Creatively Blocked? These 32 Founders Share Their Most Effective Strategies.
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
Most of us are well acquainted with that sinking feeling that occurs when you hit a creative wall. But you shouldn't let that blinking cursor on the blank page intimidate you.
Even though it might seem like your idea well has run dry and innovation is a finite resource, that is simply not true. Everyone's brain operates differently and the way one person gets out of a creative rut will not necessarily work for someone else.
But if you find yourself stuck and in need of a new tactic to get your brain working again, we asked 32 founders the strategies they swear by.
Here is what they had to say:
Embrace the familiar.
Name: Shan-Lyn Ma
Creativity strategy: I love to walk near water. As someone who grew up in Sydney, a city surrounded by water, it's something I miss. Now I make an effort to walk somewhere near water whenever I feel like I am facing a hard problem that I have to think creatively about
Read more about Ma: This Founder Has a 5-Minute Secret Weapon That Helps Her Focus Every Day
Don’t fear the empty page.
Name: Aaron Levie
Creativity strategy: It's a combination of music and whiteboard or a notepad. I play some kind of classical music or Bob Dylan to get creative juices flowing, get a clean sheet of paper and brainstorm every possible solution to a problem. I list out new ideas until I'm exhausted and can't come up with anything else, or when I get to the point where I think I have the answer.
Read more about Levie: Why This Founder Says You Shouldn't Be Afraid to Go Big
Look for inspiration anywhere and everywhere.
Name: Brit Morin
Company: Brit + Co
Creativity strategy: I'm not the type of person who can just look at a blank sheet of paper or Google Doc and come up with an idea. I love to do some inspiration research first. Sometimes that means I go to a place like Pinterest or Brit + Co, sometimes I go outdoors into nature, and sometimes I'll just go shopping to see if I can spot products that spark an idea. Creative inspiration is all around us, we just have to be looking for it.
Read more about Morin: This Founder Shares the Secret to How to Make Your Business Last
Get inspired by the creativity of others.
Name: Amber Venz
Creativity strategy: To find creativity I go to other people's work. Reading, Instagram, Pinterest, podcasts, TED talks, I'm always finding something that resonates with me.
Read more about Venz: This Founder Shares the Mindset That Helps Her Stay On Track
Use another part of your brain.
Name: Bastian Lehmann
Creativity strategy: You have to do something completely different. Do something you love, go outside, walk around. If you're not getting anything done, you may as well spend an hour outside the office.
Read more about Lehmann: This Founder Shares the One Trait He Looks for in Every Hire
Name: Carrie Dorr
Company: Pure Barre
Creativity strategy: Creativity is directly correlated to energy. If I'm blocked I take a hard look around at what's negating my energy. Sometimes the things that are negating it can't be fixed, so I have to figure out how can I insulate myself against it. What works for me is getting outside with headphones on, and movement and rhythm. If there is a trail or mountain near by, all the better.
Read more about Dorr: This Founder Shares How to Tailor Your Schedule to Fit Your Brain
Talk it out.
Name: Julia Hartz
Creativity strategy: Talking through it with my team. The people you hire are your greatest asset and strongest resource. We've put a lot of energy into hiring great talent, and there is always someone to count on who knows the answer or can bring a creative approach.
Read more about Hartz: The Day This Eventbrite Co-Founder Learned When to Speak Up
Name: David Bladow
Creativity strategy: I think movement is key. I walk, but I also move desks a lot. I'm like nomad with where I work; I find that a change in space helps me.
I keep a pen and notebook on me at all times in case the moment strikes. I fill up notebooks. Reading books, I find analogies in other people's experiences. All it takes is a fragment of an idea to get your brain going again.
Read more about Bladow: This Founder Has 3 Simple Tips to Achieve Maximum Productivity
The only way out is through.
Name: Randi Zuckerberg
Company: Zuckerberg Media
Creativity strategy: I just try to force myself to sit and write -- even if what I write is nonsense, and I end up throwing it out. Creativity and writing is a muscle, and you need to discipline yourself to actually sit and write ideally at the same time every day to get used to it. Before you know it, if you keep going, you're going to write something. I was able to write my whole business book in less than a month, because I decided that I was going to write four to six hours every day.
Read more about Zuckerberg: Why Everyone Can Use Randi Zuckerberg's Number One Focus Tip
Remember that it’s okay if it isn’t your best work.
Name: Chris Wanstrath
Creativity strategy: Just start doing it. For example, for writing, if you feel totally uninspired, just write down something that happened in your day. Get your brain firing on those cylinders. Or if you're writing code, just write something stupid to get started.
For me, if I have to give a talk, and I don't think I have any ideas, I just start writing an old talk I gave or pacing around the room and talking to myself and recording it. I just do stuff I know isn't good to get to the good. That's how I deal with the block.
