Our Secret Formula: 5 Ways to Stay Creative When You’re Feeling Anything But

Building a culture that isn’t afraid to share creative ideas is a great way to get the juices flowing again when it seems like the inspiration well is running dry.

By Melissa Bouma

After a couple of years away from a more traditional office setting, you may find yourself tapped out creatively.

It makes sense: After quite a while spent in relative isolation in front of a screen, it might feel like the visceral spark that once came naturally just isn’t there anymore. But it can be reignited! Try these techniques from Manifest’s own playbook to turn a lull into renewed energy.

1. Make Time for Small Talk

No matter where your association is based, it’s harder to get everyone around a water cooler these days. But workplace banter is still an important way to build camaraderie—and even swap ideas informally, which may blossom into bigger strategies or campaigns down the road. It also serves as a mental palate cleanser, helping people ease into the task of focusing on a project.

Before the pandemic, Manifest had employees in several offices across the country, and as a result has had a lot of practice communicating remotely.

Our advice: When you hop on a Zoom call, give your team a few minutes to talk about something that’s bringing them joy, for example, before jumping into the work of the day. This creates some white space so that when it’s time to get down to business, your team is warmed up enough to talk about big ideas.

2. Do a Few Creative Pushups

Each week, Manifest team members put together a series of “creative pushups” in a Slack channel that encourages employees to quickly react to a sometimes silly prompt with little time to practice … or overthink the result. Prompts could be as simple as “if your hometown had a slogan, what would it be?”

The idea behind these exercises is to generate a little explosion of creativity that might inspire some innovative thinking around the hard work of the week.

3. Share What’s Inspiring You Online

Slack is the perfect medium for sharing nuggets of creativity, we’ve found—we have a dedicated channel for that, too. Some recent highlights include an eye-opening kaleidoscope from an Italian liquor website, a fascinating article on web design trends, an interesting website for a game company, a provocative way to share emoji, and a simple but timesaving app.

By creating a place for association members to share things that strike their fancy—even if they’re unrelated to the work your association typically does—you build a starting point for inspiration. You also build a creative library of sorts, which members can tap into forever.

4. Highlight Interesting Work … Even If It’s Not Your Own

One of the important things Manifest does during its all-agency meetings is dedicate time to sharing interesting projects, giving people from disparate teams the opportunity to learn what their peers are doing, get outside of their own bubbles, and be inspired.

More recently, we’ve also focused on our competitors, showing the impressive work they are producing.

This has a twofold effect: It helps us get a glimpse of what’s working elsewhere, and it creates a base of understanding to build upon, so that when the next creative project emerges, we’re ready to leverage what we’ve learned. It’s a strategy associations could definitely use—in fact, we recommend you steal it.

5. Bring in Another Set of Eyes

Perhaps the biggest thing your organization can do to help lift its creativity is to bring in a new set of eyes for a fresh perspective. Whether the issue is a virtual event, member engagement, or a website overhaul, tapping into a source outside the organization is a pretty consistent way to come up with a creative solution. After all, often, it’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.

Melissa Bouma, president of Manifest, has more than 15 years of experience building insight-driven branding and content strategy, with a client base representing large companies, major universities, and prominent associations.