Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Creative Juices

What gets you thinking creatively?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the need to have more time spent away from the normal timesinks that define our working lives. Getting more dead time. Daydreaming time. Doodling time.

My main ways:

1. Daydreaming

I had 10 hours of driving time on Friday. That’s the perfect environment for me to get some thinking done, I’m unable to escape to the digital tethers of mobile phone or computer, and reading a book isn’t possible. Therefore I think, and seemingly unrelated patterns start to become apparent from different projects, people and initiatives that I’m involved in.

Daydream logo

This fits in with an article I read on Fast Company recently, “Hard Work’s Overrated, Maybe Detrimental“.

“By most measures, we spend about a third of our time daydreaming, yet our brain is unusually active during these seemingly idle moments. Left to its own devices, our brain activates several areas associated with complex problem solving, which researchers had previously assumed were dormant during daydreams. Moreover, it appears to be the only time these areas work in unison.”

Honestly, I don’t do this daydreaming stuff enough, I need to do it more. My goal is to untether myself from my iPhone and books more often. Some of my best ideas last year came from an airplane flight where I forgot my book and my iPhone was dead, leaving me with 5 hours an pen and a notebook…

2. Doodling

I used to draw a lot, but about 7-8 years ago I just kind of stopped. I’m determined to get started again, even if it is just doodling spaceships in a notebook.

Closely related to doodling is finding crazy, yet professional and cool, images that inspire me to strange thoughts. Case in point…

Snow Zebara

Good blogs to follow for occasional posts with reams of these types of images are InstantShift or Smashing Magazine.

How about you?

I’m very interested in hearing how others get their creative juices flowing. At some point we all have to shake up the norm, the status quo, in our lives or work. Is there a way that you do this purposefully?


  1. I also find a leisurely drive quite relaxing and thought stimulating. Strumming ‘aimlessly’ on the guitar helps alot too!

  2. There’s one more component of the driving situation that does it for me – change and progression. I love moving by land. That actually adds an inspiring jolt, an ever-changing landscape, shifting backdrop. It’s a brilliant place to think, let the mind wander.

    Re the second. I don’t know about doodling, but I posted awhile ago about how my thoughts come out on paper. I’m not a list person, and the result is always lines, arrows, chicken scratch, boxes, graphs:
    http://www.cashewman.com/2009/08/what-do-your-thoughts-look-like .

    Good post.

  3. daydreaming and doodling do inspire me. I like to give myself little assignments or challenges to try to solve. Can I take this concept and mash it up with this other one? Like chocolate and peanut butter.

  4. Doodles works like “spin cycle” for me, kind of the (for Macs) Command+Option+P+R at reboot – clear the memory cache and enable me to focus down the line. A good walk helps me day dream a bit, as does staring into the fire. I’d say two other activities I rate highly for getting the creative juices going are:
    – Visit a museum, especially one with a new and perhaps unfamiliar show, preferably of large works (small ones concentrate overmuch). the visual interaction, combined with sketching, packs between the ears (in my case doesn’t take much!).
    – A second activity is talking. Call someone up, meet up over a drink and dive into a conversation. Preferably a divergent thinkers. For stimulation, convergent thinkers are less better conversationalists IMHO.

    Can’t wait to hear what others experience. Take it easy. Dream on.

  5. It’s completely cliche but I have some of my best thoughts while in the shower. I think it has to do with the fact that the activity is so rote that I, quite literally, don’t need to think about it. And that frees my mind up to realize things and make connections that might not normally occur to me. I imagine that any such activity that is “second nature” would provide similar affordances.

  6. The combination of a long run and podcast is what gets me thinking. More specifically, the podcast will provide fodder zoning out in new directions. A few of my favorites include IT Conversations, Peter Day’s World of Business, and Seminars About Long-Term Thinking

  7. Walking. Without a doubt. I think people sometimes think I’m being rude when I say I’d rather walk somewhere for an hour rather than take a lift from them. But it’s just about the only down time I get these days. When I’m staying in Palo Alto I deliberately stay about 30 minutes walk from Stanford, which gives me that down time at the start and the end of the day. Funnily enough, I’m about to head back that way now…

  8. LEGOs anyone? Ever since I was a little kid I have loved LEGOs and as I grow older I always try to have at least a few around the desk. Or K’Nex. Helps me realize that with so little you can create so much.

    I was also recently directed to http://projecteuler.net. It has a series of math problems that are solved by writing computer algorithms, and they vary in difficulty. Especially when I need to get into a coding mood, this can be a motivation.

    Finally, exercising works as well. Running and swimming, anything that gets your physical body into a rhythm that requires minimal brain activity leaves your brain plenty of time to do other things, and it helps keep you healthy.

  9. I’m impressed. To be honest, I thought most people would think I was a little off my rocker with this post, but it appears that if I am, then at least I’m in good company. 🙂

  10. riding a bike or running with no music/headphones of any kind. biking for me is almost instantly contemplative, but running takes me about 3-4 miles before i get in the endorphin zone.

  11. Taking a walk around the local park, watching people, thinking, riding my bike, praying…..

  12. Completely on your page! I have been thinking about taking a drawing class and am lately addicted to searching “sketches” on Flickr to get more inspired. Unfortunately, many creative juices often flow when I travel. Expensive personal development, no?

  13. Personally, I get my mp3 player, play some Opera and take a one-two hour walk, clears the mind and allows for new ideas….

  14. I’m a software engineer but in my spare time I draw, take photos and read (mostl scifi). In high school my optional subject was drawing so ever since then I’ve kept up the drawing. The photography I started about 12 years ago when I found myself working for a client in San Francisco and just felt I had to capture the landscape around me.

    Most people are multi-dimensional, and neglecting one aspect of your personality never does you any good. I went through this period where I thought that to be a good engineer I had to read and program 24 hours and do nothing else. I became better at software engineering, but I was miserable. I’ve found that my extra-curricular activities recharge me and make me a more effective programmer.

  15. Oh yeah, and riding. I tried my hand at road racing a few years ago but now I ride mostly for fun (nothing like getting on the bike and doing 50 miles to clear your head). Unfortunately, where I live, this is only an option in spring, summer and early fall.

  16. Finding a creative source is an important part of the work I do. Whenever I am ready to work on piece of art or a particular project I spend hours looking at other great artists, looking for inspiration. African Digital Art is a great source for this. Most of my creativity comes to me in the middle of the night when everyone is a sleep. I have a nagging thought and I translate that into my work

  17. Great post, and such good ideas! What I like to do is to spend an hour wandering around an unknown city or a neighborhood I don’t know well without any specific agenda, and just let the ideas, observations, associations start to flow. Found this article in a design mag recently and also wrote about how photographers in Lagos are using it here

  18. “What gets you thinking creatively?”
    Depends on the solution I am looking for. If it’s just a technical issue, some good ideas usually come up when I am relaxed under the shower. But being truly creative and coming up with something relatively new from scratch – that’s the hardest part. We don’t have a car, so I am with Ken and often use the time while walking around.

    There’s a nice proverb for this situation, Erik: “Atangaye na jua hujuwa”. Maybe the right motto for your start in EAK?

  19. My thought process is sparked after watching a movie, that takes me out of my realm and also just before I go to sleep, I find myself talking to myself saying “what if”, “yeah that’s it!”. Moral of the story M2=Movies + Monologues 🙂

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