Read more about Wanstrath: This Founder Believes He Found the Answer for Burnout
Get some distance.
Name: Daniella Yacobovsky
Creativity strategy: I think the key is giving yourself space to think. We get stuck when we are sitting and focusing on the problem. We get tunnel vision, and it can be hard to think big picture. Clear your head.
Read more about Yacobovsky: This Co-Founder of BaubleBar's Secret for Inspiration? Always 'Keep Your Eyes Peeled.'
Get lost in a book.
Name: Tim Chen
Creativity strategy: Often I just stop and read a book, because it jogs another part of your brain to think about the problem.
Read more about Chen: Nerdwallet's Founder Shares the Worst Advice He Ever Got
Look to the future.
Name: Oliver Kharraz
Creativity strategy: I expose myself to new ideas through reading and talking to people -- friends who are active in completely different spheres. Many friends -- both in healthcare and who are artists, writers and very pragmatic types -- all have a unique way of thinking about things.
There's also a lot we can learn from people who are no longer around. I read about history, religion, economics. I'm a little bit of a science-fiction geek. I like to look back at what people dreamt about how the future would be. I get inspired the most by things that didn't go as predicted.
Read more about Kharraz: This Founder Says to Succeed You Need to Question Everything
Pay attention to the mind-body connection.
Name: Merrill Stubbs
Creativity strategy: Going for a walk or doing some sort of physical exercise. I also like going swimming. It's important to pay attention to my body and slow down my mind a little bit. If I can get moving it frees up my head and makes some space.
Read more about Stubbs: The Life-Changing Book That Helps This Entrepreneur Think Big
Use someone you trust as a sounding board.
Name: Jenny Ripps
Company: Owl's Brew
Creativity strategy: If I am struggling with a concept or a creativity block, I will talk things over with my business partner Maria Littlefield. I find that she and I think differently, and I find the conversation gets me out of my own head.
Read more about Ripps: The One Thing This Entrepreneur Does Each Day to Stay Productive
Get enough rest.
Name: Josh Reeves
Creativity strategy: A change of scenery and environment. When I talk to entrepreneurs and they are trying to come up with something innovative or a new idea, my biggest piece of advice for them is to not lock themselves up in a room for two weeks. There's not much value in being in closed off environments. You want to be around your potential customer or something you've never seen. We need something different to drive creativity. For me, a lot of it's visual. And get enough sleep. It's impossible to get work done or be created without enough sleep.
Read more about Reeves: The CEO of Billion-Dollar Startup Gusto Believes Passion Should Come Before Revenue
Get the perspective of someone who has been where you are.
Name: Aaron Hirschhorn
Creativity strategy: Get away. You're not going to come up with the answer sitting at your desk and thinking or Googling. Get out of the office, get some different perspectives. I talk to different people. Getting outside, hearing other perspectives, hearing how other CEOs have thought about similar transformations in their company, how they have weighted the various options and decisions, often helps me
Read more about Hirschhorn: This CEO Says the Key to Being a Good Boss Is Getting Out of the Way
Leave your office behind.
Name: Dave Rusenko
Creativity strategy: It's always helpful for me to change my physical location. A lot of times our thinking and our experience in a particular place constrains our thinking. It's always been helpful to move to a different space or a different location in the office and get some thinking done.
Read more about Rusenko: Weebly's Founder Explains the Richard Branson Moment That Changed How He Ran His Company
Look to your past.
Name: Melissa Ben-Ishay
Company: Baked by Melissa
Creativity strategy: Through my experience I learned that's just a part of the process. I just let it happen, and it passes. I try to change my focus and not necessarily force it. I stop trying to get creative in that moment and do something else and naturally I'll get inspired.
I get ideas from everywhere. Most of my ideas come from thinking about my childhood, anything that reminds me of it. Sometimes I'll go to the supermarket and walk around the candy isle. Or when I go out to dinner, I see the way the chef makes something. The flavors inspire me to think differently about my dessert flavors. It gets me thinking, and I get new ideas that way.
Read more about Ben-Ishay: How Getting Fired Turned Into Sweet Success for This Entrepreneur
Let your brain play.
Name: Jeff Chapin
Creativity strategy: You're not going to be that creative sitting at your desk. Whatever it takes to do something with your body and hands and experience it is the solution. You have to create the right environment to do that and it's on us to create that environment now.
I leave the office and go to stores, talk to people in their homes, go to tradeshows. We also have a workshop, and you can go play around in the workshop and play with materials.
Get a different perspective
Name: Angie Hicks
Company: Angie’s List
Creativity strategy: I’ll make sure that I’m out talking to different people, doing some networking -- or picking up a book. Things that get me out of the day to day and thinking about business from a different perspective is what will do it for me.
