(For Stephanie Vozza for Fast Company) Click here for the full article
1. Look somewhere else for inspiration
Creative professionals look for inspiration, not information. If you have new information, millions of people might already know it. Even if you are lucky to get some information a little earlier than others, there is not much difference. Sooner or later, everyone will have same information. In the age of speed of terabyte, there is no chance for one to get information much sooner than others. When you found a new car design at an auto show, you are seeing the results of what others made a while ago. If you discover something new in a book, you are one of many who just reading the book. There is no way to see a new thing when you look at the same place that others are looking at.
Auto designers should visit furniture exhibitions, interaction designers should read comic books, fashion designers should attend architectural conferences, and architectural designers should enjoy fashion shows, and so on. When going to work, try to take different way. If you can not do it every day, try it once a week, or once a month at least. Go to a restaurant that you haven’t been to, or order food you have not eaten. Try and learn what you have not done in your life. Visit a place you never heard of rather than a famous touristic spot. Bringing new experiences from unfamiliar place is better than stopping by at a place that you have seen a lot. The new ideas always emerge when trying to connect the place I am unfamiliar with and where I am.
2. Turn ideas into concepts
We have countless ideas every day every moment. If we can list all of our ideas during a day, it will be a huge amount. But the idea is just a thought, which comes and goes. Idea is usually a response to certain stimulus. When hungry, we want to eat something, and if something is uncomfortable, we automatically think about ways to solve it. When seeing things that are not beautiful, we think of ways to make them beautiful. Some thoughts are intuitive and others are logical. So some thoughts are explanatory and others are not.
Unlike the ideas, a concept is something that others can agree and follow. Successful designs are made after ideas turned into concepts through various processes. Failed designs, on the other hand, are ideas that have jumped into a product prematurely. A creative person should be able to create the idea with a creative concept. Ideas are like sperms and concepts are like embryo while products are babies. You cannot skip embryo to give a birth to a baby.
3. Behave as if there is no solution yet
As in Apple’s famous commercials, “There is an app for that.” It’s no exaggeration to say that everything already exist for everything in our civilized world. We have plenty of things that can do everything we need: smartphones that surpass the performance of many computers, cars that are stronger and faster than wagons with hundreds of horses, televisions that can show even sweating pores, apps that allow you to do everything. The problem is that the moment these things are created, they are already things of the past. If you are satisfied and comfortable with these products or solutions, the thirst for new ideas may disappear.
About 10 years ago in my class, my students experimented life without smart devices in order to conceive new smart devices. After not using smartphones and personal computers for a week, the participating students gained tremendous insights into the new means of communication we needed. The final designs were groundbreaking. It is unfortunate that I can not introduce the outputs here because it was a corporate sponsored project. It is very helpful to discard what we currently depend on, if we need innovative thinking, not just to improve a little more of the existing products (of course this is also meaningful). Because innovation is not evolution, but mutation.
4. Stay young
There is no way to stop aging. But there are plenty of ways to avoid getting older. The more you become an expert, the more you will lose curiosity. In other words, you are getting old. When you get “older”, you will want to stick to the routines from the memory of success, and avoid things that didn’t work. These routine and avoidance become obstacles for being creative. This is why more experienced people are less able to become creative. “What if I do this way” as opposed to “I know how things work” is the only way to stay young. Acting as if you never knew (even if you actually know) is a way of not getting old.
If Steve Jobs insisted using his experience of building Macintosh computers and NEXT computers, we wouldn’t be able to see iMac series and Apple must be different from what it is today. If Apple wanted smartphones with just better keypads, we wouldn’t be able to have iPhones and all smartphones would still have bulky keypads. Creative and innovative ideas can only come out when you are young, and you never get old when you try new ways of doing things in the past. I lost count of my age many years ago.