Here’s a collaborative creative exercise that I recently ran with my company’s content team. As you may have gathered from the gruesome examples below, the exercise requires that participants draw monsters. But more specifically, each participant is assigned to one section of a monster: head, torso, or legs. The final image isn’t revealed until all of the sections have been completed.
What you’ll need:
Pens, paper, and at least three participants.
Fold a sheet of paper into thirds (see above examples).
Have the first participant sketch the head of the monster and fold over the paper so no one can see what he or she has drawn.
Have the second participant sketch the torso of the monster and fold over the paper so no one can see what he or she has drawn.
Have the final participant sketch the legs of the monster and unfold the paper to reveal the finished monster.
Rinse & repeat as many times as you’d like!
(FYI: I found this exercise on the iD Tech Camps blog. It’s a great source for creative exercises and inspiration.)
“My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.'”
Two words: Terrible. Simile.
The oft-quoted Forrest Gump phrase makes no sense, and here’s why: Boxes of chocolates almost always come with those flavor guide thingies that show you what all the chocolates are. So if you take the two seconds to actually look at the thing, you’ll know EXACTLY what you’re going to get.
In his book, A Whack on the Side of the Head, author/inventor Roger von Oech challenges readers to come up with new similes to describe what life is like.
“Life is like a jar of extra crunchy peanut butter. You want to enjoy it, but you never want it to end.”
“Life is like a snowball rolling down a hillside. It keeps picking up new things along the way.”
“Life is like a blind fish in the ocean. Usually there’s open water, but sometimes you hit a coral reef…or get eaten by a shark.”
“Life is like a guitar. The harder it’s played, the sooner the strings break.”
“Life is like drinking a bottle of whiskey. About a quarter of the way through you feel AWESOME. But as you keep going you feel worse and worse. Then you pass out.”
Feel free to contribute your own “Life is like…” similes in the comments section below!
Looking for a quick-hitting creative exercise that takes 2 minutes to set up and only 5 minutes to complete? Look no further.
Step 1: Print out three funny/interesting/weird photos.
I went with 1) a melting snowman holding a sign that reads “I’ll Be Dead Soon,” 2) a dog’s butt that had sunglasses on it (making his butt look like a face), and 3) a dude with a nose ring and face tattoos.
Step 2: Label the photos (1, 2, 3) and give each participant three sticky notes. (Instruct participants to label their sticky notes 1, 2, 3 as well.)
Step 3: Hold up each photo and have participants jot down one word (on the corresponding sticky note) to describe that photo. Make sure participants don’t peek at each other’s words!
Step 4: Collect all the sticky notes, shuffle them up, and read the words aloud. After reading each word, have participants guess which photo (1, 2, or 3) the word is describing.
What’s the point?
Condensing your thoughts: It’s easy to describe something well when you can use a bunch of words, phrases, sentences, etc. But describing something well using only one word is a whole different ball game. This exercise forces you to condense your thoughts and succinctly describe an object’s true essence.
Coins. They rattle in our pockets. They roll clumsily into Coke machines. And – when compassion permits – they fall into tip jars as well as hats and cups that line city sidewalks.
But coins are more than just pieces of metal that denote monetary value: they’re pieces of content that carry creative value.
Coins have copy. Some is informative (“Quarter Dollar”), some promotes our country’s values (“Liberty”), and some even makes religious assertions (“In God We Trust”). Coins also have design elements. Some of these designs commemorate our Founding Fathers, while others showcase the cultural capital of specific states.
Creativity Exercise: Redesign the Quarter (and/or Other Coins)
Prior to meeting with your group, grab a pen, some sticky notes, and a coffee mug (or other round object) and trace out a bunch of circles. These circles will serve as templates for your coins.
Pass out markers, pens, or pencils to participants and announce which coins they’ll be redesigning. (I had my group redesign three coins: the quarter, the Chuck E. Cheese token, and our company’s virtual currency.)
Allow each participant 10 seconds to add one element (copy or design) to each of the coins. A coin’s design is complete once everyone has contributed an element.
Hold up the coins for all to see and have participants weigh in on which coins they like best.
What’s the point?
Collaboration: This exercise allows for free collaboration – no one plans out ahead of time what the designs will look like. Instead, ideas flow freely and elements appear on the coins spontaneously.
Timed Creativity: Allowing only 10 seconds for each element to be added to the coins really puts participants on the spot. It forces participants to be creative while also adhering to a tight deadline, which – as you might know – can be difficult.
Whether they’re framed above the mantle, spelled out in magnetic poetry on the fridge, or scribbled on the inside of your office’s bathroom stall, quotes can have a huge impact on the way we think.
Quotes are the ultimate short-form prose, as they cut away the unnecessary (but tasty) fat and leave us with just the meat of an argument or idea. Easily digested and easily shared, quotes are a low-barrier-to-entry way of spreading knowledge.
Put the quotes face-down on the table and have each participant pick one.
Go around the horn (participants read their quotes aloud).
Lead discussion by asking questions – e.g.
What was your favorite quote?
What was your least favorite quote?
Which quotes had similar messages?
Which quotes were most at odds with each other?
What does the ___ quote mean?
(Tip: Encourage participants to re-read their quotes as needed.)
What’s the point?
Think Different: Tackling the tasks required of you each day (while obviously a necessity) can get your brain stuck in a certain way of thinking. Discussing ideas from some of history’s most creative minds will encourage your brain to think in different ways and can help spark creativity.
Get Talking: Running this exercise is a great way to generate a good – dare I say, “academic” – discussion. (When I ran the exercise, the discussion in the room came to revolve around whether or not the term “creativity” implied something entirely unique/invented or the connecting of ideas/components in novel ways.)
“I’m just not that creative,” is a phrase that should never, ever be uttered…anywhere. But at a startup, especially one that produces interactive online content, being a self-proclaimed “uncreative person” should be a mortal sin.
Fiction: Creativity is an innate form of intelligence, which exists in finite amounts.
Fact: You can practice creativity and get better at it.
I’ve recently started leading my company’s content team (content writers & graphic designers) in creativity exercises. Each week, during our team meeting, we take about 10 to 15 minutes to complete an exercise that forces us to flex our creativity muscles.
Creativity exercise: Draw Your Neighbor
How it works:
Each person is instructed to sketch the person to his or her right (no peeking allowed!)
After five minutes or so of sketching, all of the sketches are mixed up and put in a pile in the middle of the table
Each sketch is held up (and numbered) and participants jot down who they think is portrayed in each sketch
Next, participants go around the table and read off who they had for #1, #2, etc.
After everyone has made their guesses public for a particular sketch, the artist of the sketch can reveal who the right answer is
What’s the point?
Visualization: By completing a five-minute sketch, you’re practicing visualizing your ideas under a time constraint (think of brainstorms…you have five minutes to sketch out your idea for this project…)
Exit the Comfort Zone: Not everyone likes to sketch. And as you can tell by the examples I provided, not everyone is very good at sketching. By “forcing” such people to give it their best shot, you’re forcing their brains to think in a new way.