A few years ago, I was working with Nickelodeon, yep that Nickelodeon.

I had been working on this huge project for them for months, and it was the night before I was due to present my groundbreaking results, and I had…nothing.

Zero, zip, nada.

I was frustrated. I was panicking. I hadn’t slept for days, and I was close to tears because no matter what I tried, I couldn’t find it in me to deliver what I’d promised.

They believed in me, and despite an initial flurry of ideas, I now had no words, no inspiration… yep, there’s that awful word again, nothing, I had nothing.

The pressure was on, and I knew that if I blew it, I was going to lose a lot of money, and even worse —

everyone was going to think I was an impostor. 

Actually, before I continue with my story, let me interject a quick side note here: impostor syndrome is very real, and never really goes away. I’ve been in the business twelve years, and — I swear this is not a humble brag, just a way to drive my point home — my work has been seen by millions. I’ve raised seed rounds, worked in over forty cities, and I STILL feel like an impostor from time to time.

Don’t let it cripple you, it happens to everyone.

Okay, vulnerability admission out of the way, let’s get back to my impending meeting with the Reebok team.

Creatively frozen

There I am, massive deadline looming, trying my best to show up, but I’ve got diddly-squat.

Then in some odd twist of fate, looking out my bedroom window for inspiration, or let’s be real, probably distraction, I see some guy take a brick, smash it into a car window, reach inside to grab some poor schmuck’s belongings, and run off.

Adrenaline pumping, I immediately call the police.

They arrived, took my statement, and then satisfied that my civic duty was done, the adrenaline wore off and I was right back where I started, in my room, trying to summon my elusive creativity into action.

No surprises here, I couldn’t really focus. I kept imagining how upset I’d be if it’d been my car, and my belongings. Then my mind wandered to what would drive someone to be a thief – what would drive someone to steal? Was it driven by need?

And, in that moment, lightning struck and I suddenly knew how to get past my creative block.

Steal.

Now, I am in no way suggesting you take someone else’s work as your own.

That’s a huge no no, please don’t do that.

But, steal inspiration from the world around you?

Yes, awesome.

Change your focus

Whether you count yourself as a “creative” or not, we’ve all had times in our work where we’ve felt, let’s face it, scared, that the well has dried up.

When the pressure is on, we start thinking all these negative thoughts and suddenly we’re trapped in our own minds with no idea how to break free. Fear creeps in, our focus switches inwards, and that insidious inner critic comes out to play.

So I know it sounds odd, but whenever I get stuck, whether I’m doing design work or writing, launching a product or coaching a client, my first instinct is to ‘steal’, to start looking at my immediate environment for things I can pull inspiration from.

This act of searching changes my state from passively grasping at mental straws to actively seeking a solution, from the outside world.

In other words, I get out of my own head, defeat my inner critic with a flourish of my sword, and open myself up to the wonderful sources of inspiration surrounding me.

And, by the way, when I say I steal from people, places and things, I mean it. Maybe it’s the shape of a coffee table, the sound of a car, the smell of my notebook.

Doesn’t matter, whatever it is, I latch onto something, and then try and work some part of it into what I’m doing.

Does that sound crazy?

If so, I get it, but I swear it really works.

Whenever I give this little trick a go, I start to get a lot of ideas. Now, are a lot of them stupid? Sure, but stupid ideas are better than no ideas.

What you need is a catalyst, something to spark the ideation process, and that could be anything.

The more ideas you have, the easier it is to find the creative ones you need.

Funny this, it wasn’t until I read a book called “Steal Like an Artist”, by Austin Kleon, that I understood why stealing worked so well for me.

There’s a pervasive myth that creativity and inspiration are like magic – impossible to summon on demand. You simply had to hope that if you show up, wait patiently (and maybe even pray a little) they’d show up and bless you in your time of need.

Well, that’s bullshit.

Creativity is not about magic or divine interjection.

Creativity is about remixing.

Every idea you have is a remix of something you’ve experienced in your own life.

The creative process is one of continually remixing thoughts, ideas, feelings, people, places, shapes and sounds then sharing whatever you make with the outside world.

Once you let go of the idea of divine creativity, and embrace that creativity is a remix, you’ll see that inspiration is everywhere.

So the next time the hour is late and you feel stuck, first take a moment, take a breath.

Then look for something to steal, copy, borrow, or remix.

The first step to unblocking your creativity is switching your focus from that negative internal dialogue, to reconnecting with the world around you.

So the key takeaway I’ll leave you with here, as Isabel Allende urged us is to just, “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.”

Now, get out of your head, activate your senses and go grab that muse by the horns.

I promise, it’s out there waiting for you.