This article by Michael Pollock was first published on forbes.com
Truly creative professionals are always searching for new ways to do better, more interesting work. It could be a promotion, a change of job, an evolution of their artistic style, an innovative technology, a new team, or new ways of thinking. Maybe they are even considering finding a whole different career than the one they currently enjoy. “I’m sick of this business and want to try something new” must be a thought that has slipped into your mind once or twice in the dark of night!
From being a UX designer at Google to being more of a strategist, getting into the fashion biz, making a movie, or even like Richard Hendricks of Silicon Valley’s Pied Piper, engineering a brand new internet. Maybe you are re-considering your work-life balance or thinking about relocating.
This vast deluge of possibilities is often paralyzing. “It’s just too hard,” you think. “I don’t even know where to start.” So you put it off for another day and carry on as you were.
I propose that you create a dynamic mood board for your new career. In case you don’t use mood boards in your work already, the Oxford Dictionary defines it as “an arrangement of images, materials, pieces of text, etc. intended to evoke or project a particular style or concept.”
Here’s what you do: Grab your ideas as they pass through your consciousness — don’t let them go — and add them to your brand new mood board. You could put stickies on your fridge door or you could ingest ideas into an intelligence analysis program. You can use a white wall, or you can use Pinterest or some other digital tool to corral your findings. I did a quick search online and found a whole slew of options that are worth a look. Find something that is easy for you, a tool that won’t come between you and your thinking.
Let’s get started with some category ideas. Each one could initially be listed on a different section of the board.
• People: people you admire, people you’ve ever met who might turn out to be helpful in some way.
• Companies: firms you know, businesses you’d love to work for.
• Product categories you care about.
• Your night and weekend passion projects.
• Cities you’d consider moving to.
• Products or services that you’re sure you could improve on.
• Work you admire from award shows.
• Skills you have.
• Skills you’d like to acquire.
• Demographics you understand/care about.
• Things that other people do that always intrigue you.
• Pictures of stimulating offices: big open spaces like Facebook or Google, or co-working spaces.
Detectives in TV shows use this idea. It’s apparently known as a “crazy wall” because it reflects the nuttiness of the user. But they pretty much always lead to a clearer focus and an ability to sort through a mess of possibilities, which eventually leads to a clear solution to the problem. Ask Carrie Mathison, Rusty Kohle or Sherlock. Or better yet — ask the writers who created them.
Just like the TV sleuths, step back to gain an overview and look for patterns. Connect ideas. See what other ideas spring from these connections. Take away the things that don’t belong anymore. Group things together. Can people on the board connect you to companies or other people on the board? Do product categories connect to companies or prompt you to do more research? Does what you chose to put on the mood board tell you anything about your own work portfolio? Why not put some of your own work up there and see where it fits? Who would like it? Which companies would likely appreciate it?
It is indeed a “crazy wall,” but you are a creative/crazy person and you can see patterns emerging. Move the pieces around and expose new areas that you should be exploring. You don’t have to narrow from infinite choices down to one in a single pass. Instead, explore those groups that seem to hang together and you will find direction. Perhaps get it down to two or three groupings that are worth a deeper dive.
This mood board is a visual way to organize your thoughts in words and pictures — maybe even music and video. It is a place for collecting ideas that maybe don’t have a connection to anything yet but can, over time, trigger new thinking or relationships. Let the whole thing ferment, both on the mood board and in your head. This will work best if you give it time. Keep coming back to it and refining it. Share it with a partner and talk about it so you can hear yourself think and explain. Talking out loud to an objective listener can be revelatory.
What you discover about the possibilities and your aspirations — and how they fit with your skills and experience — can bring new stimuli into your life. It can trigger fresh insights and brilliance and make you that much more focused, clear, smart, strong and valuable. Don’t put it off; you know you want to get this process going. There’s nothing to lose, but so much to learn and gain.