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The Corners of a Creative Mind: 3 Tips For Expanding Your Mind To New Ideas

I believe great design can shape the world. I look for design inspiration in every phase of my day. At work, I pay attention to trends and see who is advancing great design ideas. In my off time, I am taking in the world, not only observing what is there but also the reaction people have to what they encounter. To be good at what I do, I must constantly expand my mind and exercise my creativity.

We tend to live in our own bubbles, in both real life and with our thoughts. We surround ourselves in echo chambers, trapped by our own preferences and cognitive understanding. To be truly in touch with your creativity, it is important to step out of that modality and make an effort to reach into the minds of others. This often means, even if only for a moment, making an attempt to reconsider everything – recontextualizing what you know through the eyes of a stranger. This is my creative process, and today, I would like to give you three ways you can also make it yours.

Step 1: Stop Being A Specialist

“To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

To be more creative, you must step outside your own skillset. Understand that the outside world does not have the same references as you do, nor does it draw the same conclusions. Holding on to those references and specific schools of thought stifles creativity; they can be applied later, but if you wish to open up your mind to new ideas, you must put your own way of seeing things to the side and reframe your perspective.

Step 2: Don’t Attach Yourself to the First Idea

“Open one door, but keep the keys to others.”

The thrill of a new idea is a rush. When one pops into your head, it can be captivating. All of a sudden, you are whisked away into a world of what could be. There may be a time while indulging in this fantasy when you realize this new idea may not perfectly fit its intended use. You may find yourself holding on to the wrong idea just because it’s a new one. 

Just because an idea is new to you doesn’t make it new to everyone else. Take a breath, save that idea for a place that works better, save it in a doc called “Good Ideas,” and keep thinking– another idea is around the corner. And remember, the first idea is often a gateway to the one that will work.

Step 3: Start with the Familiar

“Stand on the shoulders of giants, but reach for new stars.”

To access the corners of your creative mind, first, boil things down to their elements – what familiar building blocks are in play? To really take control of your mind and access creative ideas that work, you must fully understand what things are familiar. Ask yourself, “What are the universal components that make this like other things?” Then, you are set to add the items to make your concept unique.

I like to use the 80/20 rule. The sweet spot for a successful idea is that it should be 80% familiar and 20% original. Audiences are comforted by things they understand and excited by the twist of something they have never seen before. Take Nike’s PG-1 for example; the outsole design is inspired by fish scales. While marketed as a multi-directional traction pattern, the design comes from a familiar but unexpected place: George’s love of fishing. While many may not immediately draw the connection to fish scales, it is universally familiar but used in a radically creative way. 

Opening your mind is a constant exercise in learning, unlearning, and applying something new to something familiar. Once you begin down this path, you can fill your days seeing the beauty in what was once the mundane, and become just like me and the rest of my team of creatives at STAUFFER – advocates of designing a better, more unified world.

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