Have you ever felt like you were in freefall: like the plane has spit you out, the earth is surely below, and somehow you need to find a positive resolution – fast? I hope not. Even if you haven’t, though, you’ve likely had a similar, less intense sensation. We all face acute challenges that need new solutions. This is where creativity comes in.

Sometimes making the creative leap is irresistible. The momentum of curiosity and anticipation of discovery propels us forward. But what about when that doesn’t happen?

Person sitting on a ledge in beautiful nature setting
The creative process can feel wild, unpredictable, and uncertain. ©Samuel Theo Manat Silitonga, Pexels

For some projects, we just might not feel ready. So, how do we know when and how to begin?

Why not start? Yeah, now.

Even those who don’t consider themselves perfectionists often overestimate how much needs to be established before moving ideas into the physical world. As pointed out by Dr. David J. Schwartz, creativity consultant and author of, The Magic of Thinking Big, the main difference between those in key leadership positions and those who aren’t is action.

He argues that there is plenty of room at the top, and there is an abundance of new solutions. The tricky part is how these innovations bring us to the levels of leadership we seek. We often make the mistake of convincing ourselves that our ideas are not worth enacting. The thinking to doing ratio is off. Our expectations for excellence are unrealistic.

Designer working on the creation of future adidas shoes
Evaluating ideas allows us to improve the quality of their creativity.

According to research, creative thinking involves two distinct phases: idea generation and evaluation. It is in the evaluation and testing phase that ideas can become even more creative. In order to further develop them, though, we need physical representations of these ideas. We need the ideas to come out of our heads and exist as entities separate from us, with lives of their own. The sooner this happens, the sooner the ideas can progress.

Prototype – choose your own adventure

There are lots of ways to bring ideas into the physical world, including simulations, events, and models. The idea is to create the most relevant representation of our new solutions in the fastest way possible. These physical representations can increase the speed, yield, and quality of our conceptual ideas.

1. Sketch

One of the fastest and most common ways of giving physicality to ideas is in a two-dimensional form. Sketching can range from a quick representation on paper to a digital rendering. Sketches in the form of wireframes, storyboards, outlines, maps, and charts are useful ways of bringing abstract ideas into digestible and shareable forms. Besides being able to share ideas once they are sketched out – either in visual forms or writing – the act of physical representation lets us interact with the ideas differently.

Woman drawing creative designs on paper with a pencil
We can see ideas more objectively when they are separate from us.

For Anthony Harrison, author of a piece on how playful approaches fuel new solutions, sketching is an important part of the process. One exercise he describes begins with imagining himself in a specific scene. Then he can come up with designs he would like to encounter in the imagined space, say a specific store. Once he comes up with a new image, he quickly puts it to paper where it can be evaluated and refined.

2. Physical model

For some projects, building physical models is a preferable option. In an article on generating ideas through trial and error, Niklas Laasch examines how Thomas Edison used iterative modeling when he invented the lightbulb. As Niklas points out, Edison “tried several thousand variations before his most famous invention was ready to use.”

Creative using a pen to design adidas shoes
Turning our ideas into physical models allows us to experience them haptically, with sensory intelligence.

Niklas also emphasizes the importance of not trying to perfect these iterative models. One reason is that early models should be made quickly so we can see what works and what doesn’t. Besides, if we spend time making them look impressive, suggesting improvements might be more difficult for us and others. Adrian Diaz, who works in the adidas MakerLab, also identifies the time-saving value of creating physical models. “A model can give a quick understanding in the least amount of time. It can help you see if you’re on track, if there’s something that needs to be explored further or differently. Sometimes you need to see it and experience it to understand better how it reacts.”

3. Interaction

As Candela Martinez writes in her piece on design thinking, the physicality gained through prototyping invites interaction. “Prototyping gives you something tangible that can be tested on real people.” Testing ideas on people allows us to see how they work, firsthand. It also gives us a chance to gather their feedback, which brings new perspectives. Depending on the prototype, interacting can entail anything from observing how well a physical model or process works to requesting feedback through a survey or focus group.

Team of adidas workers working together to create new designs
Sharing prototypes makes room for the wisdom of multiple points of view.
“If I waited for perfection, I never would have written a word.”
Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid's Tale

“If I waited for perfection, I never would have written a word,” wrote the author of The Handmaid’s Tale and over 50 other books. Margaret Atwood is well-versed in the conflict between preparation and tackling the unknown. Ultimately, she could have waited until she felt ready to write, but that may never have happened.

Whatever the model, physical representations of new solutions invite the sharing and response process of storytelling. As Adrian says, “Models let you communicate ideas to your wider team, to factories, developers, whoever you work with. That way you can prompt cross-functional reactions to areas outside of your expertise.”

The next time you find yourself face-to-face with a challenge – and you’re lucky enough to be able to imagine it could be otherwise – maybe you will draw strength and inspiration from other way makers. There are so many ways to progress – even when we can’t quite tell which way to go. As E.L. Doctorow, a novelist, famously described his creative process, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Person cycling through the night in foggy environment
The light’s reach offers plenty to see. ©Ali Karimiboroujeni

And about getting started – we only need to be able to envision a desire for something better.

How do you make your way through creative uncertainty on a quest for new solutions? Let us know in the comments below.


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