Want to be more creative — think again.

67595625 One of the aspects of working at an agency that I love the most is the shifting from one account to another and one challenge to another.  It's a constant mental wind sprint.  But sometimes, after really sinking into a project — I need a little help to etch a sketch my brain and start fresh.

I've found that a 5-10 minute shift in the kind of thinking I do really does cleanse my palette.   A quick round or two of scrabble or sudoku usually does the trick.

Now here's what I find interesting.  I usually will do a sudoku puzzle until I get stuck.  At that moment, I see no additional solutions.

But when I go back to the same sudoku puzzle the next day or even a few hours later — I always see the answer.  I don't know what it is about my brain that renders it blind one minute and a day later, it sees all.  (I'll bet Robyn McMaster or Ellen Weber will know.)

But…my brain is cooking enough to recognize there's a lesson in that for all of us.  We're all working at such a crazy pace today.  We push to cross things off the To Do list and all too often, we don't go back to add another thought or take one more crack at finding a better solution.

We don't think again often enough.  I think when we fail to do that…when we do not walk away and then pick it back up, we're leaving much more than scraps on the table. 

Do you build in think again time?  Do your processes or systems support going back for another look?  Have you mastered this?  If so…tell us how!

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23 comments on “Want to be more creative — think again.

  1. Hi Drew

    Isn’t it more a case of “stop thinking for a while”, followed by automagically think again?

    (Hate to spill the beans on where I find new/better ideas when I’m stuck – but it is a very small room ;-))

    Karin H. (Keep It Simple Sweetheart, specially in business)

  2. or sleep. sleep is the creative’s and procrastinators best friend. it’s like your mind works for you when you don’t even know it. and when you return to the project in the morning, things have an amazing way of coming together.

  3. “We don’t think again often enough.” I love this quote, and it’s very true.

    I know sleep does wonders for your muscle memory. For example, if you’re trying to learn something on guitar, one of the best things you can do is practice it a little each day and give yourself a chance to sleep, because it’s during our sleep that the muscle memory sets in.

    I haven’t mastered this, and I don’t stop enough. Unfortunately, stopping to think is one of those things we all know we should do, but we all a) don’t make time for it, and/or b) we don’t think our superiors will appreciate it.


  4. Mike Colwell says:


    My first career was as a computer programmer and nowhere was this more true. Anytime I became stuck, I would walk away and usually have the answer in a few hours. More importantly, it often entailed taking a new path to the solution.

  5. Ellen Weber says:

    Great post and discussion — makes my day! Wow – thanks Drew and all.

    There are several wonderful reasons in the brain for this phenomena. basically, they are mostly connected to the brain’s working memory – which is the part we use to process news facts and solve problems, and the basal ganglia – where we store past knowledge, facts, lifetime habits and experiences. How so?

    In the working memory — ideas are fresh – yet few. So they cannot always help you to SEE THE LIGHT as it fits into a bigger picture so to speak. Not in that state anyway:-)

    On reflection, however, things change. The brain has a chance to reconnect the newer working memory parts and older basal ganglia parts. Make sense?

    It’s often in the reflection stage (5th stage of the MITA model for learning and leading) that we connect what we learn with what we already know and at that time the bigger picture come alive!

    Think of the brainpower in action if a facilitator helps leaders to do this connecting with clients and customers:-) Nuff said – but what a great discussion. What do you think? .

  6. Hi Drew,

    Good food for thought. Like you, I find I’m better at puzzling out the right solution, messaging, copy, etc., when I take the time to let the information percolate in my brain for a day. Of course, I don’t always have that luxury — but I try whenever possible to build in some “thinking” time.

    It also helps when I have some downtime. 🙂


  7. Lee says:

    Interesting to think about – I know exactly what you mean. When re-visiting issues, I often come up with a totally new idea or solution and it seems so obvious then. The eternal “Why didn’t I think of this before?” I think shows how complex our brains are – triggers for new ideas change often.
    Although I don’t plan well for “thinking again”, I do it because I never settle for what we have. I think people who are focused on constant improvement tend to do this a little more naturally.
    One last thought – there is nothing like a good discussion with someone to also bring out new ideas . . .

  8. Drew,
    I totally agree, your brain can only be “ON” so long. It is like a battery, that starts draining juice and you have to replug it in. Change it so it is “reconnecting”.

    I was a golf professional and studied a lot about the psychological side of it. Tiger Woods can not completely concentrate on his round for 5 hours. He has to shut it down a little between engagements. So what pro’s do is when it is time to height awareness they create a trigger which tells the brain it is time to “ACT” and set concentration mode on like a light switch.

    So it is important to shut it down every 20-30 minutes even for a minute or two and them create a trigger that resets it. Try it and you will increase your productivity.

    Chad Rothschild

  9. Your image it’s the spot on this one, Drew!

    You are on the right path to cleanse your palette and let it go. If a problem frustrates us or we think about the wall we keep hitting, it causes stress and stress releases Cortisol, a brain chemical that shuts down clear thinking.

    Because you are free enough to let go of the activity for awhile, Drew, you get into something else that you enjoy or brings contentment. This helps your brain to release serotonin, a brain chemical of well-being. You come back and often see the solution right away or within a short time.

