5 Steps to Find Inspiration When You Need It

Following is a five-step process for finding inspiration when you need it, culled from "zing!," a standby creativity guide. Rather than bore you with tired theories, "zing!" explains those five steps with 101 pithy examples, tips and tools. Everything except witchcraft to kick-start your creativity.

Step 1: Explore
It begins with deep digging. You’re the excavator. Archaeologist. Explorer. You peek under the mundane to find the magical. Others can sit at desks and study demographics. You sit at Starbucks and study people. Others search archives. You search antique shops. You haul up buckets of data and information, but you’re mining for insights. You don’t just want ages, genders and zip codes. You want to know about their theme songs, water-fountain gossip and favorite hangouts. You don’t just want to hear about personality sets. You want to know what makes them laugh, cry and scream. You stop, look and listen. You explore.

Step 2: Freedom
Then you throw open your mind’s shutters and let the wind rush in. You brainstorm. Doodle. Think. Play. Daydream. You have a free-range brain. No judging. No opinions. No clucking of tongues. Down the road, you’ll edit down your stack of ideas. Right now, you’re after quantity, not quality. You’re going wild.

Step 3: Pause
Ahhh, you come up for air. Unhunch your shoulders. Let go. Get the conscious mind out of the way. Your subconscious is yelling for elbow room. Take a walk. Go to a movie. Meet a friend for lunch. You slack off while your subconscious sweats. Good deal, huh?

Step 4: Embrace
OK, break’s over. Time to rock and roll. While you were back there goofing off, your subconscious was doing the heavy lifting. Now the brightest idea floats before you. Aha! There it is.

Step 5: Life
You tap on the water glass and get everybody’s attention—it’s time to sell. You draw sketches, write drafts, build prototypes. Add flesh and bones. Beat the drums. "Listen up!" you shout. "I’ve got a great idea here." You verify the idea. Tinker to make the whole thing better. Talk the white out of the moon until people listen. Pick up a few selling tips from your brother-in-law, the software hawker. You slap backs. Sweet-talk. Schmooze. You pace floors. Knock on doors. Wear a sandwich board on Main Street if you have to. But you don’t give up until the idea comes to life. You bring that baby to life.

That’s the creative process. Feels good, doesn’t it?

HOW October 2004

Excerpted from "zing! Five steps and 101 tips for creativity on command" by Sam Harrison, MacHillock Publishing/IPG Distributors.