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Creativity. So much ink has been spilled on the topic, yet it can still be a real challenge to understand exactly how this intangible quality works. That’s especially true in a professional setting, where innovation has to happen under a deadline and on a budget.

To broaden your outlets for inspiration, we asked 16 agency professionals about how they stay creative at work. From making the most of meetings to surviving writer’s block, these expert tips will hopefully help keep your creative juices flowing.

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On Brainstorming

Brainstorming is where the magic happens. But that magic is often the result of a carefully curated setting designed to nurture all the bright minds in the room. So how can you maximize the creativity in your brainstorming sessions? Take our experts’ advice:

“Like planning a dinner party, I’m strategic in who I invite, how many I invite and the group dynamics of the people I invite. Some people thrive on quick-fire sessions. Others have kernels of brilliant ideas but need space to present them and allow them to be honed. Multiple small-group sessions, although more time consuming, can be far more effective than a single large meeting.”
—Matt Chun, Vice President of Digital Strategy at PCI

 

“In our weekly meetings, we do a round robin of cool things we saw, learned or heard in the week prior. We discover lots of new tools to check out or ways to apply a best practice to another area of our work this way.”
—Gina Schreck, President at SocialKNX

 

“I like to throw out the worst, most oddball idea I can come up with. That always loosens things up a little.”
—Matthew Sommer, Partner and Chief Strategy Officer at Brolik

 

“I make sure to make the first steps toward pitching unconventional/wacky ideas. Then, I make sure that the team goes through a ‘YES, and…’ process rather than a ‘hmmm okay, but also’ process—this helps immensely.”
—Sekoul Krastev, Managing Director & Digital Strategist at Concept9

 

“I typically bring four to five questions to present to our team at each brainstorming meeting. I just ask the question and let different team members respond and give their opinions. Hearing an outside perspective on something that I’m curious about always fosters creative thinking.”
—Jason Parks, Owner and Manager of Social at The Media Captain

 

“Set up the initial problem or question, and give everyone time to think about it. Whether ideas are needed at the meeting or in a day, provide everyone time to think creatively on their own to come up with ideas.”
—Natalie Petersen, Publicist at Three Girls Media

On Work Spaces

Environment impacts creative thinking in a big way. Whether you work from home, in an office or out of a coffee shop, the key to success is understanding how your surroundings affect your mental process. Here’s what our experts had to say about setting up the ideal creative space:

“Whiteboards everywhere! People are allowed to doodle on them as much as they want, with some valuable consequences.”
—Sekoul Krastev, Managing Director & Digital Strategist at Concept9

 

“I have a chandelier and two big orange velvet chairs. Who isn’t inspired sitting under a chandelier?!”
—Gina Schreck, President at SocialKNX

 

“In my agencies, I have always had graffiti artists come in and go to town. I also love having music on to keep everyone loose.”
Dave Conklin, Digital Marketing Speaker and Consultant

 

“I think the most important way to set up an inspiring workspace is to be comfortable so that a hard chair or awkward computer angle isn’t distracting you. For me, that also means variety, so I have a few different ways I can work within my space, such as sitting in my ergonomically friendly office chair, standing at a taller desk or getting comfortable in an arm chair.”
—Emily Sidley, Senior Director of Publicity at Three Girls Media

 

“I surround myself with plants and keep my animals near me (I work at home). Bright colors and motivating quotations can energize me even on the darkest of days.”
—Beth Adan, Publicist at Three Girls Media

On Muses

Social media professionals love to keep tabs on major industry players, but they can find value in following people from other fields too. Here are some of our experts’ muses:

“I love to follow celebrities. It’s always amazing to me the way they work to maintain their brands on social media so effortlessly.”
—Kelly Gentile, Social Strategist at Brokaw

 

“Elon Musk. I think that he has a vision for the future, and I find inspiration in that.”
—Al Ruggie, PR Director at 911 Restoration

 

“I follow a lot of fitness people. Their communities are huge and so engaged. My most important takeaway from them is that they are passionate about what they do, and it shows. It reminds me that you can’t just talk the talk in our business; you need to walk the walk too.”
—Katie Foley, Director of PR and Client Relations at lotus823

 

“Leaders in behavioral research—people who are leveraging the scientific method and research in fields such as behavioral economics to push the envelope toward choice architecture and behavior-focused impact.”
—Sekoul Krastev, Managing Director & Digital Strategist at Concept9

 

“I like to look at Jimmy Fallon and @FallonTonight for inspiration.”
—Natalie Petersen, Publicist at Three Girls Media

 

“I love reading Liz Ryan’s LinkedIn posts for workplace inspiration.”
—Beth Adan, Publicist at Three Girls Media

 

“I follow Jeff Bullas for inspiration. I consider him the godfather of social media.”
—Jason Parks, Owner and Manager of Social at The Media Captain

 

Warby Parker and Johnny Cupcake.”
—Gina Schreck, President at SocialKNX

 

“Warby Parker, Chubbies, Fireball Whiskey, Lokai bracelets and Despicable Me/Minions are some of my personal favorites.”
—Alex Bimonte, Director of Social Media at The Buzz Agency

On the Unexpected

Funny thing about great ideas: They often hit you when you least expect it. Here are some other random people, places and events from which our experts draw their inspiration:

“A public restroom—sometimes people write the strangest things on those walls.”
Dave Conklin, Digital Marketing Speaker and Consultant

 

