How to have good ideas when you can’t go to the pub

If we’re not careful, lockdown will narrow our creative horizons.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 15 May 2020

Cast your mind back to where you were when you last had a great idea. Were you alone, for example? For some, creativity happens in the quiet moments like walking the dog or taking a shower. 

For others, great ideas almost always emerge from social interaction, whether sounding out a problem with a close friend, or in a vigorous meeting-room discussion around a whiteboard. 

The common thread is that the mind is able to roam freely, whether individually or as part of a group, because it’s not weighed down with process-heavy tasks or constant distraction.

What has this to do with the pub, you might ask? I would argue that the closure of pubs - sites of innumerable animated conversations and of countless hours of quiet people-watching - is emblematic of the narrowing of our creative horizons during lockdown.

If ideas come from conversation, then we’re having fewer conversations. If they come from stimulation, then we’re visiting fewer stimulating places. If they come from reflection, then many of us have less quiet time to ourselves than ever before.

Has this narrowing of horizons hurt our creative endeavours? Probably not yet - necessity is the mother of invention, after all, and these times demand we find solutions to new problems. But it pays to think about how we can maximise our own ability to think of ideas, as individuals and as teams.

The first step is to revisit the question right at the top of this article - where do you have good ideas? What would the answer be for the other members of your team? As a team, do you perform best creatively when you’re all bouncing ideas off each other, or not?

There is no right answer. To take the example of Lennon and McCartney - not exactly creative slouches - some Beatles songs like Let It Be were brought into the studio by one of them essentially fully formed; others like A Day In The Life were thrashed out substantively between the two, largely on the basis of one’s original idea.

Once you know what type of environment you need to be creative, it’s time to get your thinking caps on about how you can engineer those conditions when the usual channels are all blocked. 

As you may have surmised, The Fab Four have provided me creative sustenance through the last eight weeks, but I’m also trying to read more fiction, and I’m carving time out during the day to let my mind wander, which we all know isn’t easy to do when you’re busy (‘Off thinking, back later’ doesn’t look great on the calendar, sadly).

What you come up with will have to be right for your own circumstances, but the effort to think about managing your own creativity surely won’t be wasted. 

For some pointers about good creative habits - all of which apply even if you can’t go to the pub - try this article from the archive: 7.3 tips to be more creative

Image credit: Gabriel Kuchta/Getty Images


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