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Writer’s block. Stuck in a rut. Lack of imagination. Going through the paces. Brain farts. There are many terms to describe what happens at your job when you get to that point where you hit the wall. In the new media space, there’s constant pressure to generate groundbreaking ideas to move your business or marketing plan forward.

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I know for a fact that advertisers come to Wired every single week looking to promote their products online and in the magazine. Their only request? Come up with something new, something engaging, something focused, something effective, and something innovative that has never been done before.

So how to do you kickstart your brain? Let’s talk about 10 ways to generate creative new ideas.  We’ll start with the most methodical methods and work our way from there.

10. Structured group brainstorm
If it’s a major project, say, coming up with a new direction for your online business and redesigning your website, then a formal, structured, group brainstorm might be in order. While there is always the risk of too many cooks in the kitchen, for a major project it can be helpful at the beginning to get input from many different groups.

brainstorm

Often times the engineering group can benefit from what the sales team has been hearing in the field, the designers can better understand where marketing is coming from, and everyone can profit when listening to what accounting has to say for the project’s budget.

The key to generating ideas in a structured environment is to find that balance between letting people throw out any creative ideas without fear of retribution, while keeping the meeting from evolving into a free-for-all.

9. Conferences within your niche
I’ve found it very beneficial over the years to attend conferences in my area of business. It allows you to break from the day-to-day monotony of your office and surround yourself with your peers, while still keeping you focused within your industry.

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8. Hit the web
Who needs to leave the office when the entire world is at your fingertips via the web? Surfing the internet for new ideas is best done when you already have some structure in place. While starting at Google with a question like ‘what are the best ways to make money on the web’ or at YouTube asking ‘what are funny videos that might go viral,’ you’re likely to find yourself 3 hours later in a haze of pills, porn, and kittens. And frankly, I don’t know which results match which category.  Better to start with a more focused search.

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7. Reading and research
If I can find the time, there’s nothing better than taking part of a Saturday and heading to the local Barnes and Noble and wandering through the aisles and seeing what hits me. As a true business geek and tech guy, I always find myself drawn to non-fiction, wrapped up in the tales of spectacular business success and obvious lessons learned from Silicon Valley to Wall Street.  Whether you take your inspiration from Malcolm X or Malcolm Gladwell, for me just being in a bookstore makes me feel smarter.

6. Clueless friend
When you just can’t figure out the solution to the highly specialized problem in your job, one way to get around it is to ask someone who has no idea what you’re talking about. Sometimes just the very act of talking it out and hearing yourself think is what gets your brain over the hump, but it’s amazing how often your 70-year-old Uncle Sherman or your friend that teaches spelling to inner city children can solve your internet marketing dilemma.

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5. Just add alcohol
Now we’re talking!  How can you sketch out your world-dominating business plan on a cocktail napkin if you’re not having cocktails? In fact, some will tell you that if you can’t explain what your product or service does in the 3’x3′ space provided by that little piece of paper under your beer, then it’s too complicated.

So when in doubt, adjourn that 4:30 meeting a little early and have the group head down to the pub to iron out the details. Just remember to write down your ideas before the 3rd or 4th round begins.

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4. Think while you sleep
Maybe all that thinking you’re doing is what’s causing you the problem!  Shut that brain down for the night and get a good 8 hours of sleep for a change. Once you stop thinking about how to solve your issues, the human mind has a way of helping you out.

Paul McCartney claimed to have woken from a dream with the theme for The Beatles’ hit “Yesterday” in his head. Robert Louis Stevenson said the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde came to him while asleep, and Dmitri Mendeleev reported that he “saw” a chart of all the elements arranged in front of him while dozing at his desk in 1869. Two weeks later, he published what has become the Periodic Table of the Elements.

So get some shuteye, and keep a notebook and pen on the nightstand.

The final three methods have to do with the same concept… doing something repetitive that your mind doesn’t have to focus on, so that it is free to wander elsewhere.

3. During your commute
For those constrained to their cars for miles on end, having the morning to commute to lay out your plans for the day can be an advantage, while the only bright spot of hitting stop-and-go traffic on the return home is that you can think about new ways to attack the problems of the day. Plus it’s easy to have a small notebook or voice recorder at your side.
traffic jam commute

As for New Yorkers and other public transportation souls like myself, dodging harried commuters, packed subway cars, and eyeing the crazy guy that is walking a little too close to the platform keeps your mind occupied just about all the time. But the random idea does manage to poke through on occasion.

2. Exercise
Running is by far the most productive time spent pondering any decision for me. In fact, I have yet to return from a Sunday run and NOT have a clearer idea for my weekly podcast.
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For you, it might be lifting weights, 30 minutes on the treadmill, or the mind-body connection of yoga. But just the simple fact of changing the scenery – getting out of the office or your apartment and away from the computer to the gym or riverside run – is enough to jar your brain into a different way of thinking.

I have made career-altering, life-changing decisions during my runs. So compared to that, fine-tuning a podcast topic or choosing a tagline for an iPhone promotion is a breeze. So if you’re in a rut, hit the road.

1. Hit the showers
The method at the #1 spot is the Albert Einstein of creativity, coming up with ideas while in the shower. In my research, I came across a blog post  by Cameron Moll, who references author Edward de Bono, who may have coined the phrase ‘creative pause,’ which describes the shift from being fully engaged in a creative activity to being passively engaged.

shower-idea

I agree with Cameron and his readers as to some of the key reasons why thinking in the shower is so effective:

a) White noise effect
How often has the ‘bing’ of a new email hitting your inbox, the conversation of a coworker, or a dog barking outside your window thrown off your concentration? For the most part, your bathroom — and the consistent drone of the water — gives an isolated white noise that filters out other sounds, allowing you to concentrate.

b) Lack of distractions
Let’s face it, if you’re at the point where you bring your Blackberry or iPhone into the shower with you, you have a serious problem. Because it’s just you and your birthday suit and no electronics or legal pads to clutter you mentally or physically, it’s just you  and your thoughts.

c) Your physical tasks are on auto-pilot
Lather, rinse, repeat.  I’m guessing you had that committed to memory some time back in the 80s. Because you never have to think about what to do, your body goes on auto-pilot and your mental state can be heightened.

For best results, combine the following:
-    A full night’s sleep
-    Being on time so you don’t need to rush
-    The intoxicating smells of Irish Spring, fresh-brewed coffee, and sizzling bacon entering your nostrils.

I don’t know about you, but after recording this podcast I’m going right to bed. I have to get up early to go for a run before jumping in the shower.

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