How to Force Innovation (Hint, don't force it!)

This is a piece I wrote a while ago for Newsaratti (which by the way shut down, yeah, sucks, I know!) This is still incredibly true and useful for all professions. I'm posting it here mostly to remind myself how to restart when I get stuck, but also because it might help someone else out there too!

Innovation and creativity are the two most valuable things in business and in life. We are constantly solving problems, constantly trying to make our brains pound out new solutions for our changing lives. 

So what happens when you get stuck? When a problem is staring you in the face and you can’t get over the hump. How do you force your brain to be creative? How do you get unstuck, and find a perfect solution?

Look at it upside down.

Or inside out, or backwards. Artists and photographers have known this trick for centuries. When you’ve been staring at one thing for two long it gets muddled in your brain. You can’t even tell if it works anymore, let alone if it’s good. When an artist turns his painting upside down, he can see the relationship between shadows and light, he can see the abstract forms and colors, rather than just a bunch of water lilies on a pond. Find a way to turn your project upside down. Whether you follow your steps from Z to A,  look at it from the consumers perspective, or read each sentence of your proposal from end to beginning, you must change your viewpoint entirely. There, you might find the answer your looking for.

Talk it through with someone outside your group

Laymen are great at helping figure out solutions to problems, and not because they have great ideas. When you explain your problem to someone else two things happen: one, you have to explain your project from start to finish in a way anyone can understand, and two, they ask questions. These two processes combined are incredibly helpful in jump starting creativity. Often times just by explaining the problem to someone outside of your work group, you discover where you went wrong. Maybe you veered off track somewhere, or need to push further in one area, or had an original idea that you never tested and you’re only now remembering it. The layman’s fresh take on your problem could dislodge the mental block you’ve had all along

Input equals output

    Great artists look at a lot of art, great writers read, great inventors study other inventions. The more you look at what other people in your industry are doing the more your brain might say that’s cool, but what if…? No idea is entirely unique. Each invention, each theory, and each innovation is built upon years of good ideas before it. Why disregard everything your competitors are doing when you could just build on it. From store front design, to touch screen technology, to great art, people have built on the innovations of those before. That’s what they’re there for.

Do it at the same time everyday

In his book “On Writing” Steven King talks about training your muse to show up at the same time everyday. He’s not talking about a little sprite that shows up and fills your head with magic,(though he might as well be). He’s saying that your brain is a muscle, and when you train it to be creative, it will be. When you’re creative at the same time of day, everyday, your brain knows when to work, it kicks into action and pumps out ideas. Whether you’re a nighttime innovator, or a morning creator, find a routine and stick to it. The results are powerful.

Do something else

Read a book, listen to a podcast, go to an art museum, color in a coloring book. Do anything that lets your brain run in the background. Ever heard of the shower principle? Your best ideas are prone to come when you’re not thinking about them i.e. In the shower. You have a powerful processor in that skull of yours, give it a while to run in the background while you look at something beautiful, or listen to something interesting. Sometimes those stimuli will spark something you hadn’t thought about before and the answer will come.

In the end innovation isn’t something that can be forced, only nurtured. Pounding your head against the same desk isn’t going to do anything for you. Step back, change course, and get your brain thinking about something new.


C. L. Brenton