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The 5-Mile Brainstorm – Finding Your Groove for Creative Thinking

October 1, 2013

Everything I do is about helping clients solve problems: visualizing creative new functionality, fixing usability issues, finding the right interface controls… But coming up with solutions to complex problems isn’t easy. It requires a lot of brain power, creative thought and teamwork, but sometimes you hit the wall. We’ve all been there: pressed against a deadline, buried in laptops non-stop, surviving on little sleep and barely taking time to eat. Yet it is during these moments when the best thing to do is just… leave. That’s when I go for a run.

creative-brainstorming-shoesWhy would I leave when the deadline is looming, the client is waiting, and there are major decisions to be made? The answer is simple: I come up with some of my best, most creative ideas when I’m jogging. You’ve probably had this experience too: Remember that great concept you had in the shower? Or that thing you fixed while sitting in traffic? It turns out that we all have better ideas when we’re relaxed: doing a simple task and letting our minds wander. What’s more, there’s actual sciencey-stuff behind it: Why we have our best ideas in the shower: The science of creativity which claims that dopamine created by the brain during enjoyable activities yields great ideas.

So when I get stuck trying to figure out how something should work: I go run. Fresh air, no screens, my brain is free, and my mind wanders. I usually don’t pay attention to what I’m thinking. I’m not explicitly trying to solve problems, but it’s during those moment of thinking nothing that the solution presents itself without me even trying. Not always, but often. And even if I come back to my desk without having solved world peace, I am usually better prepared to tackle the problem again. I’ve taken to joking about this habit by calling it my “5-Mile Brainstorm” and suggesting to my clients that I charge by the mile. (Well, that idea hasn’t stuck yet.)

But what I’ve discovered about creative thinking and why it’s so much easier to come up with good ideas while relaxing is not just about the science or my own experiences, but about reducing my dependence on screens for finding solutions to problems. I have access to too much information. Need an idea? Google it. Looking for a design pattern? Dribbble. Find a bug? Search forums. Often, my access to answers hinders my ability to truly be creative and solve problems with good, old-fashioned thought. When I intentionally put myself in situations where I can’t access those screens, I have no choice: I’m all on my own.

So what do you do when you get stuck? Give yourself the freedom to break out of the rut and go find your creative groove. You’ll be healthier and you’ll love how well it works.

Got a design problem that needs to be solved? My team is crazy awesome at user experience and interface design. Ping me on Twitter or email me and let’s go for a run.