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How creative ideas are really born

Ramit Sethi

One of my favorite things to do is pull back the veil on everyday things and see what’s really going on versus what most people think.

To do that today, let’s take a look at this fascinating example of how great ideas are really born.

I recently saw a story about how a waffle iron inspired Nike’s shoes.

waffleiron_rbtNike’s shoes were inspired by the same griddle that makes your breakfast

From Business Insider: “Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman was having breakfast with his wife one morning in 1971 when it dawned on him that the grooves in the waffle iron she was using would be an excellent mold for a running shoe”

We hear stories about “ah-ha!” moments like this all the time. And they lead us to think that great ideas come as either a result of exceptional brilliance — or dumb luck.

Here’s what actually happened: Bowerman spent nearly a decade studying jogging best-practices, making improvements to athletic footwear designs, and even co-writing a book on running — all years BEFORE he had this idea.

He teamed up with a business partner who had a master’s in business and knew the running shoe market. The two of them earned $3 million selling shoes before designing even one of their own…and starting the business we know as Nike.

While the waffle-iron story is cool, if that’s all we hear, then we miss where the revolutionary idea really came from.

With any creative idea, yes, breakthroughs do happen along the way, but there’s something much deeper going on than inspiration striking down like lightning bolts from the sky.

The myth of “The Great Idea”

Creativity is surrounded in a fog of myths. Just saying the word conjures up images of geniuses scribbling down great ideas with feather pens and Moleskine notebooks… or starving artists chipping away at sculptures all day.

The truth is, creativity is not about magic, and it’s not something reserved for the elite or a trait that only “naturally” creative people have.

Turns out, you can you LEARN to be more creative and consistently produce great work at any time. There is a process — a system — to coming up with “brilliant” or “genius” ideas.

Which is important for all of us. If we want explosive growth in our business, career, and life, we can’t keep doing the same things we’ve always done. We’ve got to innovate. We’ve got to think outside the box.

To see what I mean, take a look at these examples of creativity applied to everyday life:

  • A new spin on an old idea. Did you know FedEx’s idea for overnight delivery actually came from the banking industry? Yep. Banks used to be one of the only overnight delivery services because they had to clear checks…and fast. To do that, they’d send all checks to a central processing location and then fly them out to the appropriate bank branch. FedEx applied this same strategy to the way packages were delivered. The “overnight” package was born. A 10x industry insight that came from putting a creative spin on an old idea.
  • Doing more with less. Phil Hansen, an art student, was struck by a debilitating injury. The surgery he had to fix it left him with a shaky hand. Most people thought he’d never make art again. But he found a way to use the constraints he was left with to his advantage. How? He came up with the idea for an entirely new style of art, using shaky lines, which he couldn’t help making. He looked at his “problem” in a totally different way and that made all the difference in his life (I highly recommend watching his TED talk about what he learned).
  • Negotiating more perks from your job. If you want more from your employer but your boss won’t budge on salary, brainstorm some other perks you could ask for. Maybe you could ask to work from home 1 day/week, or get increased vacation time, or receive an “education” budget for books and conferences?

See? Creativity is not just about “woo woo” thinking or “hey, come draw with me.” It’s a crucial skill for your life.

I want to hear from you

What works best for you when it comes to being creative? Are you at your most creative when you work in teams? Or alone? Or maybe you thrive when you’re working under deadlines?

Let’s hear what your secret to creativity is today in the comments below.

And tomorrow, we’ll dig deeper into how to turn on your creativity switch with a system that guarantees you produce more and better work.

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  1. avatar

    I concur. As a writer, it is second nature to consider a variety of ways the story can be told. And I tell you it is never the ‘same old story’. There is always a new, fresh twist or angle to be found. You might just start telling yourself the story of your idea and see what you come up with.

  2. avatar

    Sleep, when I am trying to solve a complex problem that needs a creative result, I’ve found that thinking about it right before I got to bed and then sleeping on it tends to lead to a good solution or idea. Another good idea I’ve heard about is to focus on something you’re currently using, and connecting to a random concept. The example was while brushing your teeth, connect your toothbrush to camel.
    Randomness and the subconscious seem to be the keys to creativity.

  3. avatar

    The only way for me, to truly be creative on a consistent basis, is to always be working toward my goal of earning a good fortune, while travelling the world. I’v e begun dedicating a big portion of every single day, to that exact thing

  4. avatar

    As a designer and brand strategist it’s important to understand that while it’s easy to tout a “less is more” mantra, effectively creating less often means more work. More research, more designs, more ideas all create an environment where one can be selective and informed about what is actually delivered, why, and how is it contributing to the desired results.

    In short, quality most likely comes from quantity even if most of the work happens behind the scenes. The Nike waffle iron story is a great example of this.

  5. avatar

    Kids. I find that when I am stuck trying to find a solution if I simplify the problem, explain it to my kids and ask them what they would do, I get some amazingly creative answers. They are so unencumbered by experience, societal norms and traditional solutions that nothing is off limits and often they have simple, elegant and effective solutions (sometimes without even knowing it).

