Any writer can speak to the complex and dark pit of despair known as writer’s block — but of course, that slump is not just limited to writers. Any creator has or will at some point experience a blip in their creative process. For some who are fortunate, the slump is a short-term lapse, a small amount of time grasping for the right words or a new idea. But for others, the lapse turns into a slump, which then becomes a rut, and suddenly it’s weeks or even months before you’ve made any progress.
Creative slumps are usually self-induced
It’s an issue that can plague not just individuals but companies or brands as a whole. But here’s the thing: creative slumps are usually self-induced. They don’t feel that way, but they’re often the crushing result of bad habits that have built up over time and amalgamated in a crushing collapse in creativity.
“It’s just a slump” is not an excuse — it usually means one (or several) of the following:
1) You weren’t ahead of the game to begin with.
Sometimes ideas or products are well-received because they piggyback off of current trends — creators luck into good ideas because they’re essentially doing the same things that everyone else has already done, maybe with one or two little tweaks. It works for awhile, but sooner or later something will happen to shake up the brand landscape, and you realize that you were only treading water the entire time. Take, for example, retailer JCPenny, which was stuck playing perpetual catch-up to other department stores and “reinventing” itself numerous times in the 2000s. Their 2012 rebranding resulted in a 20% drop in sales for the first quarter of that year. The key is starting out fresh and strong, doing and saying the things that no one else is saying. When you spend your entire career treading water, odds are low that you’ll magically start to soar when times get rough.
2) You have tunnel vision.
Creativity is supposed to be all about you and your vision, right? In a perfect world, yes. In the real world, there is competition, and you have to pay attention. Observing your competition is not to say you must imitate them — on the contrary, you need to know how to set yourself apart, and to do it right. Last week, we looked at fast food brands who have been losing business to fast casual chains for this very reason. When you’re used to dominating a market, you don’t think you have to sleep with one eye open.
3) You’re trying to reinvent the wheel over and over.
It’s hard to approach the creative process full of energy and enthusiasm when you think everything has to be a Big Idea in order to get people talking. While Big Ideas are great for dinner table debate and grabbing headlines, what builds trust and intrigue is practicality and accessibility. Subtle changes and small improvements that are geared toward your consumers’ needs show respect and awareness. Attempting to always come out with attention-grabbing Big Ideas is like trying to climb a mountain over and over, which is not only too daunting, it can put you out of touch with what your consumers want.
4) You haven’t been paying attention to why people like you.
When Blackberry felt the squeeze of competition from the iPhone, their instinct was to rely on their physical keyboard as an advantage over iPhone’s touch screen — ignoring the evidence that very few people switched to iPhone for their touchscreen alone. That left Blackberry toting a single trait versus its competition’s total package. It’s not enough to know, “They like me!” You have to understand why they like you and capitalize on that. Engage with your audience (it’s not hard these days), find out what they like (and don’t like) about you, instead of playing guessing games.
5) You think creativity is supposed to come spontaneously.
“Waiting for inspiration to come” is just a fancy way of saying you’re being lazy. Inspiration is something you have to go looking for, which means actually being engaged 100% of the time. Very few people actually have “aha!” moments out of nowhere — those “aha!” moments happen to people who have trained themselves to think creatively all the time, to look at a situation and think, “How can I make this better? How can I apply this to my project?” It’s a learned process and one that needs to be trained, not something which merely happens.
Creative Block is Normal
If you’re stuck in a creative rut, it can be difficult to get out of. It takes a lot of sweat to even stay creative, let alone pull yourself out of a hole — which is why you need to start exerting that effort now instead of suddenly finding yourself unable to recover. A little creativity block is normal and happens to everyone once in awhile, but the worst thing you can do is lie back and use that as an excuse to wallow for even a few minutes.