Software development is an inherently creative process. Developers spend countless hours making computers perform unique tasks using nothing but our own intellect, drive, and creativity. Each time we go to the computer, we draw from creative reservoir. This creative reservoir is much like a real-life reservoir. When it rains or snow melts, the reservoir is replenished. When people drink water, water their lawn, or wash their cars, the reservoir is depleted. The goal of any reservoir is to balance this depletion/replenishment cycle.

A few months ago, I was struggling to get work done. My creative reservoir was drained. I had to find a way to get these creative juices flowing. I replenished my creative reservoir in a way that I found astonishing in its simplicity. I broke out my colored pencils and pens and did some abstract drawing. I'd been watching a television show set in the 60s that had a unique style of bubble art (bubbles were big in the 60s I guess). Somehow this bubble art implanted itself in my brain and I needed to get it out. I was compelled to create my own version of that bubble art! After a few hours of drawing, I created the drawing in Figure 1. I continued the process of drawing various shapes and abstract pictures for an hour or two each day for a week and wouldn't you know it my creative reservoir was replenished.

Figure 1: A little bubble art
Figure 1: A little bubble art

After returning to work, I began thinking of methods I've used to replenish my creative reservoir over the years. Here are a few techniques you might like to use.

Take a Walk

Early in my career, I was a member of a great development team. This was during the MS-DOS era and our team was making computers perform in amazing ways. We were young, hungry, and at a creative peak. One thing our team did on a regular basis was to take a mid-day walk to the local convenience store. This walk typically took 15 minutes and was a great way to clear our heads for our next coding endeavors.

Take a Nap

Our kindergarten teachers had it right. Every day, our class took a quick 15 minute nap. This had two main effects: It gave our teachers a reprieve and it gave our developing minds a few moments of rest. Our child minds had a creative reservoir and so do our adult minds. You'd be surprised how much you can replenish your creative reservoir with a simple “cat nap.”

Engage Other Creative People

I'm lucky that I live in a community of very creative people. I know writers, nurses, filmmakers, software developers, painters, photographers, singers, and one chainsaw artist. I love it when we get together to chat about what we're working on. I feel this process of sharing helps us absorb each others' creative energy.

Attempt a Different Creative Endeavor

I describe this process in the beginning paragraphs of this editorial. I can't draw very well, but when I do, it fires neurons in my brain that wouldn't otherwise be fired. The easiest recommendation here is to just do it. Pick something that is “out of your wheelhouse” and start. Take a painting class, buy a camera and go shoot some photos, break out the Crayons and draw something.

Read Vogue

I'm going to let you in on a secret; I am fascinated with Vogue Magazine. I'm fascinated with two aspect of this magazine. One aspect is just the concept of high fashion. For those of you that have met me in real life, I am anything but fashionable. I'm perfectly comfortable wearing nothing but blue jeans and Iron Maiden T-shirts. After observing people who are really into high fashion, I've gained an appreciation for their creativity. Being fashionable is creative.

The second aspect of this magazine that I find fascinating is the process of how they create and choose the photo spreads in the magazine. A few years ago, I watched a documentary called The September Issue. This documentary followed the creative team from Vogue as they planned, created, edited, and finally selected the final photos that would appear in their huge annual September issue. I bring this up because this documentary provided me with a creative pathway I would have never expected.

Take Care of Yourself

You don't have to have a depleted reservoir of creative energy to employ these techniques. If your reservoir is full and you're at peak creativity, these techniques have the possibility of altering your reservoir and opening up creative pathways that you might not have ever otherwise followed.