  6. avatar

    as 4 me rahmit i take the ideas n issues of pple to mke ma own creativity….by looking pples progresses i make mine more better….i love writting poems and articles the idea from ma closest friend…then yet not earning of it but hpe from pple like u make me more creative….hence this ma word finnally PPLE DO MAKE ME CREATIVE…thnx

  7. avatar

    My secret to creativity is to block out the noise! It is so easy to get sucked into every email, social media post, new books, etc! I set aside time to block everything out and I stay away from the noise and only go in at limited times. When I stay in the noise too long, I lose my voice and absorbing everything drains me.

    If anyone is interested in learning more about how to increase your creative energy, I have a free mini course on my website!

  8. avatar
    Hermes Camacho

    Real deadlines help, but so do earlier, self-imposed deadlines. Planning everything in a calendar (instead of just a to-do list) and breaking things up into smaller, more manageable chunks. So if I have a huge project due in 4 weeks, I’ll spend time breaking it into four, single-week goals.

    Within each week, I’ll break up the parts that make up the whole for that week. Which then, on a daily basis, gets scheduled into my calendar with a time attached to it (taking into account possible distractions that might come up). It takes a little bit of time each day to do it, but it helps me get into a productive mindset. I know I’ll obsess over the details throughout the day, so why not obsess over it at the get-go so that you just go through the checklist without worry? Works for me.

  9. avatar

    I must say this is the fact. I always do my brainstorming alone, in a quite time, and in a quite place, I close my eyes and ideas begins to flow.
    I opened my Laundry and tutorial classes via the aid of brainstorming.
    the way I run the “Greenfield’s academy”/Nigerians within my locality, inquiry if I have been out of the shores of Nigeria.
    but attimes, we may not get a perfect result after the practicals have been made.

    whenever u want to brainstorm, hold a paper and a pen.

  10. avatar

    Its realitively simple.. Common sense is key. And if you take time to look in box and outside of box. Its to say why wouldnt you start with how box is made ?
    To then realize a box has 4 sides so all you need to look outside box is use one side!
    Dont over think!

  11. avatar

    Creativity for me is less about finding the “perfect” idea and more about getting everything out of my brain first,and THEN sieving through them to get to the best ones. For this I use the mind mapping technique and just give free reign to my mind.

    As for being at my creative best,that is definitely when the deadline is looming near. The race to beat the clock makes me think in smarter and more efficient ways.

  12. avatar
    Rose Yurcina

    Being interested in lots of different things. By learning and exploring many fields it is easier to transfer ideas and find creative solutions to problems.

    Studying jazz helped me feel rhythm when I learned how to tap dance which then helped me when I started playing the drums. Also, studying improv gave me the idea for a presentation at a professional conference at work.

  13. avatar

    I’m at my most creative early in the morning — preferably before 6 am. That way I can cut through the BS and just get to work on new ideas and side projects before most people’s day (and my own) even starts. It’s one of the best ways to make my creative output (aka writing for my blog) a consistent habit. As well!

  14. avatar
    Maxwell owusu

    Being creative is how I want to see how things work or behave. I’m usually creative and have alot of idea when I’m alone. However, all my ideas are teams work. I think maybe is because I like playing FIFA alot.

  15. avatar
    Alex Craig

    Creativity is certainly like any skill. It needs practice and to be developed. I cannot stand when people say things like I cannot write, I am not creative, or hell I am not good at math.

    I know some people are born with innate abilities to do these things, but most of us could become good at any of these skills if we simply practiced and practiced with the right mindset.

    For me, I keep hold of a notebook. I write ideas as the come through the day, but I also ask myself leading questions every morning.

    Ex: How can I get more customers? What can I do to get my clients to make referrals? Or even in my personal life: How can I take care of the earth more?

    I list answers down even if they are crappy, it is the act of simply thinking. Eventually like Nike, you catch a break because one of the less than great ideas you thought of stuck.

    I love looking to other places and industries for adopting it into a new place. Jay Abram talks all about that in his book.


  16. avatar
    Brad Dias

    I feel I’m most creative in the mornings when I’m by myself and my mental resources are high. It’s possible to get creative periods later in the day, but usually that doesn’t happen. Distractions and emergencies come about and it’s far more difficult.

    With the exception of going out to cafes to wind down the day with a good book.

    Seems like it just happens, when I don’t try to think about being creative. Yes deadlines work well, and I definitely need to integrate them more often.

  17. avatar
    Kyle Reed

    I feel like I am most creative when I know the goals we want to accomplish.

    A lot of times I find myself staring at a blank page not knowing where to go, but when I/we can think through some end-term goals it allows me to focus on creative ways to get there.

  18. avatar
    Shashwat Ojha

    It’s my absolute belief that in order to boost a person’s creativity one should read more fiction novels.

  19. avatar

    I find I am the most creative when I have a specific goal, a set deadline, and an understanding of the tools available for me to work with. When there’s just the right amount of pressure and urgency amazing things happen, both for me personally and for the teams that I work with.

