How To Unleash Your Creativity Mojo

cover-letter-opens-doorsI wasn’t smart enough. Probably not even cool enough. But I wanted in.

The streetlights cast an eerie glow along the dark street. I hid in the shadows and watched closely as a man walked up to the steel door and knocked. At about head height, a small panel on the door slid open. I could see a woman peering out. She said “twelve.” The man responded “six.” The door opened.

I waited in the silence for several minutes, until it happened again. This time a woman approached the door. After knocking, the panel slid open, and the woman inside said “six.” The reply was “three.” The door opened.

I had it figured out! I walked confidently up to the door and knocked. The panel opened, the woman said “eight,” to which I replied “four.” And… and… nothing. The door remained locked.

Maybe if I’d have spent more time strengthening my creativity, and doing these daily practices, I would’ve been able to solve the puzzle (SPOILER ALERT BELOW).

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The 5 Daily Practices to Unleash Your Creativity Mojo (and open the door)

1)  Do Something Different
We’re all creatures of habit. That’s generally a good thing, as it allows us to efficiently zip through the day, and avoid the continual awkwardness of being outside our comfort zone. But those habits also curtail new experiences, and new experiences are what keep us learning and yield new discoveries.
Famous record producer Sam Phillips combined different styles of music in new ways. And that continual search led to the discovery of new talent and new music. Sam Phillips discovered talent and shaped seminal artists that included Howlin’ Wolf, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and an eighteen-year old truck driver named Elvis Presley. He helped create Rock ‘n’ Roll along the way.
Try it for a week and maybe keep it going for a lifetime. Brush your teeth using the opposite hand. Sit with a different group at lunch. Make some rock ‘n’ roll, and remember what Sam Phillips said, “If you’re not doing something different, you’re not doing anything.”
2)  Take a Break
Step away from the problem and stop racking your brain for a solution.
There’s a reason so many good ideas come to us in the morning, or in the shower. We’re rested and we’ve given our brains time to process.
Take a walk, or get outside for a run. Listen to music, or pick-up an instrument and make some music.
Or try meditation. Tough guy actor Hugh Jackman, who plays the Marvel Comics superhero Wolverine, says “Meditation is all about the pursuit of nothingness. It’s like the ultimate rest. It’s better than the best sleep you’ve ever had. It’s a quieting of the mind. It sharpens everything, especially your appreciation of your surroundings. It keeps life fresh.”
I like the idea of quieting the mind and sharpening everything. Besides, who am I to argue with the Wolverine.
3)  Learn Something New (In Your Chosen Area of Expertise)
When I first started out as an engineer, I was told by a grumpy old draftsman as he stood over his drawing board, that “I’ve forgotten more than you know.”
I was fresh out of engineering school, so that was true. But the comment still kinda’ stung.
The point is, those days of knowing-it-all are gone. Things are changing so fast in today’s world, that you have to continually be learning. You have to put yourself and keep yourself on the learning curve. Don’t wait until you’re forced to learn a new skill. Don’t whine about it.
If you learn something new in your chosen field every day… that’s 364 new things in a year (you get your birthday off). Yes, I did the math. Pretty soon, all those bits of knowledge will start to connect with each other, reinforcing and deepening your understanding on the topic. Before you know it, you’ll be a subject matter expert!
And maybe, at some point in the distant future your brain will overflow with knowledge, and you’ll have forgotten more than someone else even knows. But don’t forget the important stuff. Like remembering to call your mom. Being kind, offering encouragement and being nice.
4)  Venture Outside Your Comfort Zone
Whether it’s businessman and entrepreneur Richard Branson, boxer Manny Pacquiao, physicist Stephen Hawking or the band U2 –  everyone I deeply admire has had to grind through to success. They basically had to influence and shape the reality around them, at the same time improve themselves such that they could accomplish what they set out to do. Experience shows that deliberate practice is what makes great accomplishment possible.
They may be bumper-sticker slogans, but worth remembering.
If you still look cute after your workout, you’re not training hard enough.
And all that by definition means spending the majority of your development time outside your comfort zone.
How about this for a bumper sticker, “Be the most determined person you know.”
5)  Try a New Approach
Picasso achieved the pinnacle of his success when he invented “Cubism.” He achieved fame and fortune, and was revered not just within the art community – but in the world. And then at the peak of his fame, Picasso decides he’s no longer interested in that style he created. He goes back to Italy and studies the artists from the past. It was described as the equivalent of going back to kindergarten.
This may actually be the most difficult of all. Force yourself to approach a problem from an entirely new perspective. Very few people continually reinvent over the course of their careers.
Walt Disney said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
So, be careful when you catch yourself saying “Yea, I like (insert accomplished person here), but I like her older stuff better.” You just may be saying that you’re more comfortable with the familiar, and the (insert accomplished person here) is continuing to grow and leaving you behind. [/message][su_spacer]

Which brings me back to the door…

The first time the panel slid open, and “twelve” was answered with “6.”

The 2nd time, and “six” was answered with “3.”

I turns out, the answer for “eight”… is “5.”

You see, I thought the answer was to divide by two, but actually the answer was even simpler.

The answer was simply the number of letters in the word.


Thomas Triumph
Thomas Triumph
TOM is a hands-on technology executive who helps large organizations act more nimbly in the market and small companies scale. Leading marketing and business development, he has launched numerous technology products and led cross-functional teams – including participating in two technology revolutions – less invasive medical devices and the Internet/software. Tom has been a part of some remarkable technology and business growth success stories (as well as some misfires). Building submarines out of 55-gallon drums in grade school, he eventually fulfilled a childhood dream of living aboard a research ship (Jacques Cousteau was on the Board of Directors) and tending to the mini-sub. Tom has also wrestled in the Olympic Trials, founded a consumer electronic company, and worked for leading companies to help launch and lead: medical device products, software, SaaS, Internet companies, professional consulting services, and 25 ton hovercraft built entirely from composite materials. This broad background has resulted in two unique characteristics - the depth of skill that allows Tom to contribute to the technical, business and creative process; and the disposition for collaboration across disciplines. He's an enthusiastic and collaborative team player who maintains a good sense of humor.

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  1. Tom – just a quick note to commend you on your article. You outline several insightful ways to trigger greater creativity. Let me throw in a 6th area, that being to surround oneself with a diverse group of equally creative people but from different backgrounds / disciplines / perspectives. “Stirring the pot” among others can get the mojo going & lead to greater discovery. Nice post!

    • Hello Robert – a sincere thank you for that addition! Absolutely should be included as a top idea! Thank you very much. – Tom