A Learning Professional’s Guide to Creativity: 10 Methods for Sparking Great Ideas

Crafting the best learning and development solutions requires a healthy dose of creative thinking. But creativity can sometimes feel elusive, especially when there are deadlines, learning objectives, and multiple stakeholders in the mix.

At Maestro, creativity and innovation are among our primary values—they’re woven into everything we do, from strategy to service to design. And while our team of learning creators never fails to deliver the highest quality learning experiences, they’re not unfamiliar with the phenomenon of feeling creatively blocked. But that feeling doesn’t stop them; to them, it’s an opportunity. An opportunity to take a step back, get outside, fall in love with art again, and put themselves out there. An opportunity to enter into a “state of play.”

World-renowned graphic designer Paula Scher describes being in a state of play as “having the ability to freely associate and see new possibilities and combinations in old ideas that become new again.” In her article “10 Rules for Play” for the Figma blog, she encourages somewhat unorthodox activities—like sitting in a waiting room, changing your tools, and initiating your own cluster—to get the creative juices flowing again.

Inspired by Scher’s advice, we’ve compiled our own list of tips, taken directly from our team of learning innovators, to reignite that creative spark.

Maestro’s “10 rules for play”

While the following list doesn’t consist of “rules,” per se, it does consist of tried and true methods for breaking through creative blocks in order to create truly innovative learning development solutions. But these methods can also be applied to any creative endeavor, learning-related or not—our team applies these methods to their creative pursuits outside of work, including stained glass artwork, murals, children’s picture books, illustrating, and more.

1. Get out of your head, and into your body

Sometimes, the best thing you can do for a project is leave it alone (temporarily, of course). A watched pot never boils, right? So go outside, get your blood pumping, and give yourself some room to move.

Zach title

“Breathe fresh air and clear your mind. If I’m ever in a slump, or needing clarity on a project or problem, I throw on a weighted rucksack and walk the trails in the woods behind my house. It’s a one-mile loop, which keeps it around a 20-minute walk with no music, no podcasts, no notifications. This brief escape almost always clears my mind and allows room for creative thinking, exploration, and problem-solving.”

Getting into your body doesn’t always mean going outside. Sometimes, it can simply mean using your hands to make something new.

Amy O title

“Get away from the computer and go ‘hands-on’ with creativity. I’m a big fan of painting (I paint very small things like monograms to large things like murals) so creating art, sketching ideas, and even lettering helps get my creativity flowing a bit. I also enjoy organizing or cleaning something when I’m experiencing a creative block. It’s a quick task and a bit of problem-solving that helps you think about how something fits into your routine or a small space.”

2. Prioritize input over output

In a similar vein, this tip urges you to turn your attention away from your project or work in progress for a time. Focus on absorbing what you love instead of worrying about what you have to produce—after all, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Ireland title

“As a writer, if I’m trying to create something new and original but am feeling stuck, I immerse myself in other media and art forms—music, paintings, food. Nothing gets me more inspired than experiencing someone else’s inspiration (or the product of their inspiration). It makes me fall in love with creativity all over again, and a little ‘if they can do that, so can I’ can be a great motivator.”

Prioritize your input if you want a great output. Consider what you’re using as inspiration and context as you delve into a creative project.

Bedich title

“Continuous learning is key. You can’t just come up with relevant and novel ideas out of thin air, it requires noodling on the subject matter, hearing other takes on it, and engaging in networked thinking. There’s a great concept out there called the ‘mind garden’ that talks about the curation of ideas. As an example in this context, you’d take idea ‘seeds’ from one podcast you listened to and combine it with idea ‘seeds’ from a book you read, to form your own unique understanding of the connection points between the two. Eventually, you’d share your own idea ‘seeds’ with others, allowing the process to repeat itself.”

3. Take notes

Not every idea will be a winner, but they’re still worth writing down. Especially if you, like our Customer Success Manager, Sean—who pursues art in the form of stained glass in his free time—don’t have a ton of time to explore and experiment with your creative outlet.

Holland title

“Working full-time and parenting means I normally have a limited window (after my children’s bedtime and before mine) to sit and focus for a couple of hours. At times, it can be difficult to enter the right mindset during a predetermined period without some inspiration. To ensure I’m not starting from a blank creative state each time I sit down, I tend to carry a small pocket notebook with me where I jot down notes and quick sketches. Referencing these ideas usually helps provide any spark that’s needed.”

4. Don’t take notes

Yes, this tip is the opposite of the previous one. But while taking notes works for many people, sometimes it’s more beneficial to hang on to the idea for a while before writing it down. It all depends on your unique creative process.

“Let the idea bake. Historically, I’ve been quick to jot down ideas that I have, writing out my thought process so I don’t lose them. What I’ve found is that this almost locks an idea in prematurely, and stunts any further development of that thought. If I resist the urge to write an idea down and trust that the important details will resurface if they’re truly important enough, the idea continues to evolve, and I can actually communicate it to others more easily because I can speak to it more flexibly, rather than being too rigid about what I’m communicating.”
—Daniel Bedich, Director of Product Design

5. Procrastinate

Not every moment has to be a productive one. Every now and then, a bit of procrastination can be healthy for the creative process and lead to the greatest breakthroughs.

Hank title

“I never feel more creative than when I can’t be at my desk. Doing the dishes, running errands, stuck somewhere boring, that’s when I often get urges to work. When I do these boring necessities with a specific idea in mind, I find that I’m able to let new connections bubble up to the surface. More directly, if I’m working on a project that I’m intimidated by, it’s so helpful to do all the ‘boring’ legwork before I start getting creative—organizing my files and resources so I don’t have to go looking, setting up my artboards and layers so that I can visualize my limitations, and so on. When I’m feeling nervous about getting started on the ‘real’ work, I no longer have those tasks to procrastinate with.”

