WHERE in the world do you get your best ideas?

Greek philosophy, Irish novels and English walks?

We all need to collaborate, and collaboration often produces great ideas, but we also need to think things through with ourselves sometimes. Despite the fact that almost everyone who works in communications sits at a desk all day – we rarely have our best ideas by staring at a computer screen.

Sometimes, we need ‘head-space’ to think clearly and, if we need to think clearly regularly, then we can rule out any exotic locations. Your ‘thinking space’ needs to be somewhere relatively nearby. This is because, for the vast majority of us, only the readily available places can become truly habitual.

An example of this ‘simple thinking’ comes from the legendary Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs, who was often seen out on ‘brainstorming walks’ with his chief designer, Jony Ive. Triggering great ideas was inspired less by the sumptuous surroundings of the Apple campus and more likely when Jobs walked the talk.

Similarly, when innovation guru, Chris Barez-Brown and his company’s partners needed to find a solution, they simply went off for a walk by the sea. His creative leadership talks have instilled several ideas about learning to be more creative, productive and inspired. It captures for me an understanding of creativity on several levels, about what makes us ‘creatives’ tick and why we do what we do, how and where we do it, and when.

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So, can a walk help creativity?

I think Chris and Steve were onto something. Not only in ways that enhanced their own personal creativity, but also by connecting more deeply with the people they worked with. I know that I think more clearly when on a long walk with the dog; this is also when I tend to have more serious conversations with my family.

Creating a particular state in your movement, and not just the environmental surroundings, helps us to access more of the brain. In particular, the sub-cortex (the inner part of the brain responsible for subconscious processes). Getting access to this older part of the brain allows more interesting thinking. Sitting down does not stimulate the brain in the same way walking does. When we go for a wander, our minds do the same thing: walking will actually stimulate both conscious and sub-conscious activity at the same time. Stanford University, California, published a useful article on this theory, on which more research has been conducted.

We should also remember that movement is good for our health as well as our minds. The endorphins that are released when we exercise are the body’s little reward system to us for looking after ourselves – a treat of dopamine to get your creative juices flowing.

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Eureka! 

Of course, our ideas come from many different ‘places’, situations and states-of-mind. Archimedes’ famous ‘eureka, eureka’ moment came in the bathtub. The story has it that the ancient Greek scholar screamed the words after he noticed the water level rise when he stepped into the tub. This helped him to understand that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged. Incidentally, the word ‘eureka’ comes from the Greek heúrēka (where word ‘heuristic’ also originates), meaning ‘I have found (it)’. So, contrary to what some believe, the word existed before the Scholar’s discovery.

Possibly it is water that stirs something creative within us, because many people do say they have their best ideas in the shower (and let’s not forget those company execs who went wandering next to the sea for inspiration). Distracted, relaxed, defocussed and letting your brain roam encourages wacky ideas to bounce around.

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Epiphany

It is also worth mentioning James Joyce’s ‘epiphanies’. The word epiphany had religious connotations well before 1914, when the Irish novelist published Dubliners. Joyce’s secular usage (and the way it tends to be used more commonly now) is more of a sudden manifestation that is out of proportion to the significance of whatever produces it. So, if you have a brilliant idea while stroking a cat or walking through the woods or swimming in a lake, you could describe this experience as an epiphany – I’ve had one or two while writing this.

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My experience suggests we should always try to keep moving to prompt our best ideas, rather than sitting around waiting for them to come to us. But, of course, this is only my experience. I would love to hear where your best ideas come from, or where you do your best thinking.

So, here’s an idea: let’s see if we can compile a short list by using the comments of the best places or top tips for coming up with great ideas. You never know where your creativity might end up by letting your mind-wander sometime soon!

Thanks for reading.

Mark Nicholls – Creative Director at drp

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