“I’ve found great inspiration on an airplane. Something about being thousands of feet in the air with wifi turned off and a bunch of strangers around—my mind releases, and inspiration comes straight from the clouds.”
—Trent Erwin, Co-owner and Project Manager at Genesis Net Development

 

“For some weird reason, I find a lot of inspiration at the mall. Whenever I go to the mall and see people searching for products and making purchasing decisions, it always provides me with a lot of ideas for social content and advertising campaigns.”
—Jason Parks, Owner and Manager of Social at The Media Captain

 

“One of the strangest places I’ve found inspiration is in board games; sometimes repetitive actions can give you big ideas!”
—Beth Adan, Publicist at Three Girls Media

 

“We implemented a build-your-own-package campaign for a hotel client after attending a food truck roundup!”
—Gina Schreck, President at SocialKNX

 

“We had a variety of responses from our team here, some standard and a few more out of the box: in the bathroom, before going to sleep, driving, in a limo for a bachelorette party, at a bar after a couple of libations and at a Jimmy Buffet concert.”
—Alex Bimonte, Director of Social Media at The Buzz Agency

 

“BuzzFeed is a great place to get some fun ideas.”
—Emily Sidley, Senior Director of Publicity at Three Girls Media

 

“Nicki Minaj.”
—Matt Chun, Vice President of Digital Strategy at PCI

 

“A Cleveland Browns game!”
—Kelly Gentile, Social Strategist at Brokaw

On Burnout

Agencies have a well-known reputation for demanding long hours and pushing their teams to the limit. It’s challenging for even the most talented people to keep charging full speed ahead. Nevertheless, here’s how our pros stay on the ball:

“Just putting the phone down—out of sight, out of mind.”
—Alex Bimonte, Director of Social Media at The Buzz Agency

 

“I make sure that each day stimulates me in four unique ways: intellectually, physically, emotionally and spiritually.”
—Sekoul Krastev, Managing Director & Digital Strategist at Concept9

 

“The easiest way to avoid burnout is to have frequent, real-world conversations with peers, colleagues, clients. It’s refreshing to go out for lunch with someone and talk about other topics beyond digital.”
—Aalap Shah, Co-founder at SoMe Connect

 

“There’s a lot of value in spending even just five to 10 minutes away from the computer. It’s amazing how thinking about something completely different for a short time can recharge your brain and help you come back more creative than before!”
—Emily Sidley, Senior Director of Publicity at Three Girls Media

 

“I avoid burnout by getting my team to stop what they’re doing and just relax. Sometimes we play a bit of Frisbee or just enjoy a cup of coffee.”
—Trent Erwin, Co-owner and Project Manager at Genesis Net Development

 

“When you take a break or go on vacation or take a personal day off, we encourage everyone to really unplug. Don’t look at your email. Don’t engage in the team chat room.”
—Mike Jones, Brand Strategist and Managing Partner at Resound Creative

 

“A walk outside with loud music or an interesting podcast always refreshes my creative brain cells.”
—Matthew Sommer, Partner and Chief Strategy Officer at Brolik

Top Tips

From regular mental breaks to outside passions, it’s paramount to keep your creative spirit strong. To that aim, here are our experts’ absolute top tips:

“The best way to get out of a rut, creatively or otherwise, is to learn something new. Anything. The less it’s related to your current task or subject matter, the better.”
—Matthew Sommer, Partner and Chief Strategy Officer at Brolik

 

“One of the best tips I can give is to keep learning. For me, the key to creativity is to keep expanding my world and searching out current news, new trends or refresh on concepts I may have forgotten.”
—Beth Adan, Publicist at Three Girls Media

 

“I love reading or scanning blogs in industries outside of my own. I follow some fashion, food, travel and photography blogs that inspire ideas and loads of creativity.”
—Gina Schreck, President at SocialKNX

 

“Look for inspiration in a completely unrelated space.”
—Katie Foley, Director of PR and Client Relations at lotus823

 

“I often draw visual maps of the content and content opportunities. The act of drawing spurs creativity and helps me visualize how I want my community to be and shape it with the right types of programming.”
—Aalap Shah, Co-founder at SoMe Connect

 

“Write everything down. When a flood of ideas is storming your brain, you may not have a use for all of them right now, but keep a record of them for the future.”
—Natalie Petersen, Publicist at Three Girls Media

 

“A big part of creativity is continuing to stay engaged in the industry. I have Google Alerts set with my clients’ keywords so I can keep up with current news. Pinterest is a fantastic resource as well!”
—Emily Sidley, Senior Director of Publicity at Three Girls Media

 

“Some of my best creative thinking comes when I’m outside of the office in a different setting. There is something about the ambient noise and being on my laptop at a coffee shop that allows me to hone in on and come up with creative concepts.”
—Jason Parks, Owner and Manager of Social at The Media Captain

 

“It takes a while to get in a groove of a brainstorm or meeting or ideation session. So take some time just to sit and even surf Twitter and allow things to flow freely as a result of not being so serious and focused all the time.”
—Kelly Gentile, Social Strategist at Brokaw

 

“Improv games and exercises force our whole team to get out of critiquing mode and let the ideas fly. There’s no wrong answer in improv.”
—Mike Jones, Brand Strategist and Managing Partner at Resound Creative

 

“It does no good to throw great ideas against a wall alone; you need someone there with you to catch it and throw one back.”
—Al Ruggie, PR Director for 911 Restoration

Where Do You Find Your Inspiration?

Tweet us or share your own expert tips in the comments below.