How To Think Creatively When Faced With Boring Projects
Posted in: Innovation
Header image source: Bandula Samarasekera
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” - Albert Einstein
Being able to take any given challenge or opportunity and look at it in a new, creative light is what takes a good employee and makes them great. It’s what separates the Steve Jobs and Richard Bransons of the world from the average entrepreneur or inventor. When you are able to think creatively about a project and change the way you are looking at its underlying problems, you will be more likely to find an innovative solution.
But tackling an interesting project or exciting opportunity with a creative mind is one thing, and being able to take a boring, mundane assignment and turn it into something impactful is another. We’ve all been there; approaching projects “the same way we’ve done them for years.” But is that really the answer?
I know, I know... How are you supposed to tackle square projects (sales calls, crunching numbers, or being stuck at a desk all day) with a creative mind, especially when you’re not enthused about it? It may be a little harder than normal, but it is possible if you have the right mindset.
One of our favorite tools for getting out of a mind-rut when it comes to boring projects is to use ThinkPak cards - a brainstorming card deck put together by Michael Michalko, author of Thinkertoys. These creative cards provide you with a number of great prompts for thinking outside of the box, looking at projects with a completely new vantage point, and inspiring you to take your projects from dull to brilliant.
Here are a few of our favorite creative prompts that will help you make something great out of even the most boring, mind-numbing projects:
If you find your project mundane, try altering your entire task for the better. For instance, are you really looking at the root cause of what you’re trying to solve, or is there a deeper underlying issue? How can you change its meaning, purpose, uses or process in order to make it more impactful? Do not let the assumptions you have about a project stop you from thinking creatively about it. You may find that slightly modifying your project to be more interesting may result in a more interesting end result, as well.
Before jumping right in to begin your project, it is often helpful to play your own critic and point out the flaws in your ideas before you even create them. Michalko calls this the “Walt Disney’s Method” because the creator was famous for playing the role of a realist once he was done dreaming up his ideas. He would then try to tear his ideas and solutions apart in order to find out how to best implement his plan. By spending hours and hours looking for weaknesses and holes in his plan, he could then look at each idea individually to develop possible solutions for repairing the weaknesses. This is a great tool for determining where you should get started with your project, as you can find which of your ideas have the least weaknesses, giving you the best plan to begin with.
Reverse Your Task
If you are still having trouble determining where you should get started with your project, try reverse engineering your idea. For instance, what is the last step you will have to take before your project is completed? What leads you to that step? Take this process the entire way back as far as you can, then turn the tables to see where is the best starting point. A project is much easier to tackle when you are working on solving just one component of a problem, rather than the whole complex problem. For example, “I want to build a flying aerial drone,” rather than “I want to build a flying aerial drone that can take HD videos and photos, and can also be controlled remotely.”
Starting from square one on a project can be intimidating, especially if you’re not really sure where you should go or what you want from the end result. If you get stuck at the start, get a diverse team together to help brainstorm the solution. Encourage the group’s ideas to be wild and untamed, but to get the most out of your brainstorming session, make sure it’s structured and focused. Prep your participants with your project brief and any background information you have, then ask targeted questions that help uncover ideas.
Recycle Other Ideas
You do not always have to start from the very beginning with a new idea. Instead, if you have successfully created a project in the past, utilize what has already worked before. Ask yourself if you can combine several of your ideas from other successful projects. For instance, can your subject’s appeal be combined with the appeal from another task you have worked on? Would another project’s assets complement this project? Use all of your available resources to create the best possible idea. This may help to reduce your preconceptions about your subject.
Look At The Task In A New Way
Another great way to look at a boring project in a fun, creative light is to try and substitute someone else’s perspective for yours. For instance, how would Walt Disney view your project? What about an engineer? A teacher? An artist? A psychologist? An entrepreneur? Your end user? Stepping outside of your own viewpoint can help you see ideas, successes and failures that you may have otherwise not seen before. In the same vein, it’s also helpful to look at your task in a completely new medium in order to gain a new way of thinking about it. For instance, try drawing a picture of your subject, telling a story about it, or making a model of it.
Rearrange Your Idea
Michalko believes that thinking creatively highly relies on rearranging what we know in order to find out what we don’t. “Consider the alphabet: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z,” he writes in Thinkpak. “Only twenty-six letters, but they’ve been arranged in ways that make you laugh, cry, worry and ponder. You can arrange them to form Hamlet, Tom Sawyer, the Bible, and the general theory of relativity.” Therefore, if you are hitting a roadblock with your task, rearrange it in some fashion to see if you can create something totally different and interesting.
Put Your Idea To New Uses
If you are still having trouble thinking about your project creatively, try putting a new spin on its uses. For instance, what is the most unconventional, strange way that you could imagine your end product being used? How could you imagine people trying to use your project in 10, 15, 30 years? Putting your idea to a new use may help you to see a new way to tackle or complete it.
How do you find inspiration and creativity within the most mundane tasks? Do you have any other great tips aside from what we shared above? If so, be sure to share your tips with us in the comments below!