Hacking your way to creativity
By Sarah Owen

IDEO’s Neil Stevenson tests a few out of the box methods as he hunts for creativity. WGSN’s Sarah Owen reports.

Jun 23, 2016


Some people believe that we’re born with creativity, like it’s some sort of magical gift. Other people live by the idea that you can build it. But what Neil Stevenson recently learned this year is while creativity is not magic, it is kind of mysterious.

The executive portfolio director at design firm IDEO, went on a psychological quest earlier this year, as he sought to find new methods to enable creativity. During his presentation in the Innovation Lab at Cannes Lions, the creative himself, rejected the tried and tested concept of ‘design thinking’, despite his company’s longstanding belief in it. “It’s become this thing now. For me, ten years in the experience of using these methods has become less exciting, more routine,” he said.

So what other ways are there?

Neil went on to try a myriad of exercises including stimulation via virtual reality. In this case he used it for over a week, around 30 minutes each morning. Not as entertainment, but as a tool for creative inspiration. And while he found a new zen-like state of being, he wasn’t functioning on top of his A-game. 

That method did induce this idea of unconscious creativity, so he undertook improv sessions to tap into immediate thought. “In improv, you’re so in the moment the only way you could create was tapping into the unconscious moment.” 

He took this one step further by adopting Thomas Edison’s power-napping genius. For those that don’t know, the American inventor would use his nap sessions only to be jolted into a hypnagogic state – that is, the period of which you’re barely conscious and fading back from a light sleep that sometimes feels like a lucid dream.

He would sit in a chair and hold a steel ball bearing in each hand which would fall into a metal saucer once he had slowly dozed off. This would give him the most creative and ingenious ideas, as he navigated that lucid state. And, it might help explain why he went on to invent so many objects including the lightbulb, nickel-iron battery, and the phonograph. Neil’s replication of this tactic didn’t work so well, as he soon learned that falling asleep in a chair is hard enough, let alone having to hold onto two metal items.

The other technique Neil tried was an app he referred to as a “sadistic word processor.” Flowstate brands itself as “the most dangerous app” and perhaps it is if you’re terrified of pressure and countdown clocks. In the app, you set the amount of time you want to brainlessly write for and then type frantically. If you hesitate for more than two or three seconds, it deletes everything. No pressure! The idea is to find your natural flow and Flowstate acts as “a response to the amphetanminic digital age” we all find ourselves living in.

Whatever your method to hacking your creativity, step outside the norms and just let it flow.

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Hacking your way to creativity

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