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Can Anyone Be Creative?

I fundamentally believe that anyone can be creative. Working in the creative industry for the past decade, it’s easy for me to say, right? But ideas don’t just happen, at least they didn’t for me when I was starting out.

There are methods, processes and tools that can be learned, practiced and utilised for coming up with new ideas. It may be a little tough for someone brand new to coming up with ideas, but with a bit of work, anyone can be creative.

I’m starting a brand new creative project and I’m documenting the process from day one, hence my first vlog above. I’m doing this as a journal for myself and to demonstrate methods to come up with creative solutions to interesting and difficult problems for anyone interested in learning.

In the next video and blog I’ll be talking about the project in a bit more detail, so be sure to look out for that.

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Steal from Your Heroes

We’ve all had our heroes since childhood, from family members to film stars, musicians to sports stars and beyond. These people inspired us to dream about what our futures could hold. As we grow, our heroes change. We may not even call them heroes anymore, but there are people we admire for their abilities and character traits we’d like to see in ourselves. As Oscar Wilde once said “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. What better way to repay our heroes than by stealing from them!

Imitating Our Heroes

When learning a new discipline, a good place to start is by looking at what people before us have done. When learning guitar for example, it’s a good idea to learn songs by our favourite musicians. At first, we might sound like a clone of a certain guitarist, but as we broaden our influences, we’ll start to pick up different techniques and styles that we blend together to develop a unique voice.

The same applies to any craft. If you like business, start by modelling existing business strategies or business people. Start simple. Slowly implement ideas you like from other businesses to see if they work or not. Over time your specific mix of influences will make your business unique.

Everyone Does It!

If you look at the early works of various masters from any discipline, it’ll probably look a lot different from the signature style you’re familiar with. If you research enough, you’ll see how their heroes influenced the work and how over time how their own style evolved as they took on new influences or dropped certain techniques or strategies.

Become Your Own Hero

It’s tempting to put a single hero on a pedestal and simply try to become them. I did this as a kid (I wanted to be Bruce Lee). But this is impossible, there is only one of them, but more importantly there is only one of you.

Sure, implement traits and techniques from your heroes that are helpful to your development, but get your inspiration from a wide source of influences. Strive to create your own flavour and become the hero of your own story.

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Creating Connections

There are no original ideas. This statement gets thrown around a lot, especially in creative fields like writing and business. It may even be true to a certain extent. Most products, stories, businesses and designs are built on established foundations and templates. So how can people keep producing ideas that you wish you’d thought of (or worse, that you actually did think of but didn’t act on!)?

Connecting Existing Ideas

It may be impossible to come up with a completely original idea, but what if we connected two or three existing ideas together?

Story, images, sound and computer programming were combined together to create video games. Calling a taxi wasn’t an original idea, but if you connect taxi drivers to the Internet to smart phones, you get Uber. Look around you and see what you use day to day that combine ideas that existed before.

Creativity is about making connections. Connections between principles, ideas and knowledge.

One of the most valuable creative ideas I had at the company I work for came from a basic knowledge of code and an understanding of image formats. We give customers the ability to create personalised characters that we print on a wide array of products. Being able to manipulate an image with code meant we could scale the personalisation options we offered to our customers by many multiples of what we could before. We were also able to design and build a full web to print solution, which reduced production time and errors. This came from simply connecting two ideas.

Become an Ideas Sponge

To be able to make these connections, it helps to constantly absorb ideas and knowledge from all walks of life in order to build a mental library (and even a physical/digital library of notes). This means being open to learning new ideas, hobbies, disciplines and cultures. Develop a thirst for learning.

Building this mental library alone won’t make connections happen. It’s when you need a solution that may not exist yet that this pool of ideas comes in handy. It’s when you consciously try to make connections between ideas, knowledge and principles that they start to appear. A tool like mind mapping comes in handy here.

An Easy Creativity Tip

Once we’ve really exhausted our conscious efforts to make new connections and come up with new ideas, it’s a good idea to take a break, let go of the problem and sleep on it, even for a couple of days. If you’ve ever experienced a sudden spark of inspiration or a light bulb moment while in the shower or washing the dishes, it’s because the subconscious part of your mind continues to work on the problem after you’ve consciously let it go. Try this the next time you’re trying to solve a difficult problem.

Go create some connections.

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Imposing Limits

When we think about the word “limit”, it usually comes with a negative connotation. It means there’s a cap to what’s possible.

