I love combining two or three unlike things into one experience. When you see the world through one lens, it’s harder to feel inspired by it. Or discover creative solutions for it. Let’s say you work in an office and manage spreadsheets and projects. Do you:
- Simply follow along with routine and ignoring the fact that no one is communicating with each other.
- Pretend like you don’t notice the server where the project files are is a mess and everyone loses 15% of their day looking for stuff.
- Never create a one-sheet of how the project was completed and how it relates to your other projects thus providing insight and future time-saving methods.
- Don’t bother learning to learn how to speak in the creative language the designers use versus the more technical nature the interactive team uses.
Now think about if you took the time to write out the problems involved in your project and start charting out solutions – no matter how simple or complex. If you labor under the delusion that you’re not creative, then you probably don’t know that creativity is largely seeing routine and experiences through a new point-of-view coupled with problem-solving.
People who solve problems are creative. They’re seeing through all the layers of what looks complex to others, and breaking it down into valuable assets instead of issues. A project like I described above suddenly becomes less about routine, and more about communication and creating alternatives. The hard part is getting inspired to change up your point-of-view and see those alternatives in the first place. When I need creative inspiration, I try to combine unlike things:
- Watching college football in Manhattan, a sport I didn’t know existed in the city for nearly 10 years, with the backdrop of the city draping the stadium.
- Packing up a bag so I can take an inspired hike, have a tasty lunch with fresh produce grown right in the city, rest at Barnes and Noble while reading a book on creativity, change my shirt and shoes, and go out with friends at night without ever needing to come back to my apartment.
- Finding an antique sled that doubles as a coffee table, piece of art, and small TV stand because I prefer a simpler aesthetic in my home.
- Financing an epic trip abroad, or around the world, with a combination of frequent flyer miles, couch surfing, hotel points, and bartering.
- Taking an epic nature hike through the city through a park, winding down to the Hudson, ending up on a dirt path, a train track, and to a lighthouse.
Yesterday we hiked from Inwood Park in Northern Manhattan and wound around down to the Hudson and ended up on a deserted dirt path. We walked along for quite awhile, thinking it would connect to the visible Jeffrey Hook Lighthouse a few miles away. Less than a mile from the lighthouse, the path ended at a slope of jagged rocks. But there was a neatly cut hole in the fence leading up to the rock bed and rails of Amtrak.
We chatted about how we felt like we were the first to find this trail when a train came roaring by, to which we thrilled in leaning back against the fence until it passed. A few yards up, we discovered another neatly cut hole in the fence, hiked up a dirt incline and rocks until it met up with the paved bike and pedestrian path and finally met up with Jeffrey Hook.
For most of the hike, we couldn’t help but shout, “No one would ever believe this is in Manhattan!” It felt like an epic, unexpected adventure in a city we’ve worn paths into. And it made me feel blissfully lucky to live in a tangled metropolis that most take for granted. Especially the ones who say New York is like another country and they could never live anywhere else. Those are usually the same people who have no idea how many salt marshes, tulip trees, coastal hiking, and wildlife refuges we have.
I go to bed happy, and I wake up feeling rejuvenated and inspired. My point-of-view has shifted. I envision green ivy and oak trees lining the city. I think of all the hidden rooftop gardens where children are playing. I think about taking a walk down to the farm in Brooklyn. I contemplate living in a boathouse in the city. I thrill at the thought of peregrine falcons roaming our boroughs. And all of that inspiration trickles down into my daily life. From wanting to try a new recipe to pitching a publication a new story idea. I am most creative when I am seeking out a new experience in an environment where urban and concrete is the norm. You can do this anywhere you live.
What is your norm? The suburbs? I was on a wine tour in PA and was surprised one of the stops was in someone’s basement. I wondered how many of their distant neighbors even knew the extent of what they were creating. Is your norm the country? My grandmother lives in a farm town of under 500 people, and their gift store owner will help you put together unbelievable flower arrangements and find the perfect paint or wallpaper that you’ve always wanted. Yet most of her neighbors never think to ask her for such services.
She does it quietly because she loves it, but doesn’t think much about advertising because she prefers the success she has with word-of-mouth. Is your norm a college campus? They’re actually thriving with creativity from learning how to video edit for the college station, learning your craft at a pottery studio, attending a discussion on filmmaking, designing a new garden for the organic garden. My friend started a surf club from a landlocked campus and the school basically paid him and a few friends to go on surf trips.
If your environment doesn’t have what you’re looking for, you’re luckier than those who do, because you can create it and dominate the market. But you don’t have to sink a lot of money into it. Creativity is often born from what looks like a gaping lack of resource. Instead of sinking money into your own gym or equipment, start an outdoor boot camp.
Teach guitar from your apartment, start a mural painting business with the local elementary school or downtown business that has an ugly concrete wall, start group travel for minimalists who have money but only want to spend on experience and not creature comforts. You can often be the most creative by taking a simple concept, like teaching Pilates, and doing it with a twist. Look at Epic Self who teaches virtual Pilates online and sustains a location independent business. Here is the big takeaway… Saying there are no epic ideas left out there is completely and totally irrelevant. Finding “the one” isn’t what makes you