by Raymond Turner

Bruno MarsSo, here you are, reading this 3rd (and final…maybe) entry on the intriguing subject of creative blocks and breakthroughs.  Your coffee needs to be warmed again; the overdose of Ginseng and Red Bull hasn’t brought about the promised surge of concentration and innovative ideas you were waiting up all night for; and the only thing remotely creative bouncing around your cerebral playground is the catchy hook of “Uptown Funk” by singer Bruno Mars.  See, now you can’t stop yourself from humming the tune. You’re welcome.

A couple of co-workers and I were talking the other day about the “Uptown Funk” phenomenon sweeping through dance clubs, daycare facilities and nursing homes alike.  They were joking about hearing their kids singing the hook lyrics (“Uptown funk you up, I say uptown funk you up”), but how in their kids’ intensely creative minds, the lyric comes out sounding like something altogether more questionable!  How many times have we done this upon recalling hit songs we’ve “sung” from the 70‘s and 80‘s?  We hold up the rockfist during the choruses, but in the verses mumble through what we THINK are the lyrics (especially with Bob Dylan), and then anxiously wait again for the chorus?  It’s a huge shock now 30-40 years later when, thanks to the glory of lyric sites, we find out the real lyrics vs. what we’ve ACTUALLY been mumbling all this time!  In the end, we still like the lyrics (or mumbling) we’ve made up better than the actual words.

But isn’t that the birthplace of creative ideas: taking something existing and somehow reinventing and squeezing it through the filter of “us” and all of our experiences?

I really thought I was done with this topic after part 2.  But like Columbo’s famous line, “One more thing…” here are a few very simple but powerful creative spark ideas I felt compelled to share with you.

Field ideas from other unrelated genres or sources of art and seek to apply something from that in your own sphere of work. Cross-contaminate.  Cross-pollinate.  Cross the other side of the tracks. (I suppose that would take you “uptown”).

I’ve seen this concept numerous times on the television series, Shark Tank.  Some of the best ideas pitched on the show are not always completely new ideas.  They are often existing products or concepts someone has taken and translated to a different context not normally associated with that product.  An example would be the inflatable mattress for truck beds.  An entrepreneur took an already existing product (inflatable air mattress) normally only seen in homes, and literally reshaped it to perfectly fit the unusual shape of pickup truck beds (cross contamination).  Problem solved.  How simple!

  • Don’t shy away from templates as a starting point. From a Beethoven symphony to Taylor Swift, to Oscar award winning movies, the core is usually the same.  Templates, movie plots, pop arrangements and symphonic forms are merely there to serve the same purpose as the cement walls in a lazy river: to give shape to what’s poured into them.  We must not be afraid to leverage templates.  They save creative brain resources.
  • Welcome the Digital Age and it’s advantages. Whether video, graphic design, blogging, web design, songwriting, etc, we can begin almost anywhere in the process since they are usually laid out digitally from start to finish.  In writing this article, I didn’t start at the beginning. Start with whatever section or element most inspires you; stop when the inspiration stops; come back the next day with muse by the hand and begin working from where she leads.
  • Purpose to surround yourself with works of art that touch you deeply. This leaves less room for criticism.  Allowing ourselves to be inspired by something produced by another human opens up a larger creative space within us to do the same for someone else.
  • Reference other art for inspiration and not as the standard to surpass. Every profound work of art was fueled by a fire in an artist’s bones, and not simply as an effort to do something better than someone else.
  • Be inspired in whatever you do. Be moved by your own work FIRST. Competitiveness will not last beyond the opportunity of the art.
  • Finally, as creatives, let’s not take ourselves so seriously. The days of dying on a hill for our art have long gone like a faded Polaroid. Our job is to produce; especially on days when we don’t feel like it.  It has been said that, for years, Stevie Wonder wrote a song every day.  I’m sure not all of them were Grammy worthy.  Creativity shows up as you show up for it, day in and day out.


Sometimes, external factors such as deadlines, budget constraints, resource hours, a headache, etc will dictate when a project is “fini.” But if you have a breathing moment, take a step back and look at what you’ve done; not as the creator or critic, but as an aficionado.  Does it make sense to you?  Does it move you?  Even with a deadline looming, the creative piece will tell you when it’s done.  Then, it’s time to dance.  “Uptown Funk” of course.


creative blockRaymond Turner is our Project Manager Mogul. Before coming to Newton, he was a producer, director and professional drummer. Raymond and his wife Maria have two children. In his free time, Raymond is big into sports (wii sports that is), reading, drawing, composing or drumming

Written by Raymond Turner