In Greek mythology, the nine Muses were Greek goddesses who ruled over the arts and sciences and offered inspiration in those subjects. Calliope is the Muse who presides over eloquence and epic poetry. She’s considered the “Chief of all Muses.” I know because she’s visited me from time to time. Anyone looking to engage in a creative capacity needs inspiration. But inspiration can be elusive. I will freely admit to you that there are some days when it feels like I’ve entirely run out of ideas. It’s just the natural ebb and flow of the creative process. Early in my career, that used to bother me. I thought that I had run out of ideas. Now, I know better.
Contrary to conventional thinking, constraints are the key to big ideas. But what creates the conditions that allow inspiration to appear? Can it be summoned up at will? I believe you can set the conditions for inspiration by working within constraints. I know that nobody likes to work with restrictions, but the truth is, they can be extremely beneficial. When limitations are present, you dedicate your mental energy to acting more resourcefully. Obstacles broaden perception and open your mind to look at challenges with a renewed focus.
A lack of options is the grit that grinds the wheel of inspiration. When your options are limited, you’re compelled to use creativity to deliver a solution that fits the parameters. Sometimes an idea can come quickly, other times a sustained effort is what’s required. The quality of your thoughts will always be in direct proportion to the amount of energy you are willing to invest in discovering them.
Mediocre ideas are usually the first to show up, followed closely by acceptable ideas. Don’t stop at acceptable. Push for the more exceptional idea. Just know that it won’t be easy. You’d be surprised how many times I improved on an idea that I had already considered solved. The worst thing you can do is to try and force an idea into existence. I’ve tried, and it doesn’t work. There are only so many hours you can spend staring at a blank piece of paper or the cursor on your computer screen waiting for inspiration to show up that sometimes it’s best to sleep on it and start fresh the next day. Plus, I think a Muse will only descend when she knows you’re struggling and earnestly in search of something big.
When you feel exhausted, and still have nothing to show for your effort, that’s when getting some outside opinions might be helpful. In most cases, their thoughts may spark something new, and that could take you down a path you hadn’t considered. Don’t let frustration creep in and taint the process. Stay the course. I have always believed that ideas can come from anyone. Be open to outside opinions. Seek feedback, even if it’s negative. Bill Bernbach, Creative Director of Doyle, Dane, Bernbach used to carry a slip a paper in his shirt pocket that said, “They might be right.” It was a way to remind himself to be open to different opinons. Ray Dalio, the founder of investment firm Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s largest hedge funds, offers this, “More than anything else, what differentiates people who live up to their potential from those who don’t is a willingness to look at themselves and others objectively.”
Objectivity and constraints are huge elements that go into producing the best ideas. Idea generating is often your willingness to be ready to go when the mood or Muse strikes. That may not always fit neatly into a nine-to-five workday. A constricted timeline or lack of resources will always force creativity to show up sooner. You must still be willing to put considerable effort into solving the challenge if you hope to discover a transformational idea. At least that is what my Muse told me.
THE AUTHOR: WILLIAM CHILDS | Creative Director | Brand Storyteller | Columnist | Optimist
Bill is an accomplished creative leader with a history of delivering award-winning campaigns for a variety of businesses. Relentlessly dedicated to the skillful and creative translation of strategic business objectives, he’s known as a collaborative mentor and champion of fearless creativity. With a career spanning three decades, Childs knows how to take an acceptable idea and turn it into an exceptional one. His reputation of setting high creative standards while helping to create a culture of genuine collaboration and engagement is one of things he’s most proud of across his career. Recognizing and mentoring talent, and building high-performing, cohesive teams is one of his passions. Email. Website. Twitter. LinkedIn.