As someone who is “supposed to be creative” (hell, it’s in my job title) I’ve sure come up with my share of terrible ideas. Luckily, people in the creative field are not always defined by their bad ideas; in the end it’s the good ones that get remembered.

We all know that Thomas Edison didn’t fail, he just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work. It takes a lot of time-consuming, thought-provoking, crazy, concepts to come up with a few decent ones. In today’s demanding environment, is that kind of constant creative mindset even feasible? 

Yes and it’s an absolute must if you want to differentiate yourself from the competition. Exceptional creativity, in any form, is not found by a jolt of lighting at the surface level. The best ideas are found after, “what’s easy”.

Author Mike Reiss, co-producer for The Simpsons used to write for the Johnny Carson Show. He and 4 other writers were required to write 60 jokes a day, each! From those 300 jokes, the head writer would pick his top 18. Of those 18, Carson would choose his 12 favorites. From 300, that’s only 4% and according to Mike,1 out of 3 would bomb!

The Creative Mindset We Could Have

Imagine, taking that kind of strategic approach and applying it to your daily thought processes at the office. Many agencies are undertaking more and more creative work before ever getting paid, just to win the project. In this culture, creative ideas should be considered a form of currency and not just given away freely.

I’m no stranger to, “The client wants five one-million dollar ideas by 2pm tomorrow”. Constant deadlines, proposals, meetings, etc… it seems almost impossible to find the time to just “ be creative”.

The good news is you can work out the creative part of your brain just like you would when you work out your muscles at the gym.

The brain is composed of neurons (nerve cells) that constantly change the brain’s structure and function as they are stimulated through repeated input (repetitions). That input can be physical, sensory or mental, depending on what we’re trying to learn.

The following three exercises are designed to do just that. I handpicked and utilize these three almost daily because they are fun to play, challenging and take up little time.

Developed by some of my favorite authors, comedians and artists, they’re meant to strengthen and challenge a different part of your brain. Since creativity is a muscle, the more it’s practiced, the easier it becomes and helps your brain adapt to these challenges.

1 – Headline Challenge (Dave McCary – SNL Writer)

Pick out a random photo from your Instagram feed and give yourself 8 minutes to write 5 funny headlines as if you were working for The Onion or Saturday Night Live. Forcing your brain to engage in behaviors that are uncomfortable, especially in such a short time-frame helps create a new habit of hitting tight deadlines while challenging yourself to think differently. 

2 – Idea Machine (James Altucher – Author, Inventor & Investor)

Have a coworker give you a daily topic like “Design tools that haven’t been invented”, or “Ways to find new clients”. Completely unrelated ideas are encouraged as well – “Summer Blockbuster hits.” Just come up with 10 original ideas and jot them down on a piece of paper. Almost all these ideas won’t ever be used but you’ll be exercising your brain using non-linear thinking and making new neuro connections.

3 – Negative Brainstorming ( Origins Unknown)

Consider a problem or task you are currently working on, it could be internal or client facing. Ask yourself, “What’s a terrible solution I can think of or how I can I make my problem worse?” Come up with 5 ideas that address this question. Reverse brainstorming is liberating for a lot of people as it provides unconventional thinking methods that reach solutions ordinary ways do not achieve.

Be Creative

Next time you’re stuck on a problem or have a few extra minutes at your desk, put on your internal gym clothes, grab a Bang energy drink and give your brain a workout. See if it sparks a new way of thinking. Let me know how it works out and share some of your own creative exercises in the comments below.