Studies show that most creative ideas occur when we aren’t trying to be creative. If you think about it, probably your best ideas came to in the shower, while taking a walk or otherwise not really thinking about the problem in question.
There are plenty of tips and tricks out there, but here are some broad principles to follow generally:
Do your research, then put it on the back burner
Creativity is an organic process. After you have read up on or otherwise studied the problem space, you need time for new ideas to germinate. Think of the study phase as being like planting seeds. You aren’t going to see new sprouts immediately. It takes a little time.
Exactly how much time is needed can vary. If you routinely schedule some downtime between the end of the research phase and the start of the next phase, things will tend to go better. This downtime doesn’t have to be unproductive. You just need to work on something else for a while. For small projects, it can be as simple as doing your research before lunch and starting the next phase after lunch.
Sleep on it
If you are really stuck, sleep on it. The subconscious can be a powerful problem solver. It is at its strongest when the rest of your mind shuts down for a rest. For some people, studying just before they go to sleep at night is one of the best things they can do to enhance both recall of the materials and germination of new ideas rooted in them.
Shake up your routine
You cannot force creativity to happen, but you can foster it. So, instead of trying to order yourself to come up with new ideas, try eating at a new place for lunch, getting theater tickets for something different from your usual fare, or taking on a new hobby. Creative ideas often come from marrying insights from completely unrelated , like knitting and physics. The more you can shake things up and expand your mind, the better the odds will be that you can come at the problem from a whole new direction and thereby arrive at entirely different answers.
Get outside input
If nothing is working and all of your ideas have run dry, get outside input. Fresh eyes may see something you missed because you have been staring at the same thing for far too long. It doesn’t necessarily have to be anyone with “expertise.” Ask your secretary or kid sister or coworker. It can be just about anyone.
Make these best practices into a habit. If you do, you should soon see your creativity improve.