Where do creative ideas come from?

Sara Budhwani
4 min readMay 9, 2020

Can only creative people come up with creative ideas? And what makes an idea truly creative?

I’ve been thinking of this question ever since I was in school and one of my marketing professors mentioned: ‘there are no new ideas’.

Is this true?

If we ask the dictionary, a creative idea is the use of imagination, an original idea to create, inventiveness, showing original thought.

Originality can’t be the only requirement for creative ideas…

Think about today how there are so many ideas constantly on the internet, how much of what we see every day is actually original?

Image source: http://pngimg.com/imgs/heroes/futurama/
Image source: http://pngimg.com/imgs/heroes/futurama/

If we dissect creative ideas we can see that there’s a common theme, it usually has to do with combining elements to create something new.

But if I combine ice cream and pizza, does that make it creative just because it’s original?

Image source: https://www.tastemade.com/videos/spotlight-pizza-ice-cream

No, not really. Actually, there’s a reason why it’s original… yuck.

What makes something a creative idea is when you combine elements to find an interesting association between them and then create a new meaningful purpose with it. What can you pull from X that associates with Y? How can this relationship turn into something that gives a purpose to someone?

For example…

Image from Wolf of Wall Street, the movie

Most famous creative question: find a way to make this pen seem more desirable. The association needs to be something unique to the person you’re selling it to. If you associate the pen with something in their life, like a moment, emotion, necessity, etc., then you can create a relationship.

Therefore, creative ideas come from associations. The more meaningful the relationships, the more creative it is.

Open yourself to see more relationships and associations with everyday things. The more you know, the more associations you can create.

Which means anyone can be creative.

Want to practice finding associations?

There are 3 side-by-side photos below. Record your (do you need that pen right now?) associations with the two objects in each photo. What are the similarities you can think of? There is only one rule: keep it simple. If you need to write more than 5 words to explain the relationship, move on.

And… go.

Image source: Author
Image source: Author
Image source: Author

How was that? There are some obvious relationships, like the same color, shape, size, and use. But how far out of the box did you get? I’ll state some relationships that I came up with, I’d love a note if you think of others. >

Lemon & Sun > yellow, nature, circular, happiness, summer, joy, care, growth

Cup & Bucket > cylinder, round, carried with a handle, liquid holder, protection, transported back and forth, household items

Pineapple & Light Bulb > round, handled with care, bright inside

Turn yourself into a relationship generator. If you’re working on something, try to write out all the possible relationships and spread them across a wall or table and look at them as a whole.

Then leave them alone and see what sticks.

Seeing what sticks is the second step for producing creative ideas. If something is creative, it should leave a lasting impression.

It’s commonly known that ideas come in the oddest places, like taking a shower, or in my case when my head hits the pillow. It’s because your brain is doing the work for you when you don’t even realize it. Let it.

From there, it’s playing with that sticky idea until you’ve formed something that works.

In the book “A Technique for Producing Ideas” by William Bernbach, he states, ‘an idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.’

Which brings me to my first question.

I believe, that ideas that are not entirely original can still be super creative. What’s most important is the way you combine elements and highlight relationships into something truly impressive.



Sara Budhwani

I’m a freelance brand & creative strategist based in Amsterdam. I enjoy writing to spark new perspectives and share insights. Let’s chat www.sarabudhwani.com