    Our brain chemicals are another piece that may play a part as you unravel the mystery of how the brain operates when you hit sudoku block or even writers’ block.

    Thanks for the mention in your post. 🙂

  10. Karin,

    Yes, maybe think…ignore…think is the better way of describing it. But the idea of walking away and then coming back to a brain tugger.

    And I think many people, if they would admit it, would join you in saying that’s where they get some great ideas!


  11. 623 (as I like to call you),

    Excellent point. Sleep can often be the bridge to better ideas. I think when we are wrestling with something and tuck it away, our brain keep chugging away at it.

    I’m sure many people have experienced the “woo hoo” moment of waking up with a better answer than they had before they took the nap or crashed for the night.


  12. Brett,

    Hmm, I didn’t know about the muscle memory part of all of this. That’s interesting…and I would have to guess that its tied to this idea of better ideas after we let our brains rest a bit.

    Maybe that’s why I always wanted to crash instead of continuing to study during college? I just wanted to learn even better!


  13. Mike,

    Yes…that’s exactly what I am talking about — new paths. So it’s not just more options, but often times…completely different options that you would have ever considered.

    It’s sort of the “let the pot simmer” model of ideation.


  14. Ellen,

    I knew you and Robyn would be able to help in this conversation. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom.

    So is there a way to trigger this reflection stage? Are there activities or questions we could ask that would ask our brain to do this connecting of the old and new?

    In terms of being a facilitator — how would we bring this about in a group setting?

    This is fascinating…thanks again for being a part of the conversation.


  15. Daria,

    Don’t you wonder if there aren’t ways that we could create a process that would make that extra thinking time a reality, rather than a luxury?

    I don’t it could be perfected but even if you bought yourself that extra time on 50% of your work…wouldn’t that be grand?

    How might we (and all the other creative/marketing professionals out there)get to that point?


  16. Lee,

    So true…I often find that “thinking out loud” with another person really helps me not only flesh out the ideas I already have, but spot new off shoots or possibilities (the paths that Mike mentioned in his comment) that I had never even considered.

    And that’s not even factoring in the value and ideas the other person can add to the mix.

    It’s one of the reasons why I love being part of a team. Better ideas all around.


  17. Chad,

    Interesting…so help me understand this a little better. When a good golfer’s playing a round of 18…how does he rest his brain? I hear what you’re saying I am just wondering specifically what can they do out in the middle of a golf course to turn the switch on and off.


  18. Robyn,

    Thanks for jumping in. I knew that I could count on you and Ellen to add insight into the conversation.

    I hadn’t thought about the brain chemicals side of all of this. I think we often forget that we can trigger these chemicals (good and bad) and how that influences the way we function.

    Cortisol sounds like a nasty chemical all around. Is there a way to lessen it in our body?

    And…in a group brainstorming session, are there things we could do to activate and release more serotonin?


  19. I think all the comments have hit on the fact that sleep and a break is absolutely necessary in regenerating creativity. Perhaps this calls for a new way to manage work. I run a startup and like to focus on one main thing every day. This prevents me from getting distracted and its a good feeling to know at the end of the day that I accomplished something important. But based on the comments here, I’m starting to reconsider. What if the optimal solution is to start 4-5 projects at the same time and bounce between them. Good ideas just take awhile to blossom and by not focusing on one project you are maximizing the chance that an “aha” moment will take place. Does this sound like a good strategy Drew and others?

  20. Karin H. says:

    Hi Russell

    I ‘live’ on projects to be honest, always have two or three on the go (and then a few on the ‘back-burner’). Precisely of the reason you suggest: when I’m stuck on one project (or have to wait for something for it) I switch to another project. (Prevents a lot of ‘waiting’ frustrations too I’ve noticed)

    It is definitely not the same as multi-tasking (IMHO that is still very inefficient) but gives the mind to mull over issues on the projects not being worked on at the moment, which often results in more than one project ‘hiring’ ideas from the other – and more projects get finished reasonably on time too 😉

    Karin H

  21. Karin,

    Are there “signs” that tell you it’s time to shift to the next project?


  22. Karin H says:

    Hi Drew

    Intriguing question 😉 (Made me stop and think about ‘habits’).
    Yes, I would say there are typical signs – at least in my case.
    1) when I notice an increasing struggle finding the correct words or disagreeing with a sentence I wrote – sometime just because of ‘Double Dutch English’ though.
    2) Knowing I should open the program I need to work in to progress with a project but ‘procrastinating’.
    3) Letting the pile of notes I made after working hours grow without implementing the ideas, words etc in the project I wrote them down for in the first place.

    Cure: switching to another project to ‘overcome’ the ‘block’ – in first instance to circumvent the block. Normally the ‘new’ project progresses well which gives my renewed courage/energy to tackle the – then somehow disappeared – block on the other project.

    Hope this makes sense?

    Karin H

  23. Karin,

    It makes perfect sense. Isn’t it interesting how we cope/survive on an unconscious level but when we stop to really look at it…there are clues there that we can use to increase both our productivity and our satisfaction with our work.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your process.


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