Thanks to MarkKelley for the photo.
There's no doubt about it. Times are tough right now. The economy is tanking, jobs are insecure, and the holidays are right around the corner.
This is probably one of the hardest times to think of ideas. After all, the more stressed people are, the less able they are to think creatively.
Unfortunately, just because it's hard to think of ideas, that doesn't mean that you can just forget about creativity until times are better. In fact, now's the time when great ideas are needed more than ever!
So what do you do when you need to come up with a mind-blowing idea... and you're coming up blank? (Especially when there's a deadline and your boss is on your back?) What do you do at those times? How do you manage to come up with innovative ideas when your well has run dry?
The answer comes from a similar strategy used in drilling for oil.
You see, companies used to drill for oil by going straight down. For a long time, they used percussion drilling - which basically means they hammered away at the ground to get as deep as they could get. But, no matter how hard they hammered, the well would eventually bottom out and the oil would dry up.
Then, companies turned to rotary drilling, where drills would churn down to the earth, making a deeper hole. That was more efficient, since they could get further down and reach more oil. Drilling further down wasn't the best solution though, because eventually the well would go below the oil and hit rock bottom.
The real breakthrough came, however, when drilling companies realized how much they were missing. You see, oil deposits can stretch for miles - but when a drill went straight down, the well was only tapping oil from the immediate vicinity.
So, the oil companies changed their tactics. Instead of drilling down for oil, they started drilling diagonally and even horizontally!
This "directional drilling" has several advantages:
- It provides access to a large-cross section of a well, instead of just a narrow, vertical shaft.
- It makes it possible to reach oil deposits that can't be reached vertically - like those under a town or a lake.
- It reduces the number of times oil rigs need to be moved. When one well runs dry, another can be drilled in another direction (instead of moving to a new spot).
Drilling horizontally opens up new oil resources that would otherwise go untapped. In other words, it can make dry wells fruitful again.
As creative thinkers, you can benefit from the exact same strategy. When your well goes dry, it's likely because you've been heading relentlessly in the same direction and drawing ruthlessly on your resources. This is the first thing people do when times are tough.
The the oil companies can tell you why: it's because drilling straight down is a lot easier.
But that well will eventually run out - and probably right when you need it. That's why it's important to be able to think "directionally" as well.
So here are three ways you can start drilling your idea well horizontally:
- Take a break and do something different for a while. Sometimes giving your brain a break will result in tons of creativity. That's why so many people get their best ideas when they're doing something else.
But if that's not an option because you need ideas now...
- Use a creativity technique designed to break you away from your normal thinking pattern. The Random Word technique, for example, will stretch your brain in many directions when it tries to associate a completely unrelated word with your challenge. So when you're stuck, try some Lateral Thinking, or get a Whack on the Side of the Head.
But if you feel like you're totally out of ideas and just want them to be given to you...
- Make your challenge generic and steal ideas from other areas. Velcro came from the hooks that stuck burrs to a dog's fur. Roll-on deodorant uses the same technology as the ballpoint pen. Figure out what you need to accomplish, and look for others who are doing the same thing... somewhere else.
All three of those strategies will take your mind to new places and will break through your mental block. They work because they're not hammering away in the same direction over and over again - they're drilling out a new direction of thinking.
So, even when times are tough and your idea well seems like it's reached rock bottom, it doesn't mean all hope for creativity is lost. It simply means you need to get rid of your tunnel vision and start searching in other directions.