  20. avatar
    Nathaniel Wyckoff

    I like to write novels, and am working on a second one. For creativity, I simply sit down and start writing. Before I know it, I’m simply coming up with the story; in a sense, there are times when it seems to write itself. When my timer sounds, to tell me that it’s time to stop, I often don’t want to stop.

    For new ideas, I just do a little research here and there – online or in print magazines, for example – and imagine “what if…” scenarios involving interesting places, things and events.

  21. avatar

    I have to be alone, and I must have something stimulating in my hands. Eyes open, holding something.

  22. avatar

    I love how you have reworked this analogy!

  23. avatar

    In ecological field research, some creativity indeed comes from being limited in the ways you can measure things. To an outsider scientific research might come across as an activity dictated by protocols. But I’ve always thought that especially while doing fieldwork (when there might be time pressure, or just being in a remote area not near shops), a balance between being pragmatic and precise and the desire to actually being able to measure something can lead to very creative solutions. In that sense I recognize the story of the painter Hansen where limitations can trigger creative solutions. Some good background knowledge is indeed a must as well (like with the running shoes), so that your creative idea is not counterproductive. My own research involves measuring processes in plants, for which you can’t afford your method to create so many artifacts that you actually sabotage the experiment.

    So yes, as a field ecologist, I concur that great creative solutions are much more than just flinging around some ideas.

  24. avatar

    Write down 10 ideas a day. You have to stick with it and over the course of a few months you WILL be more creative.

  25. avatar

    I found my creative solutions to complex problems usually come to me when I’m in a state of relaxation. Just last month I was on vacation in Hawaii and had several ideas to solve current problems that I’ve been trying to solve for weeks. Best part, when they came to me, I wasn’t even actively thinking about them.

  26. avatar
    Paul Jarvis

    I don’t wait for creativity to strike, I sit my ass in my chair and get to work. I like to think of it as “Creativity on Demand” – where I don’t wait to be motivated to be creative, I just start working. I’m much more likely to be creative more often if I work at it. Sometimes the work isn’t great, but acting instead of waiting for creative ideas to strike means they happen much more often.

  27. avatar
    Luke Davis

    Before I admitted myself to the hospital for a manic episode, I had a brilliant thought (or at least I believed it was brilliant because I was manic as hell and having delusions of grandeur) but I believe it holds true even for those in less psychotic states (haha):

    Sometimes you have to begin walking before you know where you’re going.

    Or: Sometimes you have to begin creating (anything at all) before you know what it is you need to create to succeed in your quest.

    In other words, just begin walking (creating, in this context) in the direction you believe is the right one, and as you continue walking, you will learn where you need to go via trial and error, via accumulation of knowledge. And just keep moving, keep creating, keep on keeping on until you’ve bridged that gap between what you want to create – your vision – and what you have actually created.

  28. avatar

    Hi every one

    I personally prefer to work alone or in the loneliness of night as I feel I connect to the infinite Intelligence and pure consciousness or work with people who are likely minded and honest sharing same ideas and outlook towards life

  29. avatar

    Hi Ramit and all

    I am naturally creative because I was told I was at a young age. That’s why I am also absent-minded (it was written on all my school notes reports) 😉

    I may be creative because my dad use to make me necklaces with recycled coils and wires from the telephone company he was working for.

    I may be creative because I always try new routes, new cities, new countries, new friends.

    I don’t know the reasons or what makes me creative, I just know it’s fun and I want more fun in my life, so I’m pursuing creativity! My two daughters are very creative too, and that may be because I save all the boxes and wrappings and stuff I can find for them to do arts and crafts 😉

    Happy creativity!

  30. avatar

    This just hit me like an arrow.

    I am a Freelance Graphic Designer and just joined your ZTL Course.
    Currently I am working on “Content that sells”, for my first article I choose the topic of Idea Making, Creativity and the Designer-Genius Myth. While doing this I received an article from another designer on the topic inspiration and now yours on creativity. I just somehow felt I need to reply on this.

    I loved your comment that creativity is a crucial skill for life, this just completed my puzzle.

    My experience as a designer is that it´s not only about finding an idea it is about fighting for your idea and finding the appropriate arguments to sell your idea, is it your customer, your boss, your client or sometimes even yourself.

    I myself recognised that I can develop ideas best when I am on my own or in small teams with people with different I call it “fear-levels” on the project. I am very critical with myself and and need another team member who can balance this. Otherwise we get stuck, frustrated and working on the project will get tough and exhausting. The point is that the client usually recognises this “fear and doubts-thing” and voilá gets also frustrated.

    In my opinion it is very important to provide a comfortable and somehow safe environment with the opportunity to play and fail.

    And of course just as you mentioned building a system and a ritual helps, cultivating creativity.
    I think of it as a kind of training. You have to work out regularly and consequent in order to achieve extraordinary results. Thinking of the brain as a muscle, you have to use it.

