Creative Exercises To Get The Wheels Turning

15 Creative Exercises For Creative Thinkers

Young creative drawing plans at desk, close up

Cultura RM / Julian Love / Collection Mix: Subjects / Getty Images

Creative people are creative for a reason. They grew up wanting to solve problems. They were inspired to paint and draw, or write and play music. They get a thrill from being creative, and from people recognizing that creativity. A creative mind is a great mind. But like a chisel or a sword, it needs to be kept sharp to do the best job.

If you find yourself in a creative rut right now, either because you're working on a job that bores you silly, or you have started scraping the barrel for a client, then it's time to step away and reevaluate. What you need to do is sharpen your mind, with exercises to jog your mind better than any energy drink.

Here then are 15 exercises that you can do, in your own time, to help you bring new life to a brain that may just be on auto-pilot.

1. Rebrand an Existing Product or Service

Is there a logo out there that you hate? A product that has awful packaging? A radio ad that makes you turn red with rage? Then do it better. Figure out, from what you already know about that product or service, what the advertising or design should say. Have fun with it.

2. Design Another Letter of the Alphabet

You are tasked with inventing a 27th letter of the alphabet. It must represent a sound, maybe a letter for PH, PN, or KN. What symbol will it be? It's harder than you think; the alphabet has been developing for centuries and you'll soon find that your new letter is just a backward p or an upside-down y.

3. Package Yourself

If you were available to buy in your local Rite-Aid or Target, what would the packaging look like? What would your catchy product title be? What would it say on the box? This is not just an exercise in creative thinking, but of establishing your own personal brand in a fun and inventive way.

4. Invent A New Sandwich

There's a terrific episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" that centers around sandwiches named after celebrities. Ted Danson's is turkey, coleslaw, and Russian dressing. Larry David's is a rather less appetizing concoction of whitefish, sable, capers, onions, and cream cheese. So, what would your new sandwich be? How would you market it? What would you call it? What's the wow factor that would make it an instant hit?

5. Write a Six Word Story

Ernest Hemingway, one of the greatest authors of all time, was once challenged to write a complete story in just six words. Never one to shy from a challenge, he wrote: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." What would your complete six-word story be?

6. What Gadget Is the World Missing?

Do you often think "man, why hasn't someone figured out a way to do this better?" Maybe that someone should be you. If you believe that your daily life is missing a killer gadget, or someone you know could use a thingamajig to make life easier, why not start sketching it out. If it comes to fruition, patent the idea. It could make you rich.

7. Start Writing, Don't Stop Until You've Hit 1,000 Words

What should you write? Anything. What is your inspiration? Whatever you want. In "Finding Forrester" the character played by Sean Connery asks his young student to take an existing piece of work as a starting point. The student transforms it into something unique. Start with a famous passage from a book, or the opening of a movie. But take it somewhere entirely different. When you hit 1,000 words, stop and read it. You may have just surprised yourself.

8. Whose Line Is It Anyway?

One of my favorite shows ever was the improv comedy program "Whose Line Is It Anyway," and my favorite round was always the "props" round. Drew Carey would hand out two seemingly useless objects and then the improv team would come up with ingenious uses for them. So try it for yourself. What's in your home or office right now that could have a dozen different uses? Write them down. Think big, think small, and think around the problem.

9. Become a Child for a Few Hours

Remember as a kid you could play for hours with Lego, wooden blocks, Lincoln Logs, PlayDoh, and all sorts of other cool things. Over the years, we learn that these are childish and forget about them. How sad. I personally have Lego, toys, and games in my office, and I see no shame in using them. So go ahead, embrace your inner child and create something fun and cool. You'll be amazed at the way your mind starts working.

10. Sign Redesign

Our world is filled with signs. From warning signs to traffic signs, we see them daily. Some use symbols, others use words. But could all of them use symbols? Is the STOP sign something that can be redesigned to be understood by anyone in any language? It's an important sign after all. Or how about EXIT, WAY OUT, DANGER, NO ENTRY or YIELD? Think about it. It's quite the task.

11. Create an Anti-Product Ad

You may be used to thinking of ways to sell a product, but how often do you think of ways to put people off? This creative exercise is excellent for shifting your paradigm and looking at your subject matter in an entirely different light. What could you do to make people NOT want to be a BMW or a Mercedes? How could you steer people away from Coke or Pepsi? By looking at the negatives, you can often produce an ad harnessing the positives. 

12. Find Creative Uses for Everyday Objects

A pen is just a pen...or is it? What do you have around you right now that could be used for something completely different? Alton Brown, the chef who knows his science, refuses to buy objects that have just one use. He finds ways to use kitchen tools in the most inventive ways. So what can you do with that stapler, the pair of scissors, or that old bookend?

13. Turn Something Random into Something Fun

One of the simplest ways to challenge your mind is to draw something completely random on a piece of paper. A quick scribble. A doodle. Blindfold yourself and make a few marks. Now...what do you see beyond the scribble? Is it the start of a face, a machine, or an alien creature? Be inventive. Play the game with a friend, taking turns to make each other's doodles into finished works of art. 

14. Dig Into the Garbage

What have you thrown away recently? Could it have been turned into something useful? What have other people thrown away at work, or in your neighborhood? Some people make it their life goal to dumpster dive and turn trash into treasure. Give it a go, and see what you can come up with. You may even create something that someone wants to buy.

15. Pick a Word From the Dictionary

Any word. If you have a printed copy, open it at a random page, close your eyes, and place your finger on the page. Or use a random word generator online. What's the word? Now...use that word as the inspiration for an ad, a design, or a piece of original art.