Creative Un-Stucking – Making New Connections

So far in the discussion about how to move forward when stuck creatively, we’ve covered two methods: shifting perspectives and finding inspiration. If you have a lot of experience being conscious of your own creativity – the how you do it part of the puzzle – you may have noted that these two methods are not only useful when you’re stuck, but are also great general creativity sparkers in that they help a bunch with idea generation, whether you’re stuck or already in the flow.

This week, we’re going to cover another way to get out of stuck that’s also one of the best idea generators I know. I would go so far as to say that the vast majority of really great creative ideas come from this one method alone:

Making New Connections.

Interestingly, both the skill of shifting perspectives and the various methods for finding inspiration work so well, in part, because they help us make new connections. They open the mind to new ways of thinking, or just open the mind period. That said, making new connections is a skill all on its own. Which means it can be learned and practiced. And, of course, the more you practice making new connections, the easier it becomes.

At first glance, the concept of making new connections may seem fairly self-explanatory. You take what you are working on and put it up against ideas or “things” from elsewhere – weird ideas, incongruous ideas, ideas from other mediums, ideas from other fields, and ideas from other people. But when creative people (meaning everyone) use the skill of making new connections, it often does not look like the work of putting ideas up against other ideas.

Instead of work, it looks like magic.

As a result, being around someone who is good at making new connections (if you are unpracticed at it and doubt your own inherent creativity to begin with) can have a really negative impact. It can make you believe, even more deeply, that you really do belong in the “I’m NOT Creative” box, when you absolutely DO NOT belong in that box. Ever.

Like everything else, making new connections, easy as it may sound, means committing to using techniques that will help you make those new connections. In other words, it means committing to playing around with the skill. Even if you already feel wildly creative, practicing even more with making new connections can blow the lid off whatever plateau you happen to be on at the moment – no matter how high up on the creativity scale that plateau is or how prolific you currently are.

Going back to where we started, if the plateau you’re on is a stuck point, making new connections may be one of the fastest ways out.

Here are a few ideas on the how-to of making new connections:

1. Ask: What’s it like? This simple question was asked in almost every start-up session I ever attended as a copywriter at ad agencies. Often, finding a comparison to something else – sometimes something already done before was the fast track to new connections that would not have been discovered if we had kept a hard focus on the project in front of us rather than looking out into the world for similar ideas, challenges, opportunities etc. What’s it like? is also a way of finding a metaphor for your creative undertaking, but I want to include metaphors as separate connection making tools because What’s it’s Like? can also be about finding connections between your project and other projects by asking what else has a similar objective/goal or a strategic or tactical likeness. 

2. Mine for a Metaphor: Asking, “What is this like?” with the goal of finding metaphoric connections rather than practical ones is a really powerful tool. In fact, coaches use metaphors with their clients all the time to help them think and see outside themselves. Having a few metaphors at hand to start the ball rolling can be helpful – rather than jumping into to thinking about metaphors cold. Examples of metaphors include: caterpillars turning into butterflies is a metaphor change – even more, transformation; a candle burning down to the ground might be a metaphor for resources running out or tiredness.

3. Use Connection Cards: Get a stack of index cards and write a single word/noun on each (e.g. Light Bulb, Elephant, Rocket Ship). Pull out your deck when you’re stuck and choose a card randomly. Explore the connection between the thing/word/noun on the card and your topic.

4. Become an Alien From Another Planet: This tip is based in perspective shifting, but it’s ultimately about putting yourself into a perspective that sparks you to more easily see things differently and, hence, make new connections you normally would not. An alien from another planet doesn’t know the rules here on earth. She doesn’t know what things are. She is free to make up stuff based on what she sees without all the baggage you/we carry. She has fresh eyes, but most importantly she is going to naturally see connections we don’t.

5. Make a Mind Map: We’ve talked about mind mapping before and this tool is particularly relevant for this discussion because the way to work with a Mind Map is all about making connections happen – creating something new from something else and building on your ideas as you go deeper – or toward the outer most layers of your mind map.

To wild, weird, wacky and wondrous connections,

Susan B.

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