    Coming back to my article I would love to share it with you when finished and I would also love to provide my experiences on creativity as a designer. I had so many new insights reading your stuff, maybe I can give something back to you.

    Thank you
    – Sarah

  31. avatar

    I need a combination of both group brainstorming and personal tinkering to get the best results. A group can bring up a ton of different constraints which are actually really good for unleashing creativity. Then I go into hibernation and try to think of ways around each constraint.

  32. avatar

    I get ideas when I am alone in home or traveling.

  33. avatar
    George G.

    One obvious answer to increasing creativity is to just work at your medium every day. The more neurons your brain ties into this thing you do, whether it’s writing, painting, music, or what have you, then the more pathways your brain has to connect other areas of your life experiences and knowledge to this medium where you’re trying to be creative.

  34. avatar


    I think you hit on the most important aspect: creativity is like any other skill… it takes practice to develop. I like using James Altucher’s method and coming up with 10 ideas that could be used to make money in your current field (or 10 ideas for a new business) each day.

    It doesn’t matter if they are all good or not, what matters is that you’re practicing. That’s why I liked that you said “I list answers down even if they crapp”, I think too many people jump to judging ideas and therefore limit their creative power in a very significant way.

    These days when a great idea just “comes” to me, it may look like dumb luck or happenstance, but I know it’s due to the fact that I had learned the skill and had already thought up 100’s of ideas that weren’t great.

    Good thoughts.

  35. avatar

    Totally agree, Blaine.
    Narrowing the boundaries of a project pushes me to be more creative. If there are no boundaries, I get stuck considering all the possibilities, instead of figuring out a creative way to work within the parameters.

  36. avatar

    Move! My best creative work comes after a walk. Get off my butt and get outside. I come back recharged ready to go!

  37. avatar

    For me to awaken creativity=using limited resources. It’s when my lazy brain steps out of the box to find a new ways around the common ones. Time being one of the most effective for that matter. Is why I loved the thought in one of the moments of “Fight club”: under a pressure of a guy with a gun, promising to check back on you within certain time, if you have achieved your true wish for the life, your creativity for ways of what and how would open up in its full potential I guess 🙂 Of course, the movie itself and the example there are pretty much extreme, but the basic thought in it I find very valuable.

  38. avatar

    Do masses of research. Do masses of idea sketches. When you finally get stuck, lay on the sofa and BINGO there it is.

  39. avatar

    My creativity and resourcefulness also needs the right mental state.
    I find that I can spend as much time and energy on coming up with perspectives, but what really gets me going is getting up for a walk. A five minute walk to the water cooler, or about town, or anywhere to clear the mind and just break the focus… My pop out walks are my best moments of clarity.

  40. avatar

    I like to keep my creativity flowing with a creative hobby, one that doesn’t involve making money or the pressure of working with clients or at a job. For me, it’s landscape photography, which also gives me more motivation to travel the world.

    As Ramit says, you can LEARN to be more creative and this is a great way to keep being creative without doing any extra work!

    I wrote about it here if anyone is interested:

  41. avatar
    Wendy Tizya

    I scatter my life a little bit now and then.
    The same daily stimuli can really make the whole experience dull after a while.
    So diversifying my input, having conversations with interesting people and who and what I associate myself with.
    Also, my creative mind starts to get a real buzz when i’m in the process of discovery. The journey inspires me and hearing stories of others inspires me.

  42. avatar

    For me, creativity is about problem-solving. It could be a specific logistical problem or something more abstract like purpose and meaning. Once I have really immersed myself in the world that the problem lives in then I have to actively disconnect and let the inner guru take over. In order to truly be immersed you have to have a propensity for empathy. This method has served me in both business consulting and fine art.

  43. avatar
    James Neal

    I find my best creative moments come from hearing an idea, and expounding on it. My novel was conceived from a trading card game, for example. If I could get on a team and brainstorm ideas (say…videogame plots), I’m positive I’d impact the end product greatly.

  44. avatar
    Jennifer McMillen

    I have trained myself to look at situations and question ‘what would make this easier right now?’ I seem to have had a few interesting ideas from this method.

  45. avatar
    Brandon Wiese

    I find the best way to be creative is the old fashioned writing/drawing-in-the-journal practice. However, I am fascinated with collecting old engineering/science books, and I often skim through them, reading what interests me. That seems to seed my creative ideas, and later, sometimes years later, I have an idea but don’t know how to put it into action, and I remember the clues are in the old books I’ve read. It seems to snowball my idea and give it momentum as I work on filling in the details.

  46. avatar
    Gregory Goltsov

    That email reminded me very much of this Russian design studio called Art. Lebedev (no affiliation). Normally, when you think of design studios, you think of sleek final products, full-screen photos of polished works etc. However, what’s interesting about this studio, is that they’re one of only a few design studios that — for pretty much every single piece in their portfolio — post the Task, and the Process behind them. Everything, from start to finish. This gives you this _real_ insight into the creative process behind everything they do. So many false starts, leads going nowhere, weird ideas being bounced around, eventually shaping the final design. I find that fascinating.

