If you are in a creative role, in any business, you must have heard the same thing as I do, and more than once, I am not creative. People often look at designers and people in a creative position like we were born with some kind of superpower that makes us creative. But there is something they often miss, it is not the case. Just like anything else in the world, you need to practice to get better. That means that everyone can be creative.
Of course, like anything else, it is easier to practice in the right context. In my case, I have been paid for the past 13 years to generate ideas. It means that I have spent more than 10 000 hours to practice that skill. On that note, if you haven’t heard of the 10 000 hours theory, you have to read Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success by Matthew Syed. It’s a great book that made me realize how anything is possible if you put the time and effort). All those hours helped me find out tricks and techniques to generate ideas. But more importantly, to accept that part of the process is to generate bad ideas, and let me tell you one thing, I have plenty of those. But once their out, they are out of the way as well, and it becomes easier to see the good ones. Now, with all those hours, there is another area where I’m getting good. Identifying what ideas to present to which people, and how. This is the real place where you have to shine in my opinion, at least, if you are working for someone.
Now, here are some tips and techniques that I use to generate ideas:
Keep a notebook and write... everyday if possible
I keep a creative notebook and I spend at least 30 minutes to 1 hour a day to write ideas about anything, good ones, bad ones, but I take time to write. Creating a habit out of writing down ideas is important if you want to get better at generating ideas and identifying the bad from the good ones. Do not worry if you make mistakes writing them or if they are good or bad. It is for your eyes only. It really helps, especially when you read your ideas. This is the first filter to find out the good ones and discard the bad ones. I also like to doodle in that creative notebook, and I bought this small printer that prints on sticky photo paper that I glue in my notebook. It makes it more fun for me to look back at my idea, and as the saying goes, 1 picture is worth a thousand words.
Look for inspiration
I try to watch, play, read stories on different mediums, and imagine potential gameplay or something that stands out that I should notice and keep in mind. I like to look at the hidden gems suggestion on my Netflix account. I also look at the best new comic books to read on websites like IGN or directly look at the newly released comics on my ComiXology account. Movies, documentaries, tv shows, and indies games are great places to find inspirations.
Mix elements from different products
I like to mix and match elements from games and see if there is potential. For example, what can I create by mixing the painting concept of a game like Splatoon with a racing game like Mario Kart? From there, I will just write down ideas without constraints and see where things are going to lead me. I might find something so great that I can use it as is. It might lead me to a different idea, or it might all be garbage.
Look at existing concepts with different constraints
I give myself some constraints based on existing concepts that we are used in video games while trying to think outside the box and trying to retain the same quality. For instance, what could be a 5 versus 5 competitive game like Valorant but without violence. Again, I will let my ideas flow and see where things get me.
Look at your ideas with the mindset of someone else and write the questions they might have
Now, there is one thing that I do that I haven’t really read about or heard about with my colleagues. I write down questions as I wrote my ideas to challenge my point of view and make sure that I’ve tried to see as many different angles as possible. It might seem strange to write down questions, but from my experience, it is something that helps me find different perspectives. By doing that, I am basically trying to imagine the type of questions that my colleagues will ask. By doing so, I am trying to put myself in their shoes as they hear that idea for the first time.
Finally, the most important advice: take breaks and lose yourself. On my side, I am looking at Ted talks or YouTube channels that analyze films, tv shows, and video games. Or channels like Vox where they document plenty of interesting subjects in 10 minutes long videos like how different countries live and why or how the internet works. It is not just okay to take that time to look at things that seem unrelated to what you are doing. It is necessary to help you improve on your ideas. You need to distance yourself from your ideas. Sometime, you will be inspired by something in what you are doing while taking a break but, most of the time, it will give you just enough distance to get back at your ideas, take a look at what you have, and discover what is working and shouldn’t change, and what needs improvement. Sometimes, you might even realize that it is not a great idea, and you should probably move on instead. Taking a walk is also another great way to do the same thing plus the benefit of moving and taking some fresh air. Taking breaks and doing things that might not seem related to your work is the hardest thing to do for me as I am often concerned about what my colleagues might think of me. But after all those years, I can say, without a doubt, it is the most beneficial tip listed here.
Now, you don’t have to do all those things at the same time. One week I will focus more on writing ideas. The next week I might spend more time being inspired by watching movies and taking notes. Other times I will try to reinvent concepts that we are used to. Moving from one technique to the other is a great way to keep generating ideas.
Have fun being creative now!