reference the list when you’re bummed out over a project or problem.

Also spend a half-hour searching through files and notebooks for your good ideas that never reached reality. Consider how you can bring these ideas to life – and see if any of them could solve challenges you’re facing right now.


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