    For example, check out the process behind making a TV remote, or a logo for the second largest city in Russia (intersting to see so many good ideas being rejected in the process)

  47. avatar

    Discussing with colleagues by far is the best way to create ideas to move projects forward in my field of science. There’s just something about having a person reacting to and challenging my proposals that makes me think.

  48. avatar

    For me the best way to be creative is in a group setting. To be in a room with highly motivated people and throw out ideas. Then put together a framework and sleep on it. The second meeting is where we do the best work refining what we came up with in the first meeting.

  49. avatar
    Troy Weatherspoon

    Wow! that’s a awesome response Kyle!

  50. avatar

    It sounds funny, but I am most creative when I am almost sleepy. It seems that state takes away all my inhibitions and fears of failuire. 🙂

  51. avatar

    I am definitely most creative in the mornings. I include at least an hour of creativity in my morning routine. Usually I give myself time for writing or working on a personal project before getting to work, on busy days I may use my “morning block” to get projects done for work that require creative thinking. Either way, the key here is to block out that time.

  52. avatar

    I go for walks, preferably outside, but even just around my house or office. I quickly find new ideas and solutions to problems when I step away from my desk. Sometimes I also make connections between thoughts that become usable ideas when I take a short nap. It doesn’t have to be long, just a few minutes to relax, close my eyes, and let my brain work on its own.

  53. avatar

    I think creativity works best for me when I let myself go.when I struggle too much -I cannot come up with any idea .just like right now

  54. avatar

    For me it’s all about constraints. It’s when I put a crazy deadline on something that I do my most creative work.

    Example – I do demos at work and I never take more than 30 minutes to prepare them. I wanted to make a video mashup of kylie and Jason in especially for you with speech bubbles etc.

    I had 20 minutes to prep and I suddenly came up with the idea of dragging speech bubbles in windows over the youtube video. It was way funnier than a polished video would have been and people complimented me on it constantly afterwards. “How on earth did you come up with that idea?”

    The same is true of improv comedy. You have 10 seconds to say a line and sometimes something comes out of your mouth by accident that’s pure genius. You could never have been that funny by say around for hours writing lines.

  55. avatar

    I find I need my creativity most when solving business and money problems. I’ve learned that reading tangentially related (or even completely unrelated, but still nonfiction) books makes my brain buzz with ideas. If I can let go of my conscious brain working on the idea enough to read, my subconscious seems to start chewing on the problem. Then, 20 pages in, I start seeing connections and solutions that were invisible before starting to read.

  56. avatar

    What works for me is Julie Cameron’s morning pages. After one page of usual fluff and whiny complaints, those second and third pages produce some real pieces of gold. Otherwise I put myself in a box and embrace the constraints of a structure to design the project or lesson I need to create (thanks Godin, Guillebeau, and 37signals), then step away from the work and take a break, since the best ideas converge when our brain is at rest. Another strategy is to complete a mind map. Seeing the problem and connecting the webs in every direction seems to spark my imagination. Finally, I wholeheartedly believe in Jobs’ statement that “creativity is really just connecthing things.” The only real creativity is the outrageous connections and final “shipped” product that ensues.

  57. avatar

    I think creativity is a close cousin of passion. Passion is akin to emotional abandon, where the conscious mind is more receptive to the subconscious through the slowing of the brain-waves. The two hemispheres of the brain get synchronized, leading to a-ha moments! Yes, its a near imperative to have passion for whatever it is you do.

  58. avatar

    Creativity without execution is like a fire without oxygen. Each of those stories had incredible executors behind their ideas. Creativity is the first step in a long road to success. Unfortunately, finding a creative thinker who can execute is a difficult combination. It’s the business unicorn. Nice post.

  59. avatar

    I get my creative thoughts when I’m either watching a movie in the theater (I actually take a pad and pen with me because movies inspire me), or when I’m watching shows that express ideas like Shark Tank. I also get them when I’ve been around friends for the night and when I’m driving home, I think about all kinds of things and just start coming up with ideas.

  60. avatar

    It is hard to say because it can be rather random. I do work best under deadlines. But creative ideas strike me at various times in various situations. I believe it comes from teaching and my own education in teaching. Educators often have to get creative ” on their feet ” while teaching in order to see the light bulbs go off across the room. What we think will work, doesn’t always work or only half works. Getting creative comes with that territory and inspiration can be found almost anywhere!

  61. avatar

    I’ve come up with great thoughts and ideas while breastfeeding my baby, and even while being with my kids in the park. Maybe because I’m forced to stop and be still…

  62. avatar

    My creativity usially comes from 2 main activities: mindless quiet tasks like driving/showering, and mentally dissecting any cool or interesting idea and then modifying the pieces to fit a variety of made-up scenarios. Basically, if I think about a problem before I start driving, I’ll just focus on driving and often I’ll have a few ideas ready to write down by the end of my commute. Writing these ideas usually triggers an avalance of tangential ideas, and it can be a struggle to write it all down before I lose them. The second thing mostly happens when I observe an awesome marketing campaign in action, the latest being an awesome partnership idea between my boyfriend’s work and a gaming place.

