“Creativity is always a leap of faith,” author Julia Cameron said. “You’re faced with a blank page, a blank easel or an empty stage.” It’s all part of the process when you live a creative life or work in a creative field, but some days the blankness gets the better of you. You can’t seem to write the first word, paint the first mark or speak the first line.
Before you get too down on yourself, check out these inspiring TED Talks to help you find a creative (pun intended) solution to your creativity problem.
1. Shimpei Takahashi: ‘Mute your inner critic’
It’s easy to stop yourself short when you’re in a creative mindset, shooting down ideas before they have a chance to fully form. That’s why Shimpei Takahashi, a toy developer from Japan, uses a brainstorming game he calls “Shiritori,” where you simply list words, each beginning with the letter that the previous word ends with. Once you have a list, you challenge yourself to come up with ideas connected to each of those words. (If I’m at a cafe brainstorming article ideas, I might start with listing “Coffee > Elephants > Socks,” and then that list might become “When To Drink Coffee To Be Most Productive,” “Tricks for Never Forgetting Someone’s Name,” and “What To Wear For An Evening Networking Event.”)
Not all of the ideas will be great, he says, but that’s not the point; with that understanding, you can retrain your brain to be less afraid of self-censoring and have more total ideas from which to choose.
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2. Elizabeth Gilbert: ‘Turn down the pressure’
Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, wants to squash the idea that you have to suffer to be creative.
“Creative genius,” she says, is inside of all of us, and our creativity can—and perhaps, should—be separated from our sense of self.
She argues that, once you start just showing up and waiting for creativity to come to you, it will. Sometimes more slowly than at other times, but it will. Listen to this talk when you need to be reminder that, all current roadblocks aside, you will create again.
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3. Matt Ridley: ‘Start mating your ideas’
Ideas are great, but ideas borne of multiple other good ideas are even better. Author Matt Ridley talks about the inventions, movements and other discoveries that have most changed humanity—and how they were all the results of the combination of the best parts of other ideas.
If you’re looking for inspiration, try mashing up the best features of two great ideas you’ve already had to create something entirely new.
4. Tim Harford: ‘Reframe obstacles as opportunities’
The story that Tim Harford presents at the start of this talk is a lesson in the power of perseverance and improvisation that every creative type needs to hear at some point—or at many points.
Flaws, challenges, mistakes and other unexpected obstacles force us to slow down and to think differently, which often results in better outcomes.
So the next time you’re struggling with an “impossible” deadline or a “ridiculous” limitation, give this talk a play and reframe the challenge as an opportunity to create some of the best work you’ve done to date.
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5. Tim Brown: ‘Have a little fun’
Fear of judgment is often what causes us to be conservative, to censor ourselves and to be embarrassed about what we create.
But it turns out, children don’t self-edit in that way; they’re focused more on possibility than judgement. To get back into that childlike mindset, designer Tim Brown encourages play. This talk comes packing some seriously fun tips and activities to help abandon self-censoring.
6. Ann Morgan: ‘Diversify your portfolio’
It’s easy to fall into the same old habits and find yourself struggling to create anything new. But sometimes, a lack of creative output comes as a result of a lack of new inputs.
When Ann Morgan found her bookshelf lacking in diversity, she set out on a mission to read a book from every country, exposing her to new voices, perspectives and stories. “Books have an extraordinary power to take you out of yourself and into someone else’s mindset so that, for a while at least, you look at the world through different eyes,” she says. Head to your nearest bookstore and pick up something outside your normal genre to see if it stirs up something new.
When you’re feeling creatively off, the instinct is to keep pushing forward on the same path, with greater force. But sometimes, by making a simple shift in your perspective, your process or your experiences, you can adjust your mindset just enough for something to click into place.