Sometimes however, imposing a limit can be really helpful when we’re trying to find a creative solution to a problem. It forces us to think differently and use the resources available to us. Often, when we’re faced with a blank canvas where the possibilities are limitless, we become paralysed.

Creative Limits

So what limitations should we impose on our work?


The most common limitation is time. We’ve all experienced this from being young at school. You had to get to school on time, the homework had to be in the next day and the school play had to be ready by a certain date. This prepared us for work, where the client or boss needs something completing by a certain time.

When faced with a deadline, people get things done. When it’s not optional we usually find a solution one way or another.

Set Yourself a Deadline

If the problem you’re trying to solve currently doesn’t have a time restriction, set yourself a date and time when it needs to be completed by. Create a schedule by working backwards from this date and set micro deadlines for each task. Make these deadlines non-negotiable. If you’re serious about these deadlines, you’ll find a way to meet them.

Physical Resources

When we limit the resources available to us, it forces us to become resourceful with what we do have. It makes us think in ways that we probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

One of the most common resources (other than time) is money. This may already be a limitation for a lot of us, but try to limit it even further if possible. You may need to borrow tools from friends and family or use your local library for books. Do you currently have anything that could be repurposed to make something new?


Limiting the space that we have can make us think creatively about how we use it. A good example is a room in a house. This naturally has spacial limitations. If you want the room to fit a certain purpose, maybe even multiple purposes, you have to think about the objects you place in the room. How big are they, can they serve more than one purpose, what’s the most efficient way the objects can be arranged in the space, how will they be used and does the arrangement make the room easy to navigate?

The same can be true when creating something on a two dimensional surface, like a sheet of paper. By setting limits on the page size we need to think about the best way to solve the creative problem inside the space that we do have. This may mean cutting non-critical items that you may have otherwise added. It may also mean that you need to change the concept altogether.


Sometimes we don’t have the best tools for the job. How else could we cut the wood in half or draw a perfect circle?

Limiting the tools could lead to a more effective solution. For example, if designing a piece of artwork or an advert, limiting yourself to one or two colours or using only one brush could be a refreshing change.

This can also apply to disciplines like writing. Limiting your word count will make you think about what you really need to include and edit out.

Give It a Try

The next time you’re trying to solve a creative problem, try imposing some limits on the project. You might just find a solution you weren’t looking for.

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Learning from Survival Horror

I played a lot of video games as a kid. I don’t play many at all these days, but one of my favourite game series was Resident Evil. If you’re not familiar, it’s a survival horror game where you solve puzzles to try and escape the city whilst fighting off zombies and other scary creatures.

I recently started playing the remake of Resident Evil 2. Let’s just say technology has come a long way since the original and it’s far creepier. I find myself procrastinating and having to psych myself up to enter a new area because I just didn’t know what might jump out of a dark corner.

I noticed that the same is true in life. We stall when we’re scared, often waiting too long before entering unknown territory. Like in the game, the thing itself doesn’t turn out to be that bad. It’s the anticipation, your mind creating all kinds of worst case scenarios that will probably never happen. It’s trying to stay safe and survive.

But by walking down the dark corridor despite the fear of the unknown, you’ll realise that most of the fear was unfounded. You’ll probably even feel a sense of pride and satisfaction because you stepped towards the fear, conquered the darkness and made progress towards your goals.

This is a blog about creativity, so how does all of this relate? It’s the fear of creating something bad that often stops you from starting at all. If we go a little deeper, it’s probably the fear of what people might think if they see this work.

This is understandable, but there comes a point where we need to accept the fear and do it anyway if you want to make significant progress towards your goals.

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Learning to Observe

One of the most important skills in visual arts and in fact all walks of life is the ability to observe. It’s a skill that is often overlooked, but one that can help build our mental library, whether we’re taking photographs, drawing, writing or developing a business.

Objective Observation

As humans we don’t just see things as they appear. We add meaning to them. This can make it really tough to observe something objectively, but it’s an essential skill in separating truth from interpretation. When learning how to draw from observation for example, you try to draw what you see. The difficulty is seeing the object and its surroundings as a collection of lines, shapes and shades?(objective observation) rather than seeing an apple sitting on a table in a room (subjective or interpretive observation).

Our brain has a tendency to try to predict what something should look like rather than what you’re actually seeing. If you’re looking at an arm coming towards you, you might try to draw more of the arm than you can actually see because your brain is interpreting an arm rather than a collection of lines and shapes.

