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The Secret to a Flawless Creative Process

A few weeks ago, Denver Startup Week took our city by storm — 10,000 techies flocked downtown for 300 free panels and events, the largest event of its kind in North America. Some of my favorite sessions included: Jazz as a UX Design Model, where themes like onboarding, tension & release, and clickbait were explored in both mediums, and an interactive design thinking workshop by the founders of Maxwell.

Today, I’m sharing a few lessons learned from Creative Mornings, an international monthly breakfast lecture series designed for creative communities. During Denver Startup Week, UX Designer Paul Mcaleer spoke about Repeatable Magic, the secret to finding your optimal creative process.

Here’s the premise of the session: We know that magic exists in various places — in the eyes of a child visiting Disneyland, when you gaze across the horizon at the summit of a 14’er, or the feeling of falling in love for the first time. But can magic exist in our day-to-day work lives? In this session, Paul showed us how he discovered his magical work process, and figured out how to make magic happen again and again.

First, he started off by giving us a glimpse into the many ideas he originally had for his Creative Mornings presentation, including “X” number of things in “X” minutes, lessons learned from Apple, and Beyonce (because duh, Beyonce). When none of these felt authentically “him,” he started down his 27 step path to “Magic.” Or in other words, the various steps in his creative process.

You’ll notice that in addition to the expected steps of a creative process (like “be productive and schedule times to work on it,” “update the draft, and do another rehearsal,” and “share with a colleague”), there are also a slew of unexpected, sometimes silly steps (like “post comments, shop, get distracted,” and “have a nightmare about it.”)

Paul’s long, varied, and hilariously honest process can teach us a few things:

  1. There isn’t a single, surefire creative process that guarantees a magical outcome. Everyone is different, and each person has unique ways of firing up their creative sides. Maybe chatting with like-minded colleagues really gets your wheels turning, or perhaps long solo walks in nature is your jam. Take note of what works for you, and be sure to incorporate those activities into your creative process.

  2. It’s important to schedule time for distractions and breaks. Step #7 reads: Do something completely unrelated. Stepping away from your work and making room for the “incubation” phase of the creative process has been scientifically proven to boost your creative output. By giving yourself space to ruminate on, revise, and ultimately expand your work, you’re better able to make something magical.

  3. Don’t be married to your original idea. Throughout the presentation, Paul mentioned he had many iterations of his talk, and that it took him multiple rounds of revisions to finally produce a work that felt authentic to him. If he was attached to the first ideas he had, Paul never would have made it to his final version. Push yourself to ask questions about your work, get feedback from your colleagues, and don’t be afraid to scrap an idea entirely for a better, more magical one.

So, what do your 27 steps look like? Some of mine include: waking up in the wee hours of the morning with a brilliant idea, petting multiple dogs, and asking my brain trust for second pairs of eyes. Whatever works for you — hold onto it and go create some magic!