  63. avatar
    Damola Taiwo

    Creative work and creative thinking is unpredictable because it comes to life as you create an interesting journey and as your day to day activities in life.

  64. avatar

    My creative ideas come when I am given few resources and have to make links between them to generate a solution. For example, I used metal clips to hold my messy cables together instead of buying some device that holds them together. 🙂

  65. avatar


    I often find that the mere act of explaining a problem to a kid is enough for me to start sparking some ideas. The reason why is because by telling a problem to a kid, it forces me to remove all the “grown up words” and distill the problem down to its essence, leaving the solution more obvious. I think as adults we complicate things, and when you have kids around and find yourself answering their steady stream of questions about what you’re doing or how you are reacting to something, it really forces you to see things in a simpler perspective, which often leads to some crazy-good insights.

    Kids also will unknowingly question conventional thinking, leading you to see your own contradictions between what you want and what you do. (i.e.”You know, that’s a good question, sweetie-why DOES Daddy go to work if he hates it??”)

  66. avatar

    I like to go into nature. Sometimes I go with a question that I pose at the beginning of a wander and I pay attention to what shows up. Sometimes I go with more of an adventurous attitude and so something physically challenge, new or out of my comfort zone in nature and again, see what shows up. Nature is a great mirror and oh so creative itself. Then I carry my precious little moleskin around with me to capture any ideas. Writing and art help too. I find action and creating itself begets creativity.

  67. avatar

    Alone late at night seems to be the best time for my creativity. Also, I’ve noticed whenever I’m under a deadline or pressure, sometimes my best work flows through. With that said, I can be confident in saying that some of my best creative ideas came about out of the blue. I’ll be sitting around doing nothing and out of nowhere, a damn good creative idea pops in my head. Not only that, the creative ideas will sometimes come about to me in a dream as well. It might sound weird and “woo woo”, but it does happen to me at least.

  68. avatar

    In this high speed cluttered world where we’re always connected to the internet, I find creativity when we go back to basics and the mundane and be conscious and mindful of every moment. New ideas always come that way on long walks in nature, a long train ride commute where there is no wifi signal or on a long haul flight.

    I’ve also just revisited reading fiction and revelling in the comfort of giving the mind so much more room to wander and revisit imagination.

    Or having long fruitful discussions with like minded friends and team members that sparks the next new idea/remodelling of an old idea.

    And I stick to the old school way of doodling and writing in a notebook because I find that with modern technology which it simplifies our life, it also takes away the good old art of scribbling and doodling as part of the momentum of the creativity process.

  69. avatar

    For me, it really works when you put in deep focus into your work. That is fundamentally different from the superficial work that most people do. Completely engross yourself in the problem you are trying to solve. Even if, in a 2 hour session, the answer doesn’t come, trust the process. Give yourself a break, and come back for another deep focus session. Creativity will come in.

  70. avatar
    Christopher Solimine

    My most creative moments happen when I am alone, walking, meditating, late at night… Any time I am relaxed and their is silence and stillness, my inner creativity comes out to move me toward fulfilling my dreams.

  71. avatar
    Shirley E. Mason (Redd)

    Luvin’ your reply Ray

  72. avatar
    Shirley E. Mason - REDD

    Goosepimpling encouragement!

    Thanks Luke

  73. avatar

    Fightin’ for your idea and making appropriate arguments

    Absolutely Sarah

    And youre right … sometimes even to yourself!


  74. avatar
    Ruth Cox

    I am most creative when I allow myself time and space to generate ideas. Sometimes a walk in nature, a swim, other physical activity helps me when I feel stuck. Initially, it often helps me to have time alone to collect my thoughts before entering or exchanging ideas with a group. After I have time to think and create on my own, I then greatly benefit from a team atmosphere.

  75. avatar

    Totally Terence

    Even if others would call you emotional or excitable or whatever…..!

    Thanks for the thoughts.


  76. avatar

    Abhishek – I agree

    Deep focus texturizes your work in a way that you didn’t even know existed if you only skimmed the surface.
    Years ago while creating poem about a particular tree in the local park I took myself and my children off ‘to discover’ the Tree.
    We had to touch , smell and taste the trees.
    Needless to say the children were not impressed but they’ve never forgotten it

    And the poem was Fab


  77. avatar

    Creativity for me comes when I am moving. I can sit for hours staring at a problem written in my notebook and nothing will. Once I take a break and go do something that involves me moving – walking, tai chi, gong fu cha, or biking – things start happening. I will suddenly think of a connection that I never had before. I am thankful that I have a voice recorder on my phone to capture these ideas while on the go. In this it is very similar to Da Vinci’s thoughts on inspiration: it must find you working.

  78. avatar

    Greetings All

    Great to be in this thread. Informative, Inspirational and Practical
    Big up To Ramit.

