Are You Right Brain Dead?

campingA ton of research suggests that the right half of our brain supplies the more creative aspects of our thinking. So it goes that more creative people use that side of their brain more predominately.

Creativity is an essential part of building a business, but day to day many small business owners rely so heavily on the more logical, rational, and practical that the creative can go dormant. Now, creativity isn’t so much about being artistic as it is a way of thinking or viewing what’s going on around you. I think the most creative business thinkers I know are simply naturally curious about everything they encounter.

If, as a marketer, the creative side of your thinking gets shut down you can find it difficult to create engaging blog posts, elegant customer service solutions and innovative product enhancements. In fact, there is an element of creativity in connecting with your customer’s true needs. You may not even know it’s happening to you because it’s a subtle thing like when you drive home from your office and you don’t even remember actually driving.

I have a few things that I make sure I do every now and then in an effort to keep my creative side in shape and contributing as much as possible. (I wonder if true right brain thinkers do anything to be more boring?)

My top 10 creative kick starters:
1 Go camping – the bank of stream is a creative haven
2 Stop, close my eyes and feel nothing but my breath
3 Go into a business I’ve never entered and use all my senses
4 Listen to Nirvana (mostly the live acoustic stuff)
5 Run – I can’t tell you how many blog posts I’ve written this way
6 Get olfactory – smells, odd and pungent stir something
7 Hang out in a public library
8 Read Emerson or Angelou
9 Watch cartoons (bonus: watch with 6 yr old)
10 Play my honey blond Guild D-35 – I don’t do that enough!

I would love to hear what you do to get more creative.

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  1. Sounds like Relax is the predominate theme. The difficulty is isolating are toys away from us to do that.

    My favorite is actually participating in a sport and competing. I come away from that completely refreshed. Amazed at how trivial some of issues are that did not seem that way at the beginning.

  2. I posted a blog called 7 Steps Towards Becoming More Creative last year. The 7th step is “look around and be inspired” – your post is inspiring! Thank for sharing your top 10 kick starters.

  3. My big thing is to always ask questions. That keeps me thinking and on my toes. I always try to imagine what the answer could be before actually finding out what the “real” answer is.

  4. as a photog…i follow an ungodly number of blogs to see what others in my field are doing. it really gets my creative wheels in motion. i see things that i like and choose to incorporate or try; it also gives me an opportunity to see which direction the “pack” is moving…allowing me to differentiate myself and choose an all together unique path.

  5. I do a lot of reading every day to get the creative juices flowing. Reading and thinking about what other people think and what they’re doing jump starts the brain and usually leads to new trains of thought.

    Interacting with people is important too – networking, talking to clients or friends, or just having little conversations as you go through your day. Even in small talk there can be tidbits that spark a bigger idea.

  6. To unplug, I make movies. I grab my video camera and with iMovie create something silly. Getting my frontal lobe involved in a different project allows my subconscious to chew on my business. Usually what happens is I’ll suddenly get inspired about my product and hit it with renewed enthusiasm.

  7. Great post with lots of good ideas. I’d take you to task over your “ton of research” on the right brain notion. There is more than a ton of research saying the right brain / left brain idea is nonsense. However, that shouldn’t detract from your excellent advice on creativity which I agree more people should work on.

    For me, I do two things. I live near a canal, so I go for walks along the towpath. When I’m not doing that I’ll visit a bookstore and buy a magazine on a subject I know nothing about and am not remotely interested in – such as “fly fishing” or some subject I am completely unfamiliar with. It always helps stimulate ideas.

    Research shows us, though, that we are at our most creative after physical activity. So, running to create a blog is a great idea.

  8. I try to take a walk everyday – escape the office whether it is freezing or balming outside. Something I don’t do enough of but wish I did more of is record inspirations in a journal. I am always amazed at the inspiration I can get from reading my past travel journals.

  9. @Graham – you Brits can be so fussy about things, I swear! Love the idea of unrelated topics – one of my favorite books for inspiration is called the Soul of a Tree.

  10. Great post and thanks for sharing. I fall into the “creativity through movement” category. Even better when the “movement” is not predictable nor the same each time you do it – like kayaking and mountain biking. Plus with those activities, you usually get the benefits of a natural/outdoor environment.

    Over years of competing in, coaching, and instructing whitewater kayaking, I believe the link between evaluating/taking risk and creativity is very real. Risk changes boundaries and ultimately affects your belief system – great for building your foundation of creativity.

  11. @Joe – this is an important business idea and probably fodder for another post – “Risk changes boundaries and ultimately affects your belief system.”

  12. Great post, What inspires us as humans are things that we consider to be challenging and engaging. I love the first tip which was “Go Camping”. I’m half way in writing a short play and I got my inspiration from mere building tents.

  13. These are great tips, but as a writer with relentless deadlines I don’t have the luxury of creative shortfalls. I find that once I start marching words across the page the “inspiration” usually arrives…Either way, producing creative work requires real work, whether its the right brain or left brain doing the heavy lifting

  14. I really love this article is very true in every sense of the way.

    There ‘s a few things that work for me. But, by far, when I have a creative meltdown I go to the museum of fine arts to watch my favorite painting in their permanent collection, I call her my lady, lol.

    Watching cartoons is great too, specially anime, but 3D movies are even better.

    Drawing in the metro as well. Go grafitti hunting, or sketching outside. 🙂

  15. Music is the medicine for me. Nirvana fan, huh? I dont know why that surprised me, but it did. You have good taste, John!

  16. @Amanda – well, I’m not sure if I should be insulted or not 🙂 – had me in old boring fart category did you? Hey, I also like Jason Mraz, hope that didn’t ruin your new view of me.

