We’ve all been there.
You’re sitting in a brainstorm and can’t think of a single idea. Your deadline is looming and you can’t come up with a topic to write about. You have to schedule a week’s worth of content and have no idea what to post.
You’re stuck in a creative rut.
While there are countless theories on how to get out of a creative roadblock—72 percent of people say their best ideas have come to them in the shower—the following TED Talks offer tried and trued advice to get those ideas flowing.
In this post, you’ll find TED Talks that will help you:
- Boost your creativity as soon as possible
- Find your next great idea
- Turn the power of play into workplace innovation
- Discover the secrets of the best ideators
Continue reading for a list of our favorite TED Talks that can help get you out of a creative rut—no shower required.
“How do you think of ideas?” This is the question American rock band OK Go gets asked most often. Their innovative music videos—featuring everything from dances in zero gravity to drone footage of hundreds of umbrella dancers in a Tokyo parking lot—have put the band on the map.
Lead singer and guitarist Damian Kulash leads their TED Talk by explaining that the band doesn’t think of ideas, but rather finds them. He uses an analogy of a sandbox to explain that the band uses their resources to get in the “sandbox” and play in order to find these great ideas. It is in the process of actually playing and working things out (in this “sandbox”) that their bigger, better ideas will eventually reveal themselves.
Kulash explains the creative process in the following steps:
- You think of your first idea and a plan to make it happen (i.e. Think about how you will build a sand castle in the sandbox analogy.)
- Go back and double-check your original idea (i.e. Change some of your sandcastle designs, move some towers, change some details)
- Revise it (i.e. Start playing with the sand and revising your sandcastle design further.)
- Go back and forth between the idea and the plan until you eventually have a solid, actionable strategy (i.e. Mapping out the step-by-step plan for building the sandcastle.)
- Execute your idea (i.e. Build the refined sandcastle.)
It seems simple, but Kulash emphasizes the importance of thinking over execution. Follow these steps—and play in your own “sandbox”—to find your own great ideas.
Radio host and author Julie Burstein sets the tone for her TED Talk by sharing “creativity grows from broken places.” Burstein speaks with creative people for a living and shares the key lessons about creativity she has learned over the years.
According to Burstein, there are four core aspects of life that we need to embrace so that our own creativity can flourish:
- Experience. Burstein explains we need to pay attention to the world around us. By being open to new experiences that could change us, we open ourselves up to creative possibilities.
- Challenge. Burstein explains how the most powerful creative work can come out of the parts of life that are most difficult.
- Limitation. Getting pushed to, and past, your limits is sure to boost creativity. Burstein explains how figuring out where your limits are is how many find where strengths lie instead.
- Loss. The most difficult of the lessons. Burstein explains that “in order to create, we have to stand in that space between what we see in the world and what we hope for, looking squarely at rejection, heartbreak, war, and death.”
The next time you need a creative boost, think about these four core aspects.
It may seem counterintuitive, but tech podcaster Manoush Zomorodi argues that boredom can increase creativity.
“When your body goes on autopilot, your brain gets busy forming new neural connections that connect ideas and solve problems,” Zomorodi explains. In a world where we have countless things to distract us from boredom, Zomorodi outlines the very reasons being bored can be beneficial to creativity.
Zomorodi created the “Bored and Brilliant” project, where she teamed up with researchers to understand how boredom impacts our lives—and what happens when we never let ourselves get bored.
The research suggests that people who never get bored:
- Are less creative when it comes to problem-solving and planning ahead
- Are more likely to experience emotions they have never encountered before, as boredom allows them to explore their feelings more deeply and without distraction
From this, Zomorodi concludes that when it comes to digital literacy, we must focus on the ways technology is used to improve our lives. In this, creativity is born.
Psychologist Adam Grant studies original thinkers for a living. He classifies “originals” as “nonconformists, people who not only have new ideas but take action to champion them, the people who stand out and speak up, who drive creativity and change in the world. They’re the people you want to bet on.”
In his TED Talk, Grant shares three key things he’s learned about recognizing unique thinkers—and how someone can become an original thinker themselves.
