Without Louis C.K., Mind of Mencia might be the go-to Netflix comedy. Without Steven Spielberg, we'd have to settle for Brett Ratner. And without Salvador Dalí, we'd have absolutely no idea what a melting clock looks like.
These creative geniuses have revolutionized all aspects of our lives, and for that, we're grateful. But we also suspect that we too have some pretty awesome ideas that could change the world... or at the very least, get us a promotion. You may not be born with the natural gifts of these guys, but you can certainly learn to think like them.
Louis C.K.: Comedian, Cinnabon enthusiast, star of FX's Louie
The technique: If you get stuck, start fresh. For years Louis C.K. had a hard time getting his stand-up career to take off. Finally he decided to follow George Carlin's advice and just throw out all of his old jokes. Starting over with nothing was intimidating, but it freed him up to explore new types of material, like the personal anecdotes and self deprecation that we've all come to know and love.
The technique: Tap into your dreams for useful new ideas. Before bed each night, Kurzweil visualizes a problem he's trying to solve, whether it's a conceptual idea or a personal issue, and then imagines solving it. This primes his mind to keep dreaming about it after he falls asleep. The idea is to access elements of your subconscious mind that aren't normally active when you're awake and going through the motions of the day.
Ed Catmull: President of Pixar Animation Studios, computer scientist
The technique: Don't stress out about making mistakes. According to Catmull, the early drafts of Pixar's classics like Toy Story and Up, well, kind of sucked. But a big part of the creative process at Pixar is trying a lot of ideas and cutting out what doesn't work (like Woody being an asshole). If you're comfortable throwing all your ideas out on the table, you'll increase your odds of finding a good one.
David Lynch: Filmmaker, creator of Twin Peaks, electropop artist
The technique: Try meditation to be more relaxed and receptive. Lynch is responsible for some of the trippiest imagery in film history, but he's not using drugs to fuel his creativity. Instead he credits the ability to relax and access the quieter portions of his own mind. Lynch achieves this through Transcendental Meditation, but any trick that helps you decompress will do. Scientists confirm that being calm is the key to being creative.
Rod Serling: Creator of The Twilight Zone, tester of parachutes.
The technique: Write things down as much as possible, no matter how random. Serling wrote nearly 100 episodes of The Twilight Zone—that's a lot of ideas, most of them pretty bizarre. He believed that creative thoughts "come from every experience that you've either witnessed or have heard about." It's the concept of bisociation: being open to everything so you can connect the seemingly unrelated. One method is to record all your experiences and observations in a notebook, then mix them together in random unpredictable ways.
Salvador Dalí: Surrealist, artist, more mustache than man
The technique: Wake yourself up right before you fall asleep. Like Kurzweil, Dali knew that your most unique ideas come from your subconscious. His trick was to put a plate on the floor beside him, hold a spoon above it, and relax until he started falling asleep. Once he dropped the spoon onto the plate, the sound would startle him awake, and he would work with the abstract images and ideas that came to him in that half-awake, half-asleep state.
Ray Bradbury: Science fiction author, hipster glasses innovator
The technique: List random words and see where they take you. Bradbury wrote science fiction, and if he needed a creative spark he'd start listing random nouns. "I was beginning to see a pattern in the list, in these words that I had simply flung forth on paper, trusting my subconscious to give bread, as it were, to the birds." This is an example of the random stimulus technique, in which you use unprompted words or images as a launching point for original ideas. You can also try it with a random word generator.
Steven Spielberg: Academy Award-winning director
The technique: Change up your surroundings to get a different perspective. When he was working on Close Encounters of the Third Kind and trying to come up with the design of the alien ship, Spielberg went driving to clear his head. Stopping to look at the LA skyline, he did a handstand on his car. Looking at a familiar scene from a different angle—quite literally—gave him the inspiration he needed.
John Cleese: Comedian, lemur advocate
The technique: See every challenge as a chance to be creative. Did you know that the coconuts scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail was supposed to actually involve a horse, but the filmmakers had to improvise when they couldn't afford one? John Cleese and his pals turned a budget problem into a joke, and it worked. Cleese believes that your best work comes from just having fun on the job, instead of putting pressure on yourself to innovate. Focus less on the stressful end result you're trying to reach, and more on enjoying the process.
Joe Oliveto is a staff writer for Supercompressor. If you think anyone on this list doesn't qualify as a genius, feel free to argue with him on Twitter.
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