The step-by-step guide to creative thinking.

If you haven’t said this yourself, then you’ve probably heard someone else say it:

“I wish I was creative.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The good news is, that statement isn’t true—but there’s probably a reason why it feels relatable.

For one, when we think of “creativity” we usually picture things that are colorful and highly artistic. So, if you’ve ever been told that you can’t draw, or you’re not an artist, then you must not be creative, right? Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Creative ideas are not limited to art. Thinking creatively just means that you’re coming up with unexpected solutions to a particular problem. And no matter what your job is, I can guarantee that solving problems is something you do every single day. Consciously and unconsciously.

So, congratulations, you’re creative! Here’s how to put your powers to good use.

Part one: Generating ideas.

If you’re going to think of a solution, you need a problem to solve.
What’s the open-ended question you’re facing? If there’s some juicy, inherent tension within it, good! If there’s more than one question to answer, choose the one that’s most pressing or most interesting to you.

No blank pages allowed.
Start writing down the first solutions that come to your mind. It’s okay if they’re not good, in fact, it’s perfectly normal. Use what you don’t like about a particular idea to inspire a new one. Whatever you do, be sure to take diligent notes. There’s nothing worse than forgetting to write down your most brilliant thought (or nearly-brilliant thought) and losing it forever.

Use what you already know.
Take comfort in the fact that you almost certainly won’t come up with an idea that’s entirely, 100%, never-been-done-before, original. Take inspiration from everything you’ve experienced, seen, heard, watched, smelled, felt, imagined, etc. Then apply it to this specific context or problem. For example, an escape room is like a scavenger hunt but contained to one room.

If you get stuck, switch things up.
Sometimes we don’t have to try so hard. Even when we’re not actively thinking about a problem, our subconscious is quietly connecting the dots. (That’s where “aha moments” come from.) So, if you can, step away and do an unrelated task—even for a few minutes. A bit of humor can also help loosen things up and get ideas flowing again. Or, if you’re really stuck, revisit the problem you’re trying to solve. Is there a new way of looking at it? Think about why this problem matters to unlock some new perspective.

Now that you’ve generated a good quantity of ideas, it’s time to focus on quality.

Part two: Choosing the best idea.

Know your must-haves.
What are the boundaries you have to work within? Budget limitations? Time constraints? More often than not, a good idea is something you can actually produce. Make a list of non-negotiable qualities and use it to evaluate your ideas.

Be honest and edit thoughtfully.
Would a slight adjustment make it possible to keep an idea you love? If not, say goodbye. It’s almost always better to revisit your list of ideas than to spin your wheels trying to make something work that just…won’t.

Trust your instincts.
If an idea made you feel something, don’t let it go! The best ideas will always seem obvious in hindsight. “Why didn’t we think of this sooner?!” is a good indication you’ve hit the jackpot.

Keep in mind that first ideas can be good.
You should never stop at the first idea, but always be open to the possibility that you were right on from the start. Plus, when compared to all your other ideas, it really might be best.

Now that you know how to generate better, more creative ideas, I hope you’ll use these tips whenever you can moving forward. I bet a few of them seemed familiar, maybe even obvious. That’s probably because you’re already thinking this way. See? You really are creative.

Leanne Prewitt

President & Chief Executive Officer

Shaped by her background in creative direction, Leanne leads the agency’s culture and creative vision and also oversees the operations that allow a team of marketing, design and media specialists to create powerful and effective work for their client partners.

Leanne began her professional career in New York City working for some of the nation’s leading agencies. In 2016, after a five-month sabbatical around the world, she returned to her hometown and joined Ervin & Smith. Her global perspective and expanded professional experience influence the work she does today.