Three things original thinkers do are:
- Embrace fear and doubt. While Grant explains self-doubt is debilitating, he explains idea doubt is energizing and “motivates you to test, to experiment, to refine.”
- Procrastinate. Grant explains, “Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, and to make unexpected leaps.” To be original you don’t have to be first. You just have to be better.
- Let the bad ideas flow. A repertoire of bad ideas is evidence that at least you are trying. As Grant says, “The more output you churn out, the more variety you get and the better your chances of stumbling on something truly original.”
Writer Steven Johnson explores how the “strange delight of play” has been instrumental in the biggest innovations throughout history.
“Many of those playful but seemingly frivolous inventions ended up sparking momentous transformations in science, in politics and society,” Johnson explains.
Johnson continues to outline the importance of play for the creative ideation process. He explains, “The playful state of mind is fundamentally exploratory, seeking out new possibilities in the world around us. And that seeking is why so many experiences that started with simple delight and amusement eventually led us to profound breakthroughs.”
I was curious as to how workplaces can incorporate play into their culture, and found these six suggestions from Inc.:
- Cooperative play, such as games, help “spark healthy competition while also inspiring teamwork, camaraderie, and fun.” Try to incorporate a small game into your next brainstorm and see creativity flourish.
- Risk-taking play, as “recovering after a loss allows you to learn faster and get closer to a win.” Something we at Hootsuite have found helpful during a brainstorm is to spitball all our terrible, outrageous ideas first. Sharing our silliest ideas can be risky and make us feel vulnerable, but great ideas will often stem from these verbal games.
- Constructive play—such as building and designing. Our designers workspaces have dedicated areas stocked with play items such as Rubik’s Cubes, Play-Doh, origami paper, and other tactile objects.
- Exploratory play—where there’s no designated end to the activity. One of our most successful blog brainstorm sessions included participants doodling aimlessly on pieces of paper. There was no real reason for the doodling other than letting everyone explore an outlet for their creativity.
- Storytelling and narrative play—”…being a good storyteller is critical to making innovation a reality,” the Inc. article explains. For help with this, entrepreneur Ted Murphy shares a great workplace-friendly storytelling exercise on his blog.
- Physical play, where physical and social skills are exercised in a safe environment. Inc. explains that workspaces can be like “playgrounds, with flexible, open environments that encourage people to get up and bump into those they don’t sit next to. It’s those random encounters that fuel creativity.”
Inspiring creativity usually means getting outside of your comfort zone. Author and “stranger enthusiast” Kio Stark explains that “When you talk to strangers, you’re making beautiful interruptions into the expected narrative of your daily life—and theirs.”
Stark makes a point to engage with strangers and has been documenting these encounters for about seven years. Through these interactions, she discovered some interesting things:
- Sometimes breaking the rules a little bit is where the action is
- We can consciously learn to reject bias and make a space for change
- Using our senses instead of our fears can liberate us and create intimacy
Our brains are programmed to make assumptions and put things into categories based on previous learnings and societal conditioning. These biases are clear roadblocks to creativity. Stark’s key point is this: In order to expand our thought processes and break free from restrictive perceptions, we need to step outside of our comfort zones.
Economist and journalist Tim Harford explains how challenges and problems in the creative process can be a good thing.
Harford first shares the story of American pianist Keith Jarrett who played what would eventually become the best-selling solo piano track of all time, after initially refusing to play because of an issue with his piano.
This story mirrors the process many creatives face. We don’t want to work with bad tools—whether it’s an out of tune piano or a computer running Windows 98. Harford argues that the most brilliant results are usually found in these imperfect situations where obstacles need to be overcome.
Harford shares another example with an experiment conducted by high school teachers. Half of the teachers gave their students handouts with standard fonts such as Times New Roman or Arial, where the other half of the students were given handouts with difficult to read, oddball fonts such as italicized Comic Sans. The students given the difficult font ended up doing much better on their exams, no matter the subject.
The moral of Harford’s story is that difficulty forces us to work a bit harder, and think a bit more about what we are doing. Creativity is not driven by complacency, so the next time you feel overwhelmed by a project, take a step back and embrace your frustration—you’re about to get your next great idea.
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