3 Techniques From Pixar To Develop Your Creative Thinking

Bryan Adams

How to be ready when inspiration strikes.

Heading up an employer brand agency I see myself as a creative being, but who actually knows when inspiration will strike? More often than not, it won't be during the time I've set aside for creative work, but will instead be when I'm already trying to do three other things. We've all been there, I'm sure.

It's crucial that every business keeps finding new ways of doing things, new product and services ideas, and new opportunities. As business leaders, we need to be creative thinkers. We need to be driving our business forward, experimenting and trying new techniques and processes. We need to be exploring new markets and inspiring our teams to better performance. And it doesn't matter if our business is in the film industry, manufacturing, or the automobile industry - creative thinking is the fuel for a successful business in any sector.

Pixar Animations is one of the most creative businesses on the planet, and one of the most successful, with a string of blockbuster movies that delight audiences around the globe. I recently had the chance to talk about storytelling and creativity with Noah Klocek, an Art Director at Pixar. So how does an executive at Pixar capture ideas, and keep creative?

1. Practice, and ideas will flow

When I chatted with Noah he told me that to capture inspiration he carries around a small notepad or will use a note app on his phone. That's pretty much what you might expect. Over the years, I've taught myself to be an effective note-taker. I make sure I always have the tools with me to scribble something down or grab a quick recording on my phone. But what was really interesting to me was that Noah feels that the discipline of capturing ideas actually makes more ideas happen.

He told me, "If you have the tools quick at hand, you can quickly note down ideas or inspiration where there are no set rules to limit your imagination. Practice makes perfect - if you do this regularly, you're more likely to generate great ideas when you need to. Also, after all these notes you produce, it could be there is already something there that's worth creating." So make more notes. It mightn't be obvious immediately, but the smallest idea can turn into a eureka moment.

2. Avoid the blank page

Telling your PA to hold all calls, closing the office door and sitting down to think of a new idea is most usually a waste of time. The blank page can be a thing of terror, seemingly designed to stifle creativity. Noah tries hard never to start with a blank page when seeking creativity. He prefers even the smallest grain of an idea to be on the page first, rather than starting entirely from scratch.

So, in a business context - rather than a blank page - set time aside to look at one of your services, processes or products in particular, and start to think about how it could be better. It's just as creative to make a small change for the better to a process or product than to come up with something new. In my business, complicated new legislation regarding data protection has led to a stream of ideas for re-engaging with former clients, so be sure to embrace change in your sector to drive new thinking. What may look like a barrier is usually an opportunity.

3. Be More Visual

Noah makes extensive use of "shape language" when he is capturing his thoughts. I'd not come across this practice before. In the film and animation world, it's a widely used method of drawing shapes and diagrams that represent characters, emotions and the shape of a story. I'm exploring this approach, and have adapted it to capture both my thinking in business meetings, and just generally when an idea pops into my head. I'm finding that a quick sketch that illustrates the idea is far easier to expand upon and remember at a later date than a few words quickly scribbled down. Take a similar approach and sketch out your thoughts, or create a diagram that illustrates the activity you're thinking about, and you'll likely see each stage of delivery much more clearly.

Creativity can't be tamed, and why would we want to tame it anyway? It can strike at the strangest times, but make sure you're ready to capture it when it does.