You've successfully subscribed to productnerd blog
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access to productnerd blog
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.

Supercharge your creativity: how to remix

. 9 min read .

🍔 In Part 1 we have broken down the why behind remixing.
🍔 In this 2nd part, we will go through the how by building on top of this fantastic piece by Cassius Kiani in UX Planet that suggests that any creative pursuit boils down to a set of phases:

//Understanding the problem at hand

Crisply define the problem. Fundamentally; an idea is a solution to some sort of problem. Define that first. The better you define that, the better the solution to the problem(the idea) will be. Set some soft boundaries. Counterintuitively, structuring the problem and setting some requirements will help ideas flow more than when we have unlimited possibilities. That can be in fact paralysing.

Break the problem down into first principles. Open your mind for possible building blocks, then use them to rebuild the idea from the ground up.

🍔 Example Problem: Reinvent a burger for a seaside casual restaurant concept.
materials = some patty + some condiments + something to sandwich them + something to serve it in
techniques = grilled + stacked as sandwich between bread
What instead of meat one used fish? What if instead of grilling we used another technique and fried it. What instead of using normal batter we used beetroot or squid ink to colour it pink or black. OK, so instead of the traditional tartar sauce let’s play with this… Nando’s gives you a plain chicken and an array of unlimited hot sauces. People love that. Let’s try that out by providing a range of 4–5 sauces & vinegars. Now the bun. How about we use inspiration from Asia and instead of wheat or potato bun we use Taiwanese buns. So how shall we serve this? Fork & knife or dirty fast-food style? How about we treat it like good-ol english fish & chips and wrap it in newspaper-like paper. We can then seal it with some kind of string instead of a sticker.

//Absorbing information and inspiration

Broaden your horizons. Explore domains that are far away from your own. This further increases the pool of possible remix combinations. Read wide and keep an open mind. Try new things just for the sake of trying. If you consume the same material everybody else consumes you will produce similar ideas as everybody. Same ingredients IN → Similar remixes OUT. Simple. Consume the unexpected. Feed your mind non-stop and expand the solution space.

“The originality of an idea depends on the obscurity of sources.” — John Hegarty
“Legendary innovators like Franklin, Snow, and Darwin all possess some common intellectual qualities — a certain quickness of mind, unbounded curiosity — but they also share one other defining attribute. They have a lot of hobbies.” ― Steven Johnson

Go wide but also go deep. Notice how many different inputs the above 🍔 example used? Even if counterintuitive with what was written above, learning the rules of a specific vertical/product/concept and going deep into understanding it, is what then allows you to break them. An amateur of the craft has not climbed high enough the mountain to be able to see the possibilities that lay upon his feet. The higher you climb up, the further you can see in the horizon.

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” — P. Picasso

Broaden your circle. Multidisciplinary teams are said to be more creative. No wonder why. With such teams you have ideas, perspectives & knowledge of different backgrounds, domains & experiences collide; creating truly unique solutions to problems. The more varied your circle is, the more potential you have to come up with cool remixes. At work, online, outside work.

Change environments. Travel. ‘Routine’ offers the minimum amount of stimulation. Minimum new material feeding in our brain to remix with. You can try a new coffee shop to work from or explore a new neighbourhood on the weekend. Or if you can, travel. Travel far. There are few things that can offer as much mental stimulation as traveling. The more ‘alien’, the better. New places, imagery, culture, ways of thinking, people. All this new material unlocks a whole new world of possible remix combinations.

Consume the kind of stuff you want to create

“You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life.”
“You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.”
Austin Kleon

Deconstruct. Just like in stage 1 we broke down the problem in first principles, here we follow the same technique but with great examples of solutions of the space instead. Reverse Engineer. Look into how those solutions work and why deconstruct them into their components and first principles. This allows you to then use the individual broken-down elements and resynthesize them them in the next stages.

Art of Deconstruction by Matthew Encina

Look at things upside down and inside out. Shedding light tot the same object from different angles can yield entirely different perspectives.

Capture everything. Keep a notebook, Airtable or Trello board with all the cool concepts, designs, ideas, products, projects, companies, business models, designs you stumble upon. More importantly, keep your own cool ideas! A glance and you have a rich curated list of potential remixes or solutions to problems. Writing them down allows you to bring remix material to the forefront of your subconscious instead of having them buried somewhere deep as memories aka inspiration.

Organise your discoveries. Use different columns in Trello, multiple labels in Airtable or different sections in your notebook. If for example you are a writer, use categories like: quotes, ideas, article titles, illustrations etc. If you are an entrepreneur: physical products, web apps, mobile apps, mini-side-projects, ecomm products etc. If you are into art/design: typography, concepts, sculptures, UI design, 3D digital art and so on.

One of my personal Trello Boards

//Allowing your mind to piece together ideas

Review your notes often. Force ideas to collide. Take your notebook or Trello and go through it once every other week.

Allow time for divergent thinking. Ideas do not come to you on command. Give yourself time to let your brain wander, for attention to fade and for ideas to hatch at the back of your mind while random information collides with one another. Any mindless task would do like walks, cleaning, swimming, sleeping, meditating, painting. While focusing increases productive; this unfocusing increases creativity.

