The creative process: Where method and magic meet

illustrated character over jigsaw pieces

Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but… I’m not a fan of routine.

I usually wake up around 6.30am, but I don’t set an alarm. I spend my mornings reading and thinking in a fairly meandering and unfocussed way. Some weeks I meditate every day, most weeks I don’t.

I doubt any of this makes me unusual.

In fact, I’ve sensed a pretty broad backlash against the wake up at 3am and journal about my goals before Pelotoning desperately away from my deep existential despair kind of hustle-porn that once dominated the LinkedIn feeds of business brofluencers worldwide.

Along with my low-level allergic response to the idea of completely standardising how I use my time, the word “process” has long been liable to give me a nasty psychic itch; neat step-by-step diagrams haunt my dreariest nightmares. We all know reality is messier than that, right?

So how the f*ck have I found myself creating Idea Tactics – a card deck that promises to give groups a repeatable creative process they can follow?

Well, over the years, working with designers, developers, marketers, and executives to generate creative breakthroughs, I’ve discovered that the best ideas don’t just emerge by accident; they spring from careful planning and sustained discipline. There’s also decades of evidence from controlled experiments showing that structured methods lead to more creative outputs.

So, I’ve studied the greats. Graham Wallas’s Art of Thought. Bill Bernbach’s Technique for Producing Ideas. I’ve learned “design thinking”, run design sprints, and magpied my favourite ideation methods.

And yet, I remain enchanted by the mystery, the magic, the indefinable alchemy of exciting new ideas bubbling into life.

Ask anyone creative (artists, writers, or designers, for instance) about their process, and they’ll probably admit that chaos is a big part of it. My mum – a textile artist and author – told me her work is “very process-driven”. Then, one sentence later, added it’s all “rather intuitive and sometimes slightly haphazard!”. Jill Bolte Taylor – respected neuroanatomist and NY Times best-selling author – has also said that “chaos is the first step in the creative process.”

Aren’t these things – chaos and process – polar opposites?

Yes, they are. And it’s precisely this tension that fuels great ideas and effective creative output.

On the one hand, we need freedom, openness, and even a healthy dose of mess. On the other hand, we need structure and constraints. The “infinite dance” between those two extremes can feel awkward, but it’s a balance you need to master if you want to consistently come up with fresh ideas and make interesting things.

Idea Tactics aims to keep you in that sweet-spot, with a carefully-crafted system that guides you through six distinct phases of idea generation, but with activities designed to foster just enough chaos to keep your creative process full of life.    

Activities to help you mine your subconscious, to encourage cross-pollination of ideas, and to remind you of messy human truths. 

Isn’t inspiration unpredictable?

Maybe, like me, you’ve always felt there’s something a bit jarring about scheduling time for ideas. What if you’re simply not feeling inspired when that 3pm on a grey October Tuesday rolls around?

That’s a reasonable question, but the truth is that flashes of insight and beautiful moments of creative flow tend to happen “once you are already in motion, not while you're standing around doing nothing.”

That doesn’t mean everything’s always neat and linear once you start, of course. If you’ve watched the Beatles documentary Get Back, that should be pretty clear: “We see the mess; we live the boredom. We watch them struggle, and somehow it doesn’t diminish the magic at all.”

Outside of scheduled time like idea workshops, there’s the mostly invisible but completely invaluable discipline of simply gathering interesting things. Whether you always keep a notebook with you, or maintain a “spark file”  of ideas you can return to later, you’ll find it’s much easier to feel inspired if you’re already in the habit of collecting ideas, ready to connect and combine afresh in future.

Serendipity might feel like sorcery, but it usually happens on purpose.

As legendary art director and designer, George Lois, once said: “Nothing comes from nothing. You must continuously feed the inner beast that sparks and inspires.”

Linus Pauling – chemist, peace activist, and the only person to have been awarded two unshared Nobel Prizes – said “the best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” If nothing else, Idea Tactics will certainly help you do that.

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