There is no hell like a creative block when you’re trying to brainstorm for creative content.
Sometimes you have no ideas or, worse, you’ve been batting a million around during a brainstorm but leave as empty handed as when you arrived. We’ve been there plenty of times, and we know it’s not always easy to get unstuck. It can be especially tough when you’re working in a team dynamic. There can be bruised egos or fundamental miscommunications that can throw things off. And then there’s good old burnout.
If you’re struggling with any of these creative demons, it helps to take a step back, reassess, and work out the kinks in your ideation methods.
10 Exercises to Come Up with Creative Content Ideas
If you need some fresh tactics, here are some of our favorite tips for running better brainstorms, working with your group, and mobilizing everyone to come up with better ideas.
1) Create a Brainstorm Brief
If you’re assembling a super crew to help you come up with a creative content idea, help them preserve their creative energy by prepping them with a brainstorm brief.
Beyond the account or creative brief, which may have a lot of information that isn’t necessarily relevant to everyone in the room, a brainstorm brief is a straightforward, simple document that outlines the objective for the brainstorm. It distills the essential information in the creative brief, organizes information with a clear hierarchy for easy scanning, and is as specific as possible. This document helps everyone start off on the same page—literally.
2) Prep Your Team
Name a boss: Someone in a brainstorm needs to maintain order and, just as important, momentum. Designate someone to play taskmaster and keep everyone on track. It’s not about a leader so much as it’s about preventing idea overload or exhaustion. You may have a facilitator and someone to record all the ideas; it may be the same person. Regardless, their role is to:
- Keep discussions relevant
- Keep it moving
- Encourage participation
- Screen (not just record) ideas pitched
3) Walk It Out
We’re all used to sitting and plugging into our computers, but a walk can genuinely affect your brain. A 2014 Stanford study found that walking encourages creative thought more than sitting. BTW, you don’t have to get out into nature to take a lap. Even study participants who walked on a treadmill facing a blank wall experienced more creative thinking.
4) Be Persistent
In 2016, researchers at the Kellogg School found that the best creative thinking comes after you’ve been at the task awhile. The problem is too many of us get frustrated and give up before we get to that big idea. If you feel like you can’t solve it, push yourself to keep at it a big longer. You don’t to stay at it forever, but hang in there and you may crack it sooner than you think.
5) Use a Timer
Make the clock your friend and time yourself at intervals to quickly jot down ideas. This can be done collectively or individually in sprints.
6) Box Yourself In
It sounds fun to “think outside the box” or “go nuts,” but that can result in a lot of half-baked ideas that are nowhere near your objective. The truth is everyone needs some parameters to come up with creative content. Oftentimes the more specific or narrow your focus, the better your ideas. Placing some restrictions can actually free you to think more creatively—inside the box.
7) Think in Opposites
When searching for a creative content solution, you can help yourself find those parameters by reframing the question you’re asking. What would your hero do? What would your nemesis do? These can help give you a fresh perspective.
8) Write the Headline
While this may not apply to all creative content, being able to distill your thinking, message, or premise in a headline or single sentence can be a powerful way to get to the core of what you’re thinking.
9) Fill in the Blanks
This exercise can also help when you’re trying to establish some parameters.
10) Watch a Funny Video
There’s a fine line between slacking off and getting creative inspiration, but a little positive priming never hurt anyone. Back in the 1980s, researchers studied the effects of mood on problem-solving. The participants who watched a funny video were better able to problem-solve, compared to those who watched a math video. So get on YouTube, stat.
What Not to Do
Before you go unleash your creativity, a few reminders about the type of stuff that can easily censor or stunt your thinking. Some of these habits are easy to slip into, so we’d encourage you to avoid them at all costs. Whatever you do, don’t:
- Censor yourself: Insecurity, self doubt, or timidness are creative saboteurs.
- Steamroll the conversation: Get feedback and ask other people for their ideas and opinions.
- Come in cold: To understand the task at hand, ask questions or do your research.
- Spin your wheels: When you’re in a group dynamic, decisions need to be made. Wasting an hour without coming to a consensus or choosing a direction is a waste of time for everyone.
- Lean on the easiest idea: Sometimes great ideas drift down from the heavens, but often the first idea is simply the most convenient—not the most creative.
- Shutdown ideas: Sure, there might be some screwball ideas pitched, but talking through those can often lead to different, unexpected paths.
We love learning any new technique to do better creative work, and we always try to share what works for us. If you found these tips, you might also want to:
- Learn about the 4 types of creative thinkers—and how to work with each type.
- Find out about the psychological reasons people share creative content.
But if you want someone else to do the thinking for your next project, we can help.