Subjective Observation

What does it mean to us? How does it make us feel? This is subjective observation. Different people interpret things differently. Red might mean danger to one person, but good luck to another.

All of this is a long way of saying, go out of your way to consciously notice things. How does something look, sound, smell, taste and feel? How does it make you feel?

An Observational habit

Spend 5 minutes a day observing something.

It could be with your eyes, like an object. It could be a piece of music. It could be the taste of food. As you observe, write down what you notice. Describe in words your observations, both objective and subjective. This could be paragraphs, bullet points or mind maps. The method is up to you.

Doing this every day will help develop our observational muscles. The more consistently we do this exercise, the stronger our observational skills will develop. It also gives us more material to work with when we’re being creative.

Go and notice something.

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Facing a Blank Canvas

It’s a common problem. You sit down to write, draw, design or start your creative project… and then nothing. Where is the creativity hiding? Why aren’t the ideas flowing? Sometimes just starting and seeing where things go can work, but sometimes we need a structured process to get things moving. The process doesn’t need to be complicated. I sometimes use one similar to the following:

  1. Choose a subject or theme
  2. Research the subject
  3. Mind map
  4. Create some draft layout
  5. Refine

Choose a Subject or theme

Usually when we sit down (or stand up) to work we already have a subject or theme in mind. If not, choose one. If you’re writing a novel, will it be sci-fi, horror, romance? If you’re taking a photograph, will it be of a person, an object or an environment?

Research the subject

Before generating ideas it can be a good idea to fill your mental pool with knowledge around the subject. If you’re creating something that’s horror themed, watch some good horror films while you take relevant notes. Read some books. Save a bunch of reference images in a folder. Learn some of the history.

Mind Map

This is one of my favourite parts of the process. If you’re not sure what a mind map is, I’d recommend you do a little research online. Essentially you begin with one word or phrase “Sci-Fi” for example and write it in the centre of a sheet of paper or your digital canvas. You then draw a few branches sprouting away from this word. On each of these sprouting branches, write a word that’s associated with the root phrase. In this example “science” would be a good word. “Fiction”, “space”, “aliens” and “future” would also make great branch words. You then sprout off smaller branches from these secondary words with words and phrases associated with this like “experiment” and “test tube” if you branching off from “science”.

The important thing is to get everything out of your head and down on this mind map, even if you don’t think the words or phrases are good enough. No judgement at this stage. As they say “it’s better out than in”. Through word association, ideas and connections will start to appear and you can keep going until you’ve exhausted your mental capacity.

Create Some Drafts

You’ve chosen a subject, done some research and put some ideas down in the form of a mind map. Now it’s time to create some draft layouts. This can be applied to any creative discipline from writing to design to creating a business plan. Use broad strokes to begin with. It’s best not to trap yourself with too much detail just yet. You want to get a feel for the whole picture (or piece of writing) before narrowing in on the details.

It’s important at this stage to explore numerous options. Have fun, experiement, turn things upside down. What if who you imagined to be the good guy in your story was actually the bad guy? What if instead of capturing a wide landscape photo, you zoomed right in to a specific part? Move things around and see what could be possible.


Once you’ve explored some drafts, it’s time to choose one and go into more depth with it. This is when you can really focus in on the details and polish the work up. Every now and again step back and look at the piece as a whole to see if it still holds up or if you need to adjust or if in fact one of your previous drafts might work better in practice.

This is a brief overview of a process that can be used when facing a blank canvas. Try it if you get yourself in a pickle and adapt it to fit your workflow or discipline.

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Be Open to the Unplanned

For some of us, being in control brings us peace. When we’re in control, the world makes sense. When we lose control, it can feel like we’re spiraling into an inescapable pit of despair. We plan, we execute, balance is retained.

As creators, we come up with ideas and form a vision of what we want to create. We often produce a close approximation of what we had in mind, and we’re done! We remained in control of the outcome. Good job!

But what if we opened ourselves up to some randomness and experimentation, not knowing what the outcome might be. What if we just played? We might just find that there was something hiding, some creative solution that we probably never would have conceived otherwise.

There is a way to stay in control. Simply plan for the unplanned. Create your original vision, but also add some time into your project schedule dedicated to seeing what’s possible. Turn things upside down, look at it from a different angle. You just never know what you might discover.

Be open to the unplanned.