Strategies From the Pros for Unleashing Your Creative Beast

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Tips for unleashing your creative powers from some of today’s most courageous (and creative) people.

By Jessica Schimm (Digital Audience Engagement Lead, Women 2.0)

A lot of the work I do at Women 2.0 requires creative thinking, from design to marketing to editorial. So when I heard The Bold Italic, an online magazine that focuses on San Francisco culture, was having their first creative conference, #TheSUM, I knew I had to go.

Top names in the creative industry spoke about their processes and how they navigate the obstacles that come with challenging the norm.

Speakers included Artist Candy Chang, WIRED’s Creative Director Billy Sorrentino, Vimeo’s Co-founder, Zach Klein, Improv Artist, Lisa Rowland, Stanford d.school Editor-in-Residence, Emi Kolawole and many more.

When budgets are tight and resources are stretched thin, creativity is essential to a startup’s survival. And while it’s much easier for startups to embrace creative ideas than corporate companies, it doesn’t mean startups are always on board with new ideas. After all, keeping the status quo is usually the easier option.

And challenging the status quo, no matter where you work, usually brings challenges, two of which were brought up time and time again throughout the day:

1) How to generate creativity in your work environment 2) How to push through the fear of taking creative leaps, especially when facing push back or self doubt

The speakers at #TheSum had slightly different approaches for addressing the challenges listed above; below are a few of the strategies and pieces of advice I found particularly useful.

What Improv Taught Me About Failing Fast

Lisa Rowland, an improv artist, made us do something I have not done in years.

Improvise. With strangers.

...cue the cringe.

Playing improv games with strangers? I know this is good for me, but a small voice in the back of my mind reminds me I could easily excuse myself for a bathroom break. I don’t.

Here’s what we have to do: Play a fast-paced numbers game with the stranger sitting next to us. Each time one of us screws up, both of us have to throw our hands in the air and shout “woo hoo!”.

No surprise, this numbers game is designed so that both players screw up, a lot.

People all around the room were constantly shouting “woo hoo!” and as you can imagine, everyone in the room began to laugh. At this point, Rowland reiterated the importance of celebrating screw ups and perhaps more importantly, supporting your co-worker. I’m still a little skeptical about how realistic it is for us all to celebrate our screw ups at work (envisioning an angry manager in the background), but we can certainly give our failures less importance so we’re able to move along to the next activity and/or goal easier and faster.

As we all know, not all creative ideas work. In fact, there’s a good chance the majority of them won’t, which is why it’s important to learn from them and then find a way to move on fast. Onward and upward, right?

The next activity we were required to do was to improvise a story line from a designated prompt by continuously adding onto whatever your partner had contributed to the story.

The point/reminder? Saying no keeps us safe and preserves the status quo. When it’s time for creativity, you need to break the status quo - this exercise forces you to work with the ‘yes’.

The interactive games and improv completely changed the energy of the room and as a result people became more open.

At Women 2.0, ab ripper p90x helps us achieve somewhat similar results. We reserve a meeting room, get on the floor and do a hardcore 13 minute ab workout.

The short workout results in laughter and a moment of shared struggle and motivation. However, after my improv experience at #TheSUM, we’re now taking it to the next level; our team is going to sign up for an improv class.

Thank you Lisa Rowland for re-introducing improv (which we all agree is much scarier). Goodbye comfort zone, hello magic!

What’s So Scary About Being Creative? A Lot.

Candy Chang, Senior TED Fellow and Creator of Before I die, was the keynote speaker at #theSUM. Chang has done design work for the New York Times and created multiple "interactive public institutions that provoke civic engagement and emotional introspection.” Her work has been displayed in exhibitions and museums around the globe.

During her keynote, Chang spoke about some of the fears that sprung up as she has embarked on her various creative journeys.

Fear: disappointing parents by choosing a creative career path Solution: At one point, Chang’s fear of disappointing her parents was greater than her confidence to pursue creative work full-time. However, she learned that trusting herself was the most important validation she needed; once she trusted herself it was easier for her to go to her parents.

Fear: Working on so many various projects will leave you to be a jack of all trades and master of none Solution: Perhaps there is less of a solution here and more of an observation. Chang’s success in taking on so many various creative roles and projects projects pretty much speaks for itself.

Fear: Keeping your idea to yourself for any of the following reasons:

  • People won’t go for it
  • You don’t think you can get the resources
  • You don’t think you’ll finish it in time
  • You’re not an expert on the subject, so you’re not sure how to get started
  • You’re scared of rejection…
  • All of the above

Solution: Don’t keep your idea to yourself. Go for it. As Candy Chang said, “We can crush a lot of our own ideas before they see the light of day.”

Think about that for a minute.


About the author: Jessica Schimm (@JessicaSchimm) works on all things digital at Women 2.0. Before joining Women 2.0 she earned her BA in journalism, interned at SF's premier culture magazine 7x7 and was the editor-in-chief of Her Campus San Francisco. She likes to dance-walk home after work.