Marion title

“Inspiration doesn’t always strike when I want it to. I’ll often have to force myself to sit in a quiet room and let my mind wander and put in the hours of sitting with the idea. Sometimes I get sick of working on something to the point of feeling hopelessness creep in, and it negatively (and incorrectly) impacts how I view the work I’ve done so far. So when I feel too close to a project, I jump ship. I let it go completely and give myself permission to not care about it for a hot second. When I care too much, I’m often keeping myself from doing what’s best for the project. So I abandon ship, jump into the water, and go for a swim until I feel excited to get back onto the ship.”

6. Keep learning

Great art requires thought and effort. It’s a misconception that creativity is a spontaneous force. The most effective outputs, for learning or otherwise, are created with intention.

“A writer that I admire, Shea Serrano, once said that he found his writer’s block was often a result of not doing enough research. I think that’s true in design as well. It’s really difficult and even irresponsible to try to design for something you don’t fully understand. Designers are visual communicators, and that means you should ideally be able to ‘speak’ intelligently about what you’re designing for. That goes for art as well—art should have an intention, and to communicate your intention effectively, you should know what you’re ‘talking’ about.”
—Hank Ewbank, Senior Designer

7. Share before you’re ready

This tip might sound a bit intimidating, but it can truly save you tons of time and lighten the mental load that comes with many creative endeavors.

Kendra title

“My new motto is ‘share before I’m ready.’ I often wait until something feels just perfect before sharing with a coworker or client, but now I challenge myself to open up to feedback before I get into the ‘Why am I even a designer?’ rut. I’ll also give myself a shorter time limit to create, and be honest with myself about what’s really needed now and what can be refined later, which helps me feel more open to feedback—because I didn’t put my whole life into what I’m sharing—and avoid getting stuck on an ideal outcome and striving for perfection the first time around. When I ‘share before I’m ready,’ I get new ideas, see things from a different perspective, and feel more energized and less burned out.”

“Let me tell you, I get so sick of being inside this noggin of mine. It’s exhausting! Sometimes, to break my cycles of overthinking and overanalyzing, I need to get out of my head. So I pitch my ideas to anyone and everyone who will listen to me. Even if the idea is nowhere near ‘ready.’ My cat. My partner. My favorite barista. This helps me learn how to talk about my ideas, and in the process, engage with the concept in a new way, encouraging me to consider it from other perspectives. The act of saying something out loud changes things up for me. And it gives me a sneak peek of how other people will engage with my work. I learned this tip from Swedish director and Palme d’Or winner, Ruben Östlund.”
—Marion Jamet, Lead Producer + Writer

8. Generate cheap ideas

Much like sharing before you’re ready, this tip encourages you to stop striving for perfection and think of creativity as a numbers game instead.

“I have to start everything I do on paper and pen. Not nice paper, not a nice pen, just scratching out cheap and even bad ideas to get them out of my head. If I’m working on a website, I doodle some boxes to get the rough structure. If it’s a logo, I draw any idea that I think of that relates to the concept, especially my worst ideas. Productive creativity is often a numbers game, and the more ideas I generate, the more I chip away at the correct solution.”
—Hank Ewbank, Senior Designer

9. Keep it simple

Just as learning is a process, creating is also a process, and often it’s a messy one. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds of this process, especially at the beginning, when all you’re working with are abstract ideas, which are constantly changing shape. If that happens, it helps to simplify your goal.

“Sometimes I get overwhelmed when I’m in the beginning stages of a creative project. And when I have too many ideas swirling around in my head, I can lose track of what feels right. When this happens, I take a step back and simplify my goal: what do I want people to feel when they’re engaging with this? I try to keep it to a word or short phrase. Then I think about the last time I felt that way. Was I watching a movie? Was I reading a book? Was I listening to a song or reminiscing on a memory? This forces me to stop thinking and start feeling. After some successful feeling, I turn my thinking cap back on and ask why—why did engaging with this make me feel that way?”
-Marion Jamet, Lead Producer + Writer

10. Engage with others

We often view creativity as a solitary act, but sometimes the most innovative and inspiring ideas come from creative collaboration. Ideating with others can spark thoughts you wouldn’t have arrived at on your own, introduce you to new perspectives, and get your creative juices flowing.

Melanie title

“It’s very rare that ideating in isolation gives me the best ideas. Brainstorming and groupthink help get me out of my head and challenge me to think differently. Outside of work, I’m a pre-published illustrator and writer of children’s picture books, so I love taking classes and hosting group activities like Ladies Drawing Night, inspired by the book, to really get my creativity flowing.”

If you’re looking for ways to engage with fellow learning creatives, check out the Maestro Community, where L&D professionals share tips and insights and support each other in creating the best learning development solutions.

Creativity is at the core of all we do

At Maestro, we know that learning works best when beautifully designed. But our passionate designers aren’t the only ones who harness the art of creative thinking to create better learning experiences. Everyone in our organization thinks creatively—our strategists, our writers, our media experts, our project managers, and more.

Intentional creativity is key to designing meaningful, effective experiences that inspire learners. Take a page or two from our creative playbook and spark your next great idea.

Share your own tips for creative thinking with a community of learning professionals.

Join the Maestro Community for free to develop your craft, grow your career, and connect with other creative learning professionals.

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