3 Tips for Being Creative This Valentine’s Day

For cupid’s sake, make your Valentine’s Day card from scratch

vdaycardmakingAnyone with five bucks and half a brain can go to the corner store and buy a card. And while giving your valentine a store-bought card is certainly a more thoughtful gesture than not giving a card at all, hand-crafted is definitely the way to go. Hallmark might do a better job of crafting cliche, lovey-dovey Valentine’s prose, but you can certainly do a better job of sharing sentiments (and inside jokes) that only your loved one will fully understand and (ideally) enjoy.


  • Go old school – I’m talkin’ construction paper, glue sticks, glitter, etc. (Just be careful with the scissors.)
  • Go digital – Bust out the Photoshop (or other design program) and create a card. Better yet, create an infographic that provides a visual representation of how much you love your valentine.

It ain’t about the money, honey: play to your strengths

Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be Spend-All-Your-Savings-on-Jewelry-and-Flowers-and-Other-Crap Day. Instead, it can be a day when you show off your skills and give a gift that you’ve created with your own blood, sweat, and beers. Or tears. (Tears optional, beers recommended.)


  • Musician? Write a song about how and when you first met your significant other.
  • Chef? Whisk your valentine away to Paris with a romantic, home-cooked French dinner. (Bon appetit!)
  • Accountant? Ummm, I’ll get back to you.

Give the gift of an amazing memory

Not something that will be kept in a jewelery box, tucked away in a drawer, or thrown away (e.g. flowers). An amazing memory can last a lifetime (and yes, I’m aware that sounds incredibly lame and Hallmark-y). But think about it: If, hypothetically, you’re a dude who gives your girlfriend chocolate and flowers for Valentine’s Day, how unremarkable is that? Years later, will your girlfriend say, “Hey, remember that Valentine’s Day…when you gave me chocolate and flowers? How awesome was that!”? Answer: No, she will not. So instead, think about crafting a moment that you can both revisit years later.


  • “Remember that Valentine’s Day…when we drank hot cocoa inside the snow fort you built for me?!”
  • “Remember that Valentine’s Day…when you took me to the aquarium and that penguin kissed me?!”
  • “Remember that Valentine’s Day…when you took me up to the roof of that building and we had a picnic and watched the stars?!”

Team Creativity Exercise: Monster Mash

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.

Monster Mash 1Monster Mash 2

What you’ll need:

Pens, paper, and at least three participants.

Step 1:

Fold a sheet of paper into thirds (see above examples).

Step 2:

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.

Step 3:

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.

Step 4:

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.)

Creativity Exercise: Life Is Like…

“My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.'”

-Forrest Gump

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.

If life were really like a box of chocolates, you’d know what you were gonna 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.

Challenge accepted.

“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!

Creativity: Discovering the Extraordinary Hidden in the Ordinary

Blah Blah Boring Brand is launching a new product. It is, unequivocally, the most useless, most unappealing product to ever come to market and every time you look at it you want to smash it, then light it on fire, then boil the charred remains in a pool of hydrochloric acid.

But you can’t afford to think that way – it’s your job to come up with concepts for an ad campaign that will help promote this (dreadful) product. Lucky for you, you’ve been practicing your creativity like a good William Bernbach understudy, and you know how to extract polished diamonds from this pile of turds. (I think I might’ve gotten my metaphors a little mixed up there.)

“Properly practiced creativity can make one ad do the work of ten.”

-William Bernbach, advertising creative director, Don Draper arch nemesis

giraffeLook around your home. Look around your office. Look around at a park. Look around at the beach. When you find something that’s useless, or ugly, or boring, try turning it into something that’s useful, or beautiful, or thought-provoking.

Where someone sees a string, try seeing a clothesline. Where someone sees a dirty old bucket, try seeing a bongo drum. Where someone sees a stick, try seeing a giraffe (why the hell not?). You can arrange sticky notes to make a mosaic, you can hang empty bottles to make a wind chime, you can connect clam shell shards to form a fish.

Creative exercises like these might sound childish or silly, and, well, they are. But unlike other activities that one might consider childish, such as playing video games, or setting off firecrackers, or drinking too much at a party and dancing on a pool table and having the pool table collapse underneath you, creating something cool gives you a tangible reward: something cool.

Even if the outcome isn’t exactly what you expected (aka it sucks), at least you tried and most likely learned a thing or two along the way. Besides, looking back, you might start to realize that your favorite part of the activity had nothing to do with the finished product at all…it was the actual creative “work.” The building process. The physical act of bringing your ideas to life.

Just like practicing your sales pitch can help you get better at selling, practicing creativity can help you get better at being creative. When you practice looking for the extraordinary hidden in the ordinary outside the office, discovering it inside the office will (hopefully) become an easier and more natural process.

And with enough practice, even an ad for Blah Blah Boring Brand could be an extraordinary thing.

photo-33“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

-Michelangelo, sculptor, painter, pizza aficionado, ninja turtle

Team Creativity Exercise: One-Word Photo Captions

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.

Team Creativity Exercise: Redesigning the Quarter









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.

Team Creativity Exercise: Inspirational Quotes

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.

Creativity Exercise: Inspirational Quotes

  • 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.)

Team Creativity Exercise: Draw Your Neighbor

“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.