I have a theory on these creative valleys. They occur when we get into a routine. Repeat a routine and you find yourself in a comfort zone. Comfort zones equate to repeating themes, lack of imagination and robotic writing.

I follow this simple creativity fire drill to throw my thinking out of balance. And I do mean out of balance. This three step process pushes me out of my comfort zone and turbo charges my creative thought.

1. Jump Start Your Brain With Three Questions

The first thing I do is take out a pen and paper (put away your devices). I write down the topic for my piece in plain language.

Here’s what I wrote:

Why we’re so generous with apologies in meaningless encounters but stingy in business.

Then I ask myself these three questions. Again, I use pen and paper for this.

  1. What else is interesting about this?
  2. What other lessons, benefits or warnings am I NOT seeing?
  3. What’s unusual, funny or counter-intuitive about this?

I don’t write down answers yet. I move on to step two.

2. Go Somewhere New

Part of breaking your routine is changing the scenery. Go to a different coffee shop, a new part of town or an unusual setting. Today, I got on a train and went to the Hudson River walkway in Jersey City.

I find my best ideas come when I walk, shower or drive. Showering and driving aren’t practical for this exercise, so I go for a walk. The combination of new scenery and physical activity jump starts the process.

3. Let The Ideas Flow

I don’t set any goals or put pressure on myself. I just walk. As ideas flow, I’ll jot them down in my notes app. Yes, here you can use your tech. Every so often I repeat the questions to myself. Then, I wait and see. Don’t filter your ideas here. You can do that later.

Here’s what happened yesterday:

Fifteen minutes into my walk I passed by a bank. It had a picture of Benjamin Franklin in an ad.

“Ah. Didn’t Benjamin Franklin have a famous quote on apologies.”

I looked it up. Bingo. Here’s the quote:

“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.”


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