When You’ve Got Nothing…

Steve Boese Audacious Ideas, Driving Productivity, HR, Innovation, Steve Boese

Anyone who has a job that requires some level of original thinking, creativity, or simply just coming up with incremental improvements to existing products or processes occasionally hits a dry spell, where new ideas see impossible to conjure. Sometimes it’s called “writer’s block” or even (let’s hope temporary) burnout, but no matter what the term, the effect is the same—a frustrating, gnawing inability to produce something, anything really, that would serve to snap you out of the dry spell.

That’s kind of the place I’m in as I sat down last Sunday morning to crank out this spot for FOT. After about an hour or so of running through my usual sources for post ideas (saved items in my feed reader, notes I jotted down on my phone while on some recent trips, anything from the sports headlines that might have an HR/Talent connection, etc.), I arrived at, exactly, nothing. None of the potential topics seemed right. I felt like they were either not all that interesting, not all that novel or original, or even by my (very) loose editorial standards, not relevant enough for the HR pros that read FOT.

But since my FOT post had to be written, and I knew that once the week started I would not have time to get to it, I am forced to charge forward—even with nothing as a start. And then it finally came to me: write about having nothing, and offer up at least a couple of ideas around what to do when you have nothing, and solicit some advice from FOT Nation, as well. OK, me first.

What would I normally do when I’ve got nothing? I can think of three things that usually help me when I’m in the bind I am currently in:

  1. Pick up (either physically or digitally) something, anything to read, preferably on a subject that is not exactly in the same domain that you are currently struggling with. In other words, when finding it hard to come up with ideas on candidate experience, don’t search Google for articles on candidate experience. Chances are you won’t be inspired by what’s already out there. Find something related to a different industry, type of work, or some unrelated topic that is interesting to you. I usually find that reading about basketball or BBQ or Pop Art, even for just a few minutes will help get the creative juices going just by looking for parallels or similarities between seemingly unrelated topics. And if that doesn’t work, at least you spent some time, (under the guise of “research”), learning a new brisket recipe.
  1. If item 1 doesn’t get it done, I progress to the more advanced strategy I like to call “Get something, anything done.” It could be a short workout, it could be clearing out the inbox, it could be getting caught up on expense reports, doesn’t really matter. The point is the simple action of completing something, no matter how ordinary or mundane provides a little bit of a lift, a little bit of small accomplishment that can then be used as a kind of boost to get back on track with bigger, more important tasks. Sure, these routine things might not directly speak to your creative side, but they help you re-attack the creative problems with more energy than before. And you might have clean clothes for the weekend to boot.
  1. And when items 1 and 2 fail to deliver the needed jolt of creative insight, I turn to the source of inspiration for creatives everywhere: I steal ideas from the smartest person I know—me! I am only kidding, I am not really the smartest person I know, but stealing from/expanding upon your own previous work can be a great way to get kick-started. Maybe it’s an update to some ideas or content you created in the past or maybe it’s applying an idea you once had in a new context—either way, taking from work you have already created and therefore understand and building something new from it can be an easy, reliable way to get out of a creative bind.

Well, these are the three things that I normally do when I hit a creative rough patch, but since my time slot for getting this piece posted was pretty much the only one I had this week, you, loyal reader, are stuck with this effort. Had I some more time, a less-demanding editor, and not had the desire to fire up my BBQ on this fine Sunday, I bet I could have done better. Maybe you can, too. Share with the rest of FOT Nation your best strategies for busting out of a creative dry spell and maybe I can find one to use when my next spot here is due in a couple of weeks.

Steve Boese
Steve Boese is fondly known to many as the HR Technology blogger. By day, he is the Co-Chair of Human Resource Executive's HR Technology Conference. He is also a former Director of Talent Management Strategy at Oracle and an HR Technology instructor. Steve can also be found hosting the HR Happy Hour Show and Podcast … you know, where a bunch of HR pros get together and call in to talk about HR stuff. Sounds like an SNL skit, we know. But when you have Dave Ulrich, the grandfather of HR as show guests, well, I guess you’re doing something right.  Talk to Steve via emailLinkedInTwitter or Facebook.