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Tricks for Overcoming Creative Block

By Rowland Olamide

Wouldn't it be great if there were a system for overcoming creative block?

An exciting brief just landed on your desk, and you can’t think of an idea. Oops! You are faced with the hardest part of any project: Overcoming a creative block so you can get started. Fortunately, I have a system to help you push past creative blocks so you are free to create.
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Creative blocks are something every artists goes through at some point. It is part of our psychology; our brain creates these resistant walls as a way of keeping us from achieving something. It affects our ability to create...or even just come up with ideas. I’m going to show you a way to start your project that should help you avoid and address these problems.
In this video you’ll learn:

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Tricks for Overcoming Creative Block

Want to see some behind the scenes for this video? Check out Rowland's exploration here.

How to recognize cognitive bias and start a project with a clear mind

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Cognitive Bias is a flaw in our reasoning that leads us to misinterpret information from the world around us and to come to an inaccurate conclusion. Basically, our brains try to simplify a complex world, and sometimes they oversimplify. There are many types of cognitive bias, but there are a few that really affect our creativity...and the biggest one for me is confirmation bias.
It’s what happens when you spend hours watching other motion projects before starting your own. You end up with an obscure idea of what your project should be, and then everything you do is just to confirm your preconceived notion of what your video will end up looking like. Often, this leads to a sudden block when the reality of the creative process doesn't lead to the idea that was in your head.
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This is why it’s important to start the project with a clear mind. According to Chris Do's book Pocket Full of Do, you should "start empty." Begin each project without any bias; without watching all the motion inspiration pages.
Instead, clarify all you want to achieve and focus on the intent rather than the finished product.
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Other times creative blocks are caused by the lack of a good creative process. You start a project without a clear understanding of what you want to achieve, so you end up chasing different themes, ideas, and images. This tends to end up as MoGraph Gumbo.
Your creative process needs to be a journey, not a destination.
Imagine you are traveling to a new state in your country. Your creative process is how you get from where you are right now to where you need to go. Are you taking a flight to that state, going by train, or even a bus? Some modes of transportation are more efficient than others.
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Once you're able to see your process as a path rather than a goal, you're free to branch out in new areas. So long as you're headed in the right direction, you're certain to end up where you need to be.

How to battle creative block with a killer creative process

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The first step in any journey is deciding where you are going. Start by defining your destination. What are the goals of the project? If you're working off a client brief, this is usually spelled out for you. The client wants their product to look cool, modern, fun. They want energy, something that connects with an audience.
Start by clarifying the goals of the project. I tend to use Milanote or even just a plain sheet of paper. Write down all the things you want to achieve in this project, kinda like writing your own brief. The goal should be a clear end point. Again, if we compare this to traveling, the goal is just the final stop. Once you arrive at your destination, the journey is over.
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The goal of this first step is clarity. You want to know in your mind what the finished product needs to say, and a general idea of the look. This isn't to contradict what we said earlier, though. While you need to know what "done" looks like, you also have to throw away any preconceived notions about the project. We'll be making all new ones in a moment.
Also throw every cynical part of you in the trash. The time for critique is later. Start Empty.
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Once I have my goals in mind and I know what the end of the project looks like, it's time for some good old-fashioned brainstorming. It's time to make a Mind Map.
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If you've never done this before, it's easy to get started. Begin with the product (if there is one). Write down every word that comes to mind when you think of that product. Then, take each word you just created and do the same process with them. Break down further and further, three or four levels deep, and suddenly you have a massive board of interconnected ideas. When you combine these elements, you'll see the connective tissue that supports your motion design project.
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Anyone who's taken Path to MoGraph should find this familiar
Then I do what I like to call a Visual Mind Map. Instead of using just words, we have images connected to each other. This can evolve into your mood board, depending on where you're sourcing those images.
It's important that your don't get ahead of yourself. The creative process takes time, and rushing it will only lead to more problems (and wasted energy) for you. Complete this step before you move on, even if you're already getting excited to start.

How to consistently come up with great ideas

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After clarifying your goals and diving deep into the brief with mind maps, you are going to get little hints or even full ideas for the project. The next step is to sit down and just write all those ideas out. For me, this is my favorite part of the creative process. You'll have a ton of ideas flowing, and it's up to you to sort through to find the right path. This can be done alone, or you can work as a team to whittle down to the final idea.
Make sure the ideas you come up with align with the brief. It’s really important to stay curious, and don’t be attached to any idea. Keep an open mind throughout the entire creative process. If you're working in a group, it's also critical to be open to new ideas...and accept that the one you love might not be selected. That's just part of being a team player.
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In our final step, we take all the information and images we've gathered and construct our mood board. Human beings are great visual learners, and a proper board can clarify any issues you might have had with the idea (sorry, I'm making that assumption. If you're from another planet, please take this lesson with a grain of salt...unless salt is lethal to your species. I think we're getting off topic).
So we create a mood board, a collage of images that can be used to inspire the look or story of a project. The goal of creating a mood board is to help us understand our ideas better and more clearly. This is also a great place to find inspiration for shapes, colors, movement, and more.
I often use Milanote to create a digital mood board. It means I have access to all my images no matter where I go, and I can easily share the board with any collaborators. I would strongly suggest you make multiple boards based off your top ideas. This way, you're not only deciding with direction you'd like to take the project, but with path has the most impact.

Breaking through the creative block

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Remember, this is just a system to help you break that block and leave with a few options. After going through the process, you'll be left with a LOT of ideas...both good and bad. You and the client will still need to decide on which idea is right.
Just make sure:
  • The idea is a solution to the problem of the brief
  • The idea fits the client's brand and campaign
  • You can actually DO this idea
And don't be so afraid of executing that you suppress a good idea.

Now you're ready to tackle any creative project

Hopefully this felt familiar to your own process. There is a good chance many of you have done a few of these steps before. The key is to do them every time. It doesn’t matter if you are just starting out or an industry pro; following a system to start your project creates a stable foundation. So go create, use my system, own it and create your own system from it. What matters is if it works for you.
You can check out more from Rowland Olamide at his YouTube channel.