The time I am the most creative is when I feel the most trapped and desperate. These are the times when I see no model for solving my problem, and I have to come up with an all-new solution that will, invariably surprise even me.
I have found that bad situations get creative juices flowing. And I have come to have an appreciation for the bad times; they give us unique opportunities to find our best ideas. Here are some situations to keep an eye out for — they are invitations to creativity:
Bad situation #1: Nagging dissatisfaction. I'm not advocating depression; believe me, I've been there, and it's mostly about hiding in bed not about being a creative genius. But an inherent part of creativity is never being satisfied with what is there, always striving for something better. After all, if everything is going great, why think of a way to change it? People who are creative never think everything is great. So you don't have to be depressed to be creative, but you can't be jubilant.
Bad situation #2: Low budgets. No one ever came up with a grand idea when they had more than enough money. You would be stupid to think of new ideas when you have enough money to pay for what is already tried and true: Best practices, most outstanding performer, top-tier firms, these are all great places to spend a big budget. Why take a risk when you don't have to? The good news about a small budget is that you can't pay for the paths that have already lead to success. So you have to come up with a new path.
Bad situation #3: Feeling lost. The least creative people I know are those who knew exactly what they wanted to do after college, and did it, and never turned back. No existential crisis. No begging parents for dinner money. Just pure focus. The reason feeling lost is good is that it's the time you figure out what you're passionate about. Passion sweeps you off your feet when you're meandering. You can't get swept off your feet when you're moving fast, when you have a plan, when you're already going somewhere. You need a foggy focus to find passion. Most people who are creative will tell you that they didn't pick their form; it picked them. The form your creativity will take will show itself during a time you are lost.
Bad situation #4: Being wrong. Creativity requires knowing what you like. You can't depend on other people to guide you or else you are not being creative but rather responding to market research. Being certain of what you like means that you're going to be wrong a lot. Not wrong about what you like, but wrong about what will work. The market researchers will tell you. But much worse than being wrong is never being wrong, because then you are a research drone, a fact-gatherer, not a creative person. So strive for being wrong sometimes, as a way to gauge your level of creativity.
Bad situation #5: Nonproductivity. Thank goodness for times when you cannot seem to follow the rules, cannot meet deadlines. The people who do good work all the time don't leave room for ideas — for genius sprung from passion and blank stares. Sit at your desk and do nothing. Ditch work and go to a cafe. Empty time is the when creativity flows.
Take a second look at the disappointing situations of your life. You might find your creative genius has been suffocated by overwhelming focus on good times.