We all need help getting out of our well-worn thinking ruts from time to time. When your work or life demands a creative solution but your muse has gone AWOL, why not try one or more of these creative thinking hacks from Scott Berkun’s new book, Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds?

Start an idea journal

“The rule is: any idea that pops in your mind, at any time, write it down. There are no inhibitions: any idea for anything goes in here… I recommend a paper journal, so you sketch or draw things, but digital journals can work too. Whenever you’re stuck, flip through your journal. You are bound to find an old idea you’ve forgotten about that can be used towards the problem you’re trying to solve.”

Great advice! I record all of my ideas, so they don’t get away. My tool of choice? Evernote!

Give your subconscious a chance

Create more opportunites to disengage your mind from the usual flotsam and jetsam that fills it.

“The reason ideas come to you in the shower is that you’re relaxed enough for your subconscious to surface ideas for you. Make this easier: find time to turn your mind off. Go for a run, swim, jog, have sex, something that’s as far from your creative problem as possible.”


Sometimes you need to get the crap out of the way before the great ideas can emerge.

“If you’re stuck, come up for ideas for the opposite of what you want. If your goal was to design the best album cover ever, switch to designing the worst album cover ever. Five minutes at an inverted problem will get your frustrations out, make you laugh, and likely get you past you fears. Odds are high you’ll hit something so horribly bad that it’s almost good, and you’re inspired to switch back to your original goal.”

I’ve heard of this opposite thinking strategy being used as a way to generate out of the box ideas, but never as a mental “cleansing” exercise. Brilliant!

Switch modes

We tend to be creatures of habit. We have one preferred way to approach what we do and how we think. While that lets us function effectively on a daily basis for most things, it’s not very useful from a creative standpoint. Mental ruts are a barrier to creativity. So when you’re stuck, Berkun suggests that you switch your thinking mode:

“Everyone has dominant ways to express ideas: sketching, writing, talking. If you switch the mode you’re working in, different ideas are easier to find and your understanding of a particular idea changes every time you use a different medium to express it. This is both a way to find new ideas, and to explore an idea you’re focusing on.”

Take an improvisational comedy class

My impression of improv is that you really need to be able to think on your feet. To volley a conversation back and forth, without getting stuck in a corner – oh, yes – and be funny at the same time.

“This will be easier and less painful than you think. It will teach you an entirely new way of thinking about the craft of creation. Most improv classes are structured around fun, party type games and teach you ways to combine ideas in real time: a powerful skill for any creator.”

Other authors have written about improv in this blog. I’ve regarded it as something that is interesting, but just not for me. Maybe I need to rethink that…

Find a partner

The old saying “Two heads are better than one” is abundantly true when it comes to creativity. When you’re working on an idea, you need the perspective of another person. You need someone who can build upon your idea and suggest cool enhancements to it. You need someone to question you rigorously about the potential shortcomings or limitations of your idea. You need someone to help you to question your assumptions. In short, creativity is always better when you’re working with someone.

“Many people are most creative when they’re with other creative people they like. Partnering up on a project, or even being around other creative people who are working on solo projects, keeps energy levels high. It also gives you a drinking buddy when things go sour.”

Stop reading and start doing

“The word create is a verb. Be active. Go make things. Don’t study it like accounting: you have to go do it, and make lots of mistakes, to learn anything about your own creative process. So get off the web and start making something.”

Abundantly true. By doing something, you learn. When you learn, you can do a better job of creating. It’s a virtuous circle. One more thing: A Moleskine notebook or iPad full of ideas is useless. You need to put your ideas to work. Select your very best idea and go for it!

Scott Berkun is one of the most talented young writers in the blogosphere today. Mindfire is a curated compilation of his best work from the last decade. Unlike many bloggers, who tend to recycle the same old ideas over and over, ad nauseum, Berkun takes his commitment to delivering original insights seriously. I highly recommend that you follow Berkun and get your hands on this excellent book. You’ll be glad you did!