    I believe and know that for me to be Creative in any and/or all areas of my life means that I need to be Authentic.
    I need to be the real me in very situation and be Truthful.
    Truth though sometimes painful often has a way of creating a really solid foundation in the face of future developments because ‘my word’ means something.

    Being compassionate opens up an understanding that leads to great ideas which maybe I might not have accessed otherwise

    I believe in being generous with my creativity though in this climate – where Artists are not valued for their worth and funds are scarce -I understand how an attitude of ‘me only first and foremost – always’ can arise

    I believe that research is important – Life itself is research if you are living it with courage, honesty and passion.

    I am a Performance Artist, a play-write, an actress, a mother and Grandmother and so much more consequently as ABHISHEK says I need periods of Deep Focus where all things coalesce and I can pull together what needs to be created.

    Could go on and on really but need to go and be creative!


    NB. Totally love RAY’s children being the Inspiration comment but replied to wrong person ….Well it was my first post so….

    Oh YES… that reminds me……….. FAIL = First Attempt At Learning.

  79. avatar




  80. avatar
    A.I Lawal

    You should read Eckhart Tolle’s book ‘The Power of Now’ – strategic processes in understanding and calming the mind to achieve ‘stillness’. Only then can you decipher the millions of thoughts, ideas stimulated by your cerebrum, polluted by your mind (physical, emotion or situation) and achieve that ounce of nuance which might turn out to be your ‘golden egg’.

    Practise makes perfect.

    Wake up early and be at one with yourself, your mind…be still.
    if you also live in a State where marijuana is legalised…you’re halfway there 😉

  81. avatar

    I find that I am at my most creative when I am

    1. Under pressure with deadline
    2. If I have to come up with solutions on the spot to save my team

  82. avatar

    Deadlines and noise like being in a coffee shop or restaurant. I don’t function well, when I am left to my own devices and quite.

  83. avatar

    Mind mapping – a free tool like FreeMind allows me to organize thoughts so the onslaught of ideas are not overwhelming when I’m trying to come up with a solution to something.

    The Rational Unified Process (RUP) designed by IBM in the 70’s is another systematic approach to breaking down problems. Although applied to computer automation, it works for human activities as well.

    For coming up with off-the-wall creativity, I was introduced to lateral thinking. Asking yourself questions like ‘what if a bike had square wheels’ or ‘what are the advantages to a plane that flies upside down’

  84. avatar
    Dodie Jacobi

    I actually PRACTICE being creative. Here are three of my habits.
    1. Make ongoing research a high priority. My first mentor was Bonnie Erickson, the talented woman who designed Miss Piggy, Waldorf & Stadler, the Phillie Phanatic, and many other iconic characters. She modeled a pervasive creative lifestyle in which she allocated as much time for exploration as output, remained ever-open to obvious and obscure sources for inspiration, and maintained a system for capturing and retrieving it all.
    2. Participate in a peer think tank. My fellow entrepreneurs offer fresh thinking, introduce me to resources, and brainstorm ideas. I host three of these as part of my mentoring practice, so I actually get paid for this amazing benefit to us all.
    3. Cultivate flow. All creators speak about being in the flow that allows them to produce their best work effortlessly. I cultivate flow by making every choice in my life – from diet and exercise, to hobbies and human relationships – so I have the energy and focus necessary for mindful, present, flowing work. I think of my work as ‘being in training,’ so my world is built for maximum creativity.

    Thanks for the fun Q today; I enjoyed reflecting on my habits and look forward to reading what works for others!

  85. avatar

    I don’t know that there are times when I’m more creative. There are definitely times when I’m more productive, but that’s completely different. The key is making yourself open to new opportunities and actively exposing yourself to people who do things differently. Read the stories of the band who encouraged their listeners to set an album of silence to repeat on Spotify while they slept to raise money for a tour. Hear about the pharma leaders who are taking mandatory Medicare surveys and using the results to publish doctor, institution, and procedure ratings. Hear about the amazing things that other people are doing and ask how you can look at something differently. That’s when I find I’m most creative.

  86. avatar
    Pinar Tarhan

    It depends. The ideas can come:
    1) When I’m actively looking for them: i.e. brainstorming and reading/researching.
    2) When I’m procrastinating with a solid TV show or a movie: I’m really good at finding a fun entertainment angle/reference and tying it to whatever niche I’m writing in. I also write about entertainment, and I’m a screenwriter so this procrastination type is also research. 🙂
    3) When I’m with friends and I’m listening to their horror stories about relationships, bosses and co-workers. I always ask for their permission before writing and let them dictate which details I can share.
    4) I’ve recently started writing everything down: not just the good stuff, but everything else too. Quality ideas can come from various combination of generic stuff.

  87. avatar
    Devan Nielsen

    My creativity peaks after being a day or two in the mountains with no cell service and a handful of books/notebooks. I am able to clear my head, and feel an amazing flow after.

    Thanks for the post Ramit.


