Stuck? Try this useful problem solving tip!

Sometimes you get so close to a challenge, problem or project, that it smothers you… and your creativity.

Give yourself some distance

When you’re stuck or making too little progress on a creative project, put some distance between the project and yourself. Imagine the project is in a different place, miles away from where you’re working. Look at it again, this time from a distance.

This study confirms what many have known for years. That viewing a creative project from a distance alters our connection with it. This subtle change shifts our perspective. It gives us fresh eyes and a chance to see what we were previously blind to.

Try it!

Consumption devices or creativity machines?


Mobile phones and tablets tend to be regarded as consumption devices.

This is factually incorrect. Seth Godin has it wrong.

The device is simply a tool

It’s the device’s owner who decides whether to use the technology to create or to consume. And when they consume, it’s their choice what they choose to feed their mind with.

[Note: Most of the updates on this site were written and researched using mobile devices.]

Show… don’t tell

Telling is easy. That’s because talk is cheap. Anyone can say anything.

Showing is tricky. That’s because you have to create. You have to put your art out there and risk the ire of the critics.

Of course, this is why there’s never a shortage of tellers. It’s also why those who show are so extremely rare.

If you want to get noticed, the answer is clear. Show… don’t tell.

Creativity and the tools we use

I’ve visited the room where Dylan Thomas did much of his writing and also the tiny shed where Roald Dahl wrote.

Dylan_Thomas_photoSomething that struck me about these amazing writers, was how extremely typical their surroundings were.

Nothing fancy. Just a space to create, where they could think and work.

The mechanics are secondary

Often, we get caught up in the mechanics of creativity. What software to work with… which type of computer to use.

I think to a lesser or greater degree, these are stalling tactics. Find the mix that feels right for you, then create.

The rest is largely unimportant.

Don’t think about making art

“Don’t think about making art. Just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they’re deciding, make even more art.”

– Andy Warhol

Thinking differently?


Have you ever noticed how those creative geniuses you see on TED videos or Creative Mornings videos, almost all use Macs?

Ironically, none of them are embracing Steve Jobs’ mantra, “think different.” Instead, they’ve joined the same predictable design cult. They stand on stage, eager to share how uniquely original they are, creating from the same limited tool kit as their fellow creative thinking gurus.

I find that odd — odd, limiting and narrow minded.

Thinking different with different tools

As well as pencils, pens and paper, I use 2 Macs, a Windows PC, a Linux PC and a number of android devices. Each works differently. Each has different software.

Each causes you to (literally) think differently, when you use them.

Maybe a more useful way to come up with creative ideas, is NOT to limit yourself to one hardware or software platform.

I wonder how Warhol’s art would have been limited, if he’d followed the crowd and insisted on using only oil on canvas? Think about that for a moment!

How to find the answers you need, Einstein style!

One of the keys to problem solving, is to learn how to stick with the challenge for long enough to find the answer you need.

Einstein famously said: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

I think we can all agree that Einstein was one of the greatest minds in history, however, his decision to stick with a challenge and work on it for a long time is something we can all benefit from.

Creative thinking requires effort

Over on my marketing blog, one of the most common phrases I see in the comments section when I make a suggestion, is a variant of; ‘It’s not as easy as it sounds.” Most people seem to be programmed to seek the easy or lazy answer by default. Then, if the answer doesn’t come easy, they quit. This places a very low ceiling on their potential, as there’s only so far someone can go if they are not prepared to think deeply, when required.

If I have a challenge that’s proving a tricky nut to crack, I employ a few strategies before I decide it’s beyond me:

  • I take the problem for a walk. Ensuring I have a way to record any answers that come to me. This is the best thing I have ever found for developing creative ideas. Almost every challenge I have is resolved this way.
  • I clearly define the challenge at the top of a sheet of paper, then write as many answers as possible. I allow my mind to flow and write down everything that comes to me. I also make sure the question is written correctly.
  • I talk to someone with expertise in the area, where my challenge resides. For example, if it’s a design problem I’ll talk to a designer – even if their field of design is different.
  • I talk to someone whose opinion I respect, yet who has no expertise on that area. This outside perspective has proven to be a goldmine of creative answers, as their feedback directs me to look for answers in a new, often fertile direction.
  • I then give the challenge as long as required, before deciding the answer is beyond me.

Some challenges come with a hard deadline, so there is a set time frame within which the answer is needed. However, in most cases the deadline is more flexible than that.

In short: For us to stand the greatest chance of getting an above average answer, we should stick with it for longer than the average person.

Video: Jonathan Ward the tech HQ man

Jonathan Ward, of international architects firm NBBJ, explains the thinking behind the designs used to construct HQ buildings for Google, Amazon, Samsung and others.

In each instance,  the buildings are designed in order to facilitate real-world social networking and collaboration.

It’s worth watching for the BBC interviewer’s question about the Amazon HQ, which Ward has designed. An obvious conflict between Amazon online, and offline, is mentioned, leaving Ward a little lost for words.

Produced by The BBC.

Your obligation to those whose work you value

When was the last time you showed your appreciation, to an artist whose work you enjoy?

The reason I ask you this, is that artists rely heavily on the feedback they receive. Whether that feedback is in sales of their work, tickets to their performance or messages of encouragement, feedback is what shows them who values their work.

Why your feedback matters

I remember talking to a guy once, who almost quit writing his blog because he got so little feedback from it. I took a look at his work and was extremely impressed. I asked him if he had any analytics software plugged into his blog, to count how many visitors or readers he attracted. He said that he didn’t. So, I installed an analytics package and told him I would go through the results with him in a week.

When we analysed the activity on his blog, it was clear that hundreds of visitors were connecting with his work every day. Quite an achievement for a pretty niche blog.

Without that feedback, the writer was about to quit. As much as he enjoyed writing, there seemed little point blogging if no one was interested. He now has several thousand daily readers and a professional publishing contract.

Your obligation

All art is based on human connections — between the artist and those who connect with their work. If you want your favourite artists to carry on creating, you have an obligation. Your obligation is to feedback to them, either through financially supporting their work, telling your friends about them or by letting the artist know you value their work.

In short: If you value an artist, give them a hug!

Creative People: Show this video to clients who rush you!

It’s extremely common for clients to try and rush creative professionals. They want projects finished fast… often too fast. This is usually because they are ignorant of how the creative process works.

If only there was a way to explain to them, that creativity takes time.

Well, now there is!

The video above runs for just 2 minutes, yet demonstrates with great clarity, why creativity should not be rushed. It shows how the quality of creative work diminishes, when people try and complete a project too quickly. The example they use is both funny and extremely powerful.

So, the next time someone tries to get you to produce your art too quickly, show them this video!