Read more about Hicks: This Introvert Founder Swears by This Management Tip
Try something completely out of your comfort zone.
Name: Bruce Poon Tip
Company: G Adventures
Creativity strategy: To truly innovate you have to draw from a place you don’t know. You have to find new things that inspire you. Try new things, take up new hobbies. I do it all the time.
One year I decided I was going to do all new sports for an entire year. I had never played tennis, I went rock climbing, I did squash for the first time and golfed. I started taking painting classes last year; I had never done that in my life. I love it.
Read more about Poon Tip: I Was About to Shut Down My Business but I Changed My Mind. Here's Why.
Get out of your head with a walk.
Name: Vicki Fulop
Creativity strategy: If I'm in the building and I'm doing something on deadline, I take a walk. It does wonders. And I've read studies that walk stimulate creativity in your brain. I'll also listen to music.
Read more about Fulop: Use This Founder's Simple Email Strategy to Keep Burnout at Bay
Start a conversation with people you trust.
Name: Nirav Tolia
Creativity strategy: I just get in a room with people and try to work on it. When I'm blocked, which happens a lot, I will just go to people for advice and try to engage them in the process.
Look at the trajectory of other startups
Name: Jennifer Hyman
Company: Rent the Runway
Creativity strategy: Think about someone else’s business. I advise a lot of female-founded startups, both personally and through the Rent the Runway Foundation, which means that I’m constantly listening to entrepreneurs pitch me on new disruptive ideas, describe diverse industries that require innovation and take me through their point of view on customers and trends that make their idea relevant. By listening and immersing myself into their business problems, it helps me think more clearly about my own. I often come back to Rent the Runway after a session advising a fellow entrepreneur with a slew of new creative ideas.
Read more about Hyman: Rent the Runway's Jennifer Hyman Shares Her Worst Advice Ever: 'Shut Up and Act Sweet'
Start with a bad first draft.
Name: Christene Barberich
Creativity strategy: Driving a car or walking for long distances. If I’m really feeling blocked in my writing, Annie Lamott recommends writing a bad first draft that is just for you, that is just a stream of consciousness. It helps me personally to unlock a lot of things that I'm working over in my head, or that haven't come to the surface.
Read more about Barberich: Why Your Done List is Just as Important as Your To-Do List
Do a completely different project.
Name: Sarah Kauss
Creativity strategy: I find that it's best for me to put it down and walk away from it. If I can physically get up and walk away, I’ll walk around the block, call my best friend and talk about something unrelated just to let my brain rest. Or I will do something that's more creative -- window shop or look at my Twitter -- or do something that's completely different. I find that the more that I struggle to be creative, I'm not creative.
Get away from your desk.
Name: Barbara Corcoran
Company: Forefront Venture Partners
Creativity strategy: I go out. To a great store or a museum or ride my bike in Central Park. I do anything but sit. You will never have a creative idea at your desk.
Read more about Corcoran: Shark Tank's Barbara Corcoran Explains Why You Must Make Time in Your Schedule For Fun
Find the answer in a book.
Name: Tristan Walker
Company: Walker & Company
Creativity strategy: Reading. Whenever I come across an issue or creative block, I can simply recall a passage or a chapter of some book that gives me inspiration to take a step back and focus on the bigger picture. Any problem that I go through isn’t new; someone has done it before. So instead of reinventing the wheel, let me find [the solution that way].
Listen to the dreams of others
Name: Melanie Perkins
Creativity strategy: One of the most rewarding and motivating things is the team we have built at Canva. Every day I get to work with super smart and kind people, all of whom have big dreams and plans for the company. It helps to be able to bounce ideas with such a talented team.
Rad more about Perkins: She Was Told 'No' 100 Times. Now This 30-Year-Old Female Founder Runs a $1 Billion Business.
Start writing down ideas, even if they aren’t perfect
Name: Marco Zappacosta
Creativity strategy: I'm an external processor, so I need conversation and debate with people to refine my own ideas and generate new ones. If I feel stuck, just getting people together in a room and spitballing and getting [ideas up] up on the whiteboard and debating something. For me, that is the best way to spark new ideas and a way forward.
Travel on your own.
Name: Zach Sims
Creativity strategy: Travel is a big thing, and I do it alone. A couple of months ago I spent the weekend in upstate New York, reading and writing a bunch and thinking about the business. I also try to draw on a lot of sources, whether its talking to people or reading. It helps break up the day-to-day grind of reading emails and being stuck in meetings.
Read more about Sims: The Surprising Reason Why This Young Tech Entrepreneur Swears By Pen and Paper