My Vacation's Through ... and So Is My Creativity ...
10 Ideas on how to come up with 10 Ideas for your next project!

by Carl Pritchard, Pritchard Management Associates

September. Back to school. Back to work. Back to the grindstone. And the eerie thing is that management actually expects you to be revived, regenerated and recuperated after an exhausting week or two at the (insert your favorite vacation spot here). And so it goes. They want you to develop project plans! Risk lists! Customer solutions! Dynamic briefings! "Oh, and make sure it's creative, please."

That can be a tall order. Creativity does not exactly pour from every pore when you're still trying to recover from your rest and relaxation. But there are some ways to come up with something exciting, new and different. Consider these ten simple strategies.

Strategy #1 - The Dusty Archive - Virtually every project manager has their own version of the "dusty archive." It's old plans, documentation and memos that you've meant to sort through and/or throw away but haven't quite sifted through yet. What a resource! Not only does it revive old ideas and approaches in a new light, but it helps solve the "what should I throw away" syndrome. In the process of sifting for new ideas, you get some housekeeping out of the way.

Strategy #2 - Career Change - You're no longer a (construction engineer/software developer/oil rig designer/utility designer), now you're a (baker/painter/powerful corporate mogul). How would your perspective on your creative need change? It's not your design project anymore, it's a 14-tier wedding cake. It's not your plant shutdown anymore, it's a staff reorganization. What would their perspective be on the problem you're trying to solve? How would they approach it? If nothing else, it serves as affirmation of why you chose the career you chose!

Strategy #3 - Web Search - Can you boil your issue/concern/problem/creative nuisance down to two or three words? The web has an amazing way of turning up the wrong answers. That's fine! Sometimes, in the creative flow, the wrong answers have the capacity to open our eyes to new solutions. Don't forget that most search engines have the ability to look only within the .gov or .org domains, or sites with internal search engines.

Strategy #4 - 15 Minutes of Silence - 15 minutes in isolation. Away from your computer, cell phone, and all other electronics. Just you, a piece of paper, and the thrust of your latest dilemma scrawled across the top of the paper. Take a walk out of your normal environs to the nearest reasonably quiet spot. Libraries, hotel lobbies, parks, or even your own car (radio off, thanks) in the parking deck can provide a momentary haven from all outside distractions. And that may be all it takes to start the creative energy flowing.

Strategy #5 - The New York Times Business Bestsellers List - Granted, not as quick a strategy as the others, but a most effective one nonetheless. Business books have a lot of wonderful ideas that can be boiled down to the project level. Recent hits like Good to Great, and Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done share analogy after analogy that can find its way into your ideation process. (It also makes you look downright erudite).

Strategy #6 - Them - Maybe you're not the creative force for this particular effort. Use THEM! THEM would be the people who you work with, serve with or partner with. Send out an e-mail asking for one thought, one nudge, one risk, one design element, one ANYTHING. That's the key. Ask for help, little will happen. Ask for a whole design, and you'll hear less. But ask for one, and if you get two, they're being generous, and you're sure to get a response.

Strategy #7 - Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable - Wow. You're completely tapped out. You have nothing left to talk about, to include, to share, or from which to draw an analogy. Your next presentation is looking like a visit from The Bore. You can't think of a single new anecdote. Brewer's to the rescue! Warning: This tome is addictive. Look up a catchphrase, term or word and find some new fascinating factoid. From "A1" (derived from Lloyds of London's classification of ship's hull conditions) to "zany" (derived from the Italian zanni, meaning "buffoon," but which became a nickname for Giovanni/John), it's an epic experience.

Strategy #8 - The Hats - Put on another "hat." Don't think like yourself. Pretend you're the executive down the hall. Or the customer on the other end of the help line. Or the recipient of whatever you're delivering. What would you want then? What would you expect? Keep changing characters! You'll come up with something.

Strategy #9 - Take a Picture (It Lasts Longer) - With a digital camera, you're empowered. Create your own story around virtually any office photo. Create mental captions for them. It ties to "The Hats" above, but it adds some focus. The clarity brought out by a picture of someone slumped over a computer or two team members having a hall chat can be surprising.

Strategy #10 - Poof! You're a Guinea Pig! - Who just walked into your cube? A team member? Maintenance? Security? It doesn't matter. They just became the resident resource for new ideas. They're a prisoner. And you own them. Block the door. Barricade them in your office until they share their perspective on your problem. Great ideas come from some pretty surprising resources.

You don't have to wait until you're desperate to try a new technique to extract ideas. Try them before you get desperate! Try them while you're still fresh and they'll have even higher yield! Even if coming up with new ideas has never been a problem, different techniques can generate some interesting and different results.

Want to share an idea for my next column? I'm all ears! Pop me an e-mail at carl@carlpritchard.com.

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