Get in the Groove

Nine tips for making your creative project a success.

1. Look for “flow.” Intrinsic motivation is considered vital to creative work, so seek out challenging projects that make you feel flow—the state in which you are so absorbed in an activity that you forget about everything else.

2. Try lots of things, and share them. Researchers at Stanford showed in 2010 that developing multiple ideas at the same time (called parallel prototyping), as opposed to trying one thing at a time (serial prototyping), leads to more creative and diverse results. What’s more, research at Stanford and Harvard in 2011 showed that sharing your ideas with others improves exploration, group rapport, and results.

3. Experiment with noise. A 2012 study showed that while noisy environments may constrict information processing, some ambient noise is good for creativity because it induces abstract thinking. It’s too early to make any definitive conclusions, but in the meantime you can try it yourself at the website Coffitivity, which re-creates the hum of a coffee shop in your workspace.

4. Constrain yourself. According to research from Columbia University, forcing yourself to, say, combine unusual types of content or use only specific tools or materials can cause you to think in different and more varied ways. But not all constraints are helpful. Studies show that reward and evaluation constraints may actually inhibit creative work.

5. Understand what’s normal in the creative process. We think of creative work as being constant fun, but the reality is that it often involves conflict and feeling discouraged. Discovering that a similar idea already exists, feeling like colleagues don’t understand your vision, and experiencing rejection are all normal.

6. Structure your project to produce small, regular creative wins. Professor Teresa Amabile, of Harvard Business School, recommends setting clear and reasonable goals that allow you to feel like you’re making progress along the way. (She also suggests leaving enough time—but not too much—for the project).

7. Design your workspace for comfort. We can get comfort from everything from chairs to lighting to how a space supports our work activities to what it says about us to others.

8. Keep the things you need for your project—tools, funds, materials—easily accessible. The more steps you have to take to get to your materials, the less likely you are to experiment with them.

9. Be realistic about your commitments. If you aren’t practical about the time you can devote to a project, you’re setting yourself up to fail, and others may lose faith in you.


Learn more about creativity. Read “Present at the Creation.”