  88. avatar

    I follow Jeffrey Zeldmans advice. As an artist it’s very though to be creative at all times and don’t lose the drive. There must be a certain moment in a day when you do creative work that has nothing to do with clients or deadlines. You should exercise that part of your brain without a deadline without a goal. This helped me solve many problems.

  89. avatar

    I journal in the morning and that sparks some creativity. A lot of times my mind just creates things when I’m idle walking around, but it doesn’t always happen. I’ve been trying to come up with ten ideas every day like James Altucher.

  90. avatar

    For reference:

  91. avatar

    Journaling helps, deadlines help, and having people around me who are super supportive help a ton!

    I’m a morning person, and so I hate to admit this but the reality is that my creativity peaks late at night when I’m not supposed to be working. I hate this!

  92. avatar

    I dont always enjoy the stress or frustration but find I am most creative with a limitation obstacle or problem.
    I identify the outcome, ask what is positive about this issue and what opportunity lies here. I usually have it on the back of my mind and draft ideas, do something else. The solution comes in a variety of ways usually out of the blue. Firstly I write morning pages aka Julia Cameron’s idea from the artist way. I use 750words.Com and ask a series of problem or dilemma resistance insistence q’s. sometimes I use free writing or even ranting.
    I also find just being out and chatting or observing. The sub conscious must be quietly brewing in the background and suddenly the right person or service appear or question or idea comes.
    Writing and editing stories and docs usually works with a short incubation period as well. Things you couldn’t see yesterday suddenly are clear – a carp first draft or rough edit can be part of then process for me.

  93. avatar

    I agree with both Blaine and Cindy; getting the project to the point where there is a guide track to work within, and due date and sense of importance to the end user/client and then the magic happens.

  94. avatar
    siegeli .

    I started coloring color books and it relaxes me to think outside the box

  95. avatar

    I just started a morning routine, which includes getting up waaay earlier, vs. pushing snooze over and again. I heard that a lot of the “Greats” do this… and then I made up excuses. Until I realized, in order to be successful, I have to do the hard thing, the thing that is antithetical to my nature, shake things up! And I did – and it’s amazing!

    I tell my friends and they say “But I’m not a morning person” or “Yeah, yeah, but I’m finding a way that fits into MY lifestyle.”

    What they don’t get is that it’s symbolic. It’s not about morning or night, but rather about trying something that doesn’t fit easily, developing a discipline around that thing and then TAKING ACTION – despite the slog of getting up early, or the late night drinking or the cat sitting next to you that you don’t want to disturb so you’re really being a better person by NOT getting up and following through.

    This morning routine has been one of the biggest shifts in terms of generating creativity for me. It has reinforced the idea that creativity happens inside of a container of discipline, systems (thanks for that one, Ramit!) and studying the masters.

  96. avatar

    One thing that helps me stay creative; is actually keeping a constant in my day.

    For me it is the 5 daily prayers in Islam. They thereby free up my mind to be able to be creative for the remainder of the day.

  97. avatar

    My creativity comes when I am alone. Noise distracts me from deep thinking .

  98. avatar

    My secret to being creative is just doing what I come up with. I don’t critic it or judge it. I usually just go ahead and put it in production. Let it sit there for a couple of days and then decide if I want to stick with it or not. This has helped in many areas when self doubt and peer pressure could have easily killed the idea even before it was tested.

  99. avatar

    Personal Finance. I learn accounting in university and when I find double-entry bookkeeping very useful, I applied it to my expense records. At first I found out that this method has functions more than I actually need, then I simplified it. In this way I made my own personal finance bookkeeping system.

  100. avatar
    Angel Burns

    I like to examine the options I may have previously discarded. The absolutely-nots and “I never”…and reconsider. Find a way that those obvious NO’s could be freshly handled, to turn into adventurous yes’s. This works with everything from design to where I will live, to recipes, to trying new activities/events. I like to purposely “rock my world” and “cross-pollinate” in the least-likely. A new perspective on old thought can lead to discovery! And then I have no excuse to remain statically stuck in the world of “but I can’t think of anything.” No writers block. NO no’s…everything is at least a maybe 😉

  101. avatar

    My ideas usually are from a necessity. So it usually come by working un group and ankowledging their needs.

  102. avatar
    Thomas Brown

    Great post Ramit!

    I am reading a book by Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios, called Creativity, Inc. One of the points he made that shocked me the most is that he believes creativity responds better to clearly defined constraints (budget and deadline) than unlimited resources. In these constraints he finds that the work of his artists is more focused on what will be the most effective use of their time rather than over designing a small piece that might only be on screen for half a second.

  103. avatar
    Coach Tiffany

    Great answer Ray and great follow up insight Gloria. I will start doing this more. My kids are very bright and helpful.

  104. avatar
    Andrea Licata

    When I am trying to design something, I have to approach it from a place of convention. From there, I look at what makes it be what it is, and then deconstruct and reconstruct according to rules about it that I set up as I am deconstructing it.

  105. avatar

    6 AM, in complete silence, totally rested. That’s the sweet spot for me.