From the August 2000 issue of Startups

When does marketing consultant Brian Norris come up with his best bursts of creativity? When he's cutting the grass, mopping the floors or dusting the shelves of his Fort Lauderdale, Florida, home office.

"Anything that gets me out of my normal routine is good for creative fluency," says Norris, a professional speaker who often achieves "Eureka!" while watching lousy speakers in action. "Even watching a boring speaker is prime time because it gives my mind time to wander."

Norris' inspirational hot spots seem to work for others as well. In fact, boring meetings rank fifth and mowing the yard ranks 10th among the leading places to generate new ideas, according to Chic Thompson, president of the Creative Management Group, a homebased creative consulting firm in Keswick, Virginia.

Thompson, an illustrator and artist, started his own creative workshop after departing Disney in 1977. "All my ideas got killed," he says of his experience with the Mouse. Thompson now surveys attendees at his annual seminars on curiosity and creativity to see what the creative hot spots are. Some are understandable; others are interesting, to say the least, he admits.

Mowing the lawn is among the top spots for men, Thompson says. Any rote project that has a finite term and leads directly to completion-along with the monotonous sounds, pacing and time dedicated to the process-is good for the mind. "You're just totally letting go," he says. "You're zoning."

Atop Thompson's own list: doodling with his left (or nondominant) hand, and taking a shower or a bubble bath with the lights out and lavender candles burning. "If I don't get something or if I can't [envision it], I'll read it over right before I go into the bath," he says.

While food doesn't show up on Thompson's list, water is his idea elixir. Not coffee or soda, mind you. Water. It helps hydrate the body and eliminate headaches. And since Thompson then has to break away from the computer every hour or so, it helps provide additional diversion, he admits.

Most of all, though, people need to spur their own creativity, he says. When brainstorming a new idea, ditch the linear thought. Thompson advises turning a blank sheet of paper 90 degrees-from portrait to landscape. In the center, draw an oval with the topic written inside. Around the oval, write words and sketch images related to the word. Then outline your thoughts from the paper.

Over the past few generations, work has become rote, machinated and less mentally challenging. Turn it around, Thompson says. When in meetings or brainstorming sessions, welcome new ideas-instead of panning them outright.

"My mantra for all these years is to be curious first, critical second," he says. "We forget when we hear an idea to ask what's right about it first."

Top Ten Places to Get a Good Idea

1. Taking a shower or bath. Psychologists believe water has a mentally cleansing quality.

2. Driving (alone). The spatial orientation while listening to monotonous sounds really kicks in the creativity after 30 minutes.

3. Sitting on the toilet. Some 90 percent of men responded favorably to this venue. "I think men and women have different views of the toilet," Thompson says.

4. Falling asleep or waking up. The "laconic state" of pre- or post-sleep is ripe for ideas, thoughts and worries to float around in your head. The left or analytical side of the brain cuts out and the right side takes over, Thompson says.

5. Boring meetings. Minds wander to more creative thoughts in sessions that are too long, where too much info is dumped on attendees, where not enough dialogue is created.

6. "Fun" reading. Read things that have nothing to do with your work. Read fiction, or flip backward through magazines.

7. Exercise. A walk or jog, or a trip to the gym becomes a rote, mindless task that allows the mind to wander to more creative things.

8. Waking up in the middle of the night. Just be prepared to write ideas down or hit the office to get them onto the PC; trusting such thoughts at such times to memory usually fails. "There's the great advantage to the home office," Thompson admits.

9. Listening to a religious sermon. Autopilot (so to speak) kicks in, the listener relaxes and the mind wanders. Just don't break out your PDA and start taking notes.

10. Cutting the grass. A rote, monotonous chore with a short duration and completion at the end of the project helps the mind relax.

Source: Creative Management Group


Journalist and author Jeff Zbar has worked from home since the 1980s. He writes about home business, teleworking, marketing, communications and other SOHO issues.