  17. The book, “The Artist’s Way” was a great help to me when it comes to moving into my own creative spirit. One of the things she suggests that works especially well, is to take 30 minutes to do something you’ve never done, but would especially enjoy, and do it once each week.

    One time I took a long walk on the beach in the middle of my work day. Another time, I visited a crafts store. Fun stuff, and VERY rejuvinating.

  18. Great post!
    I don’t know about camping, but the occasionally trying something new, such as kayaking, can give a spiritual and emotional boost to be more productive-

  19. I took a couple hour hike around Christmas and during it I came to an epiphany about my life. I switched majors in college (mechanical engineering to marketing) and don’t regret it one bit. I had been thinking about it but something about being outside in the cold made me realize what I needed to do.

  20. It looks like the central theme here is to simply clear your head. I recently had a mental block against blogging for over a month. Eventually I just decided to stop worrying about it and walked away from my blog.

    A couple of days later I was back in the saddle and I’m now posting more regularly than ever before, hopefully with some quality content.

  21. So true, what a great reminder. Thanks, John, for this. I was inspired by your post to write my own list, over at my WritingontheWeb Blog, and my favorite way of stimulating my right brain these days is walking down to Lake Chapala here in Mexico, where the herons love to bask in the sunshine…

  22. Thanks for this post, John, you inspired me to list my own favourites on my blog, including: giving myself the time and space to create, improvising over the 12-bar blues, and turning my attention to something completely different.

  23. Great post! I really enjoy (1) getting outdoors. Something about some fresh air and no computer screen to look at is refreshing. I do carry a pad of paper and a pen to let the ideas flow. I also like (7) heading to the public library. I browse the stacks and find all sorts of interesting books that get me thinking about new ideas. I don’t even have to hardly open them up to get the benefit, just the act of browsing and seeing titles is enough to get ideas flowing.

  24. I do two things regularly to encourage creativity:
    – swim lengths … there is something peaceful and calming and ‘opening’ about swimming lengths (for me) – I have some of my best and most creative ideas in the water (the problem is drying off fast enough to write those ideas down before I lose the thread);
    – the other tactic is much more prosaic (and perhaps slightly dangerous if you’re following behind me) – I turn off my phone and radio on my drive in to work each day and focus on thinking about solutions (creative ones).
    I’ve found both of these strategies to be highly effective for me – for me, it’s a matter of ‘freeing’ my mind of the clutter and the noise.

  25. We need more articles like this..A keep on the back side. Like a commenter said:These are great tips, but as a writer with relentless deadlines I don’t have the luxury of creative shortfalls. I find that once I start marching words across the page the “inspiration” usually arrives…Either way, producing creative work requires real work, whether its the right brain or left brain doing the heavy lifting.

  26. I can definitely get the creative juices flowing with a little physical activity, like yard work. Ideas always seem to be popping into my head while I’m mowing the lawn, or cleaning the gutters. Like you said in your post, I also need a change of scenery from time to time. But I find that collaborative efforts are very helpful. Get some insight from others who can be objective about what you’re working on.

  27. Two approaches come to mind: Go outside to play everyday…No kidding, it’s amazing what goes on in nature regardless of the season. The second thing is to read something like “Jonathon Livingston Seagull” again. The most important for me by a long shot is to go outside and look around. (And then there is riding a motorcycle out in the country.)

  28. Gentlemen, Ladies, true creativity, and ideas come inexplicably, and without method. All this do this and do that and you’ll be blessed with ideas is a load of.. well.. insert expletive.

    And John, perhaps you should go for a run more than you blog.

    And as for the rest of you creative posers.. your vain attempts to associate yourself with creativity by writing the lamest known cliches as comments/ suggestions is so pathetic, I’m not even sure this can be classified as a call for help.

    Just go ahead and put yourselves out of your misery y’all.

  29. It can be helpful to take advantage of time during weekly team meetings to talk with colleagues and hear what has been going on in their lives. Taking the time to have more relaxing conversation can help your mind relax a little. I’ve often found when my mind is more relaxed ideas tend to flow more easily. I would also take the time during those weekly team meetings to talk about different challenges or problems I may be experiencing with certain clients and ask colleagues for their input or perspective. A colleague I know takes a quick 15 minute coffee break everyday to drive to a nearby Starbucks. That brief time out of the office allows her to break away from the computer or a meeting and allow her brain to breathe and for her to feel a little more refreshed to finish out the rest of her day when she comes back to the office. Just spending 30 minutes – if it can be sparred – journaling is a great way to channel new thoughts and ideas. And though journaling via pen and paper may provide a more visceral experience, typing away on the old laptop could work just as well if need be.

  30. Interesting. I am glad someone is exploring this topic. With my clients I use a method for approaching a problem or a challenge in an imaginative and innovative way that takes into consideration different brand orientations. It is called CPS, which I first learned about almost a decade ago from the Creative Problem Solving Institute. It is a simple process that helps get through periods when the creative energy is lacking or when a team is stuck. One of the biggest “uh ha’s,” which I discovered while studying this process an has proven out in my experiences, is that in 9 out of 10 instances the focus is on the wrong objective. Thanks again for the insightful read.

  31. To be more creative I:

    1. Hang out with teenagers and observe what they do and say.

    2. Take a walk at night during a full moon

    3. I go hiking and meditate in the mountains.

    your idea of camping is great. I do and make sure i camp out next to a river. Listening to the waters rush down the river can inspire you.


  32. I do copious amounts of drugs. Anything from smoking a few joints to shooting up a few pills or heroin when I can get it. The most destructive ones are in a way the most towering. They build you up in strange ways. They build something up inside of you. Something that in time, you will need to get out of you. And when you do, it can be the most beautiful and potent thing ever.

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