“Real progress comes in the field writing notes, at the office amid a litter of doodled paper, in the corridor struggling to explain something to a friend, at lunchtime, eating alone, or in a garden while walking.” — E.O Wilson
Protracted solitude, in prison or in a sick bed, silence, twilight, darkness are conducive to it: under their influence [imagination] comes into play without being summoned. On the other hand, when a great deal of raw material is provided from without for us to perceive, as on journeys, in the bustle of life, at high noon, then the imagination takes a holiday and refuses to become active even when summoned: it sees that this is not its season. — A.Schopenhauer

Give Up. Learn to stop pushing when you feel stuck, take a step back and trust the process. You will be surprised with the waterfall of fresh thinking you will have when you step back into your work.

//The cliché light bulb moment💡

“…if you just keep your mind resting against the subject in a friendly but persistent way, sooner or later you will get a reward from your unconscious. Maybe in the shower later or maybe during breakfast the next morning but suddenly you are reqarded. Out of the blue a new thought mysteriously appreas. IF you’ve put in the pondering time first.” John Cleese
“When the dots connect perfectly, what you see is the result of years
and years of knowledge accumulation. It is called your ‘eureka
moment’ but it has taken a lifetime to construct. Day by day, hour
by hour, you are unconsciously laying the foundations through the
type of information and experiences which you choose to consume.” — Harry Dry
“I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom.
It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea. By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise.” William Deresiewicz

Quantity > Quality. Focus on producing a volume of ideas. Don’t be precious with them nor hypercritical. Cynicism and perfectionism is the enemy of creativity. Embrace the idea that no idea is stupid enough. Start small, not perfect and repeat/iterate.

“The first draft of anything is shit” — Ernest Hemingway

//Filtering and refinining solutions

Create stuff that is ‘true to yourself’. Do no seek consensus in ideas. Consensus leads to predictability. And that is boring and not creative. Secondly, do not try to adopt a creative identity that is not true to who you are. Everybody is competing to be what society expects them to be (aka what everybody else does). Nobody is competing to be you. Stay true to yourself, grounded in your identity or you will burnout trying to be somebody you are not.

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I; I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference” — Robert Frost

Play with combining ideas. Actively work on finding a solution by piecing the ideas you have been gathering together. Add your own spin to them. Don’t just take two cakes and stack them on top of one another. Add a filling layer in-between, frosting around and decorate the top. Make the creation your own. Of course don’t limit yourself by only using material you have gathered during the previous stages in your notebook. Keep nurturing the solution.

Iterate until the remix parts fuse together. No remix will come fully formed. The masterpiece is created by endless cycles of iteration. Of cannibalism. Get the big remix idea and keep adding on it. No matter how terrible you find the first version. Just like a sculptor, keep searching for small remix combinations, slab them on your piece and then fuse them as if they have always been there. At the end, the origins or sources fuse in the newly formed remix that they become indistinguishable and this has been a known throughout history:

1926: the height of originality is skill in concealing origins
1933: originality is little more than skill in concealing origins
1938: originality was merely skill in concealing origins
1953: originality has been described as the art of concealing origins
1970: originality is the art of concealing your source
1985: creativity is the art of concealing your sources
1989: the secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources

Edit. Rework them. Ask yourself: What can I add to add onto this sculpture to enrich it? Shall I add detail to some part (depth). Shall I add a completely different component (breadth)?
Most importantly: What can I remove to simplify them?

Create an oasis of seclusion & tranquility. Get away of everyday life. Create some space-time of tranquility and ponder over the problem. The longer you do so, the bigger the chance of stumbling upon remixes and creative solutions to problems. Escape pressure, explore ideas and be playful with them. Long flights without Wi-Fi, mountain escapes or reading-weekend somewhere in Europe. The change and space will awake you inner creativity.

Discuss ideas. Discuss with different people your problems & ideas and you will immediately see how their perspective will shed light to new parts of the problem you never though of before. Your ideas will bounce off their ideas, collide, creating interesting mixes. You will realise how your eyes will be opened to new possibilities and remixes that your current lens of viewing things did not allow you to see. Discussing with people that are direct and honest will also help tame your ego and bring you back to earth.

The process of communicating an idea — even if we don’t solicit feedback — helps us clarify the idea and see it in a new way. — Josh Spector
“The most productive tool for generating good ideas remains a circle of humans at a table, talking shop.” ― Steven Johnson

Stop consuming; start creating. Ok; so you have done your research, fed your mind with inputs, came up with a few cool concepts, looked into them, iterated a bit.. Now what?
There comes a time where you need to close your eyes and take a dive to the actual work itself. Instead of having the end result perfectly formed and planned, you need to dig your teeth right into it.

“Inspiration Is for Amateurs. The Rest of Us Just Show Up and Get to Work. Things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will — through work — bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art’ [idea].” — Chuck Close
“People think you need to be inspired to write.No, you write in order to get inspired.” — Paul Jarvis

You will soon discover that by initializing the idea engine at the back of your mind, you are now able to spot new combinations much much easier. That refuels the whole cycle.

“… ideas come through an intense desire for them; continually desiring, the mind becomes a watch-tower on the look-out for incidents that may excite the imagination — music, a sunset, may give image to the idea.” — Charlie Chaplin

There is this term called ‘paralysis by analysis’. Especially in creative pursuits, where there are unlimited sources of inspiration and remix combinations, it is incredibly easy to fall victim of this. The only way to avoid it is to jump right into it. Everything will fall into place right after that.

Just. start.✌️