Creative thinking... With Tim Elliot

People are used to consuming creative products in all their different forms: be they Instagram photos, music or the latest Netflix binge-fest. What isn’t put under the spotlight in quite the same way is the creative process behind those things. At Simply Thrilled, we’re wicked into creative thinking and in this series we dig into the creative processes and techniques which help a bunch of entrepreneurs and creatives of all backgrounds do what they do best. All images © the person/organisation featured in the article.

Whatever you create, how do you create it?

You’ve got to be consciously aware and a little bit curious. I do a few creativity workshops for people and it's about getting them to look round corners they’ve not looked around before, or ask another question and be more inquisitive. There are loads of people in the world of business whose job is about being the opposite of inquisitive and to follow the rail tracks, do the same process every day, and that’s the opposite of creation. I’ve always found that being curious, asking good questions, and going a bit deeper helps you come up with the kernel of an idea. I think it revolves around getting the freedom to be creative, permitting yourself to daydream and to start thinking about things a bit differently. Don’t put a time constraint on it - people kill ideas too soon! You need to let people explore a little bit. I think that’s the foundation for everything .

When I do a workshop I always do a creative idea generation exercise in the beginning, something that’s nothing to do with their jobs. I stop them thinking about their jobs and get five random objects from Google Images, say some Apple earbuds, a bicycle tire, a pineapple, and a vegetable peeler, etc. They have to find as many alternative ways of using these objects. One of the quietest guys, who never really said anything or volunteered creative ideas, came up with an alternative use for Apple earbuds: nipple covers. It was great! All the other people were giggling and laughing and it was really good. Then from that point on, he chipped in at every other point because he had permission to think about something that wasn’t work. 

What do you do once that seed is there? 

 I have a notes app on my phone and I always wander around with a notebook. That way it will be written down out of my head and into the actual world. Then it’ll either live there for a bit or I’ll expand on it. You have to let it breathe a little. There might be a bit of a vague one, or it might be super-specific. Using word association is a good trick as well. Also, with clients, if they're asked to bring some ideas to the session, ideally it will be their ideas because they should know their business better than I ever will. Although, to stimulate conversation, I bring some left-field ideas, as I want them to ask me more questions. Going back to the example of turning Apple earbuds into nipple covers, I want them to ask what if I had to do that? Is it feasible and are people going to want it? And then how might we do it? You have to get the ideas out and let them breathe a little. I think people dismiss ideas too early. There are no bad ideas. 

Say the mafia has called one of your clients and wants half a dozen ideas for 9 am sharp tomorrow. What are you going to tell these captains of industry to do to get this stuff out of them?

Firstly, you’ve got to get them using their creative muscles. Creativity is an individual part of the brain. It’s similar to a muscle - the more you use it the stronger it becomes. One of the easiest things to do is a test called ‘the 30 circles challenge’. It’s an A4 piece of paper with 30 circles and in each circle you have to work on one idea and it doesn't matter if they're bonkers, you've just got to facilitate creativity or brainstorm. I leave a leadership team to do their own 30 circles individually, and then put their ideas into categories, and then prioritise them into an impact effort matrix. You go for the ones with high impact but low effort, and then test them. After that, you go high impact, high effort and low impact, low effort. (You can just ignore the low impact, high effort ones, because who wants to do that for work?) I’m very much into workshopping and spreading ideas. Having freedom within that framework helps you expedite ideas and speed the process up. It’s a super quick process which can be done in a few hours.

I always find myself walking in a circle counterclockwise. What patterns of behaviour do you do to promote creative thinking?

I get a notebook and just fill a page with stuff, not particularly thinking about it. I call it brain dumping. Or I do something mindless, for example, mowing the lawn or going for a walk, or anything like that. It's good to have a phone app as well to keep a list of ideas. There are two types of thinking: divergent thinking, which is to give yourself no boundaries, to start from a point and go off and think of all sorts of weird stuff about it. You’ve also got convergent thinking, which is the art of defining the stuff you’ve just done. 

I used to speak to a business coach who is retired now in America. Every morning he did a thing called thinking time, where he picked something that he needed to think about - a problem, a question, or an idea. He would then sit for 20 minutes in silence, with his eyes closed, and then for 10 minutes he would write down all the stuff that went through his brain. He just gave himself freedom and permission to just think about one thing. Similarly, I like to give myself an hour and let the ideas flow. That’s preferred, rather than having a four-hour brainstorming session. 

What was the last creative problem you solved? 

I came about one of the best ideas while I was trying to get a client to be a bit more sustainable. The client was a construction company, and their business model was for somebody to put out a tender, and they tended with another 30 builders and they might get the job or not. That is how they thought they got away with business. I decided to delve into a more human aspect of like why would they choose you? Why would a human person choose tender and what else could we do? Their primary product was car parks, which have about a five-year lifespan depending on how busy they are. We then built in a subscription model where for £4,000 a year a guy will go around and check their lines and watermarks and cracks and stuff like that and then fix it. Now they do 63% fewer tenders and all their attendees are continually their clients because they love this business model. This has transformed their business. They can quickly fix something and are not having to spend another quarter of a billion pounds on a car park, and this model was all through redesigning their thinking process.

Cheers Tim! Check out Tim's stuff over here:


Personal Website:





Fill in our online briefing form
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.



General /  0844 357 3389  
    Kemp House / City Road / London / EC1V 2NX /  0844 357 3389  
    16 Commerce Square / Nottingham / NG1 1HS /  0115 8114 241