How quotations can kick-start your creativity

How quotations can kick-start your creativity

Innovation Method
Published On:
May 22, 2023

“For many of us, inspiration is triggered by the quips and quotations of others,” writes Emilee Day in her book The Complete Book of Inspirational Quotations. Do you enjoy reading quotations? (Of course, I don’t talk about price quotations for stocks or other goods traded in financial markets here, but about those snappy quotes attributed to famous people.) Many people, including myself, take pleasure in quotations as a source of motivation and creative inspiration. Today, let’s talk about how you can use quotes to inspire fresh ideas for a creative challenge that you’re working on.

What are quotations?

A quotation is a group of words taken from a text or speech that is repeated by someone other than the original author or speaker. Typically, this group of words stands out from the more mundane body of text or speech by being more catchy, clever, and inspirational. As such, well-known quotations are often the result of good word artistry and an uplifting, motivational piece of wisdom that strikes a chord with the reader on a personal level. Another factor that matters here is celebrity: we tend to give more weight to the words of well-known leaders in business, the sciences, politics, sports, and the arts to whom we look up and listen because of their outstanding accomplishments.  

Why are they popular? (And also controversial?)

“The wisdom of the wise, and the experience of ages, may be preserved by quotation,” noted the Victorian British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Clearly, learning from and getting inspired by the wise and successful is one of the reasons that explain the popularity of quotations. In his book 300 Powerful Quotes from Top Motivators, Dotchamou Zakari highlights the uplifting nature of many quotations: “A quote is a powerful tool for our mind, our soul, our spirit. A quote can sharpen your mind and give you an instant and rapid relief if your soul is down, in a dark time.”

On the other hand, some authors rightfully point out that quotations offer people an easy escape to having to express their own opinion and prevent them from cultivating individuality and originality. For example, the English novelist Rudyard Kipling noted in this context: “He wrapped himself in quotations – as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors.” Likewise, the Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde commented pointedly, “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” So when you aspire to become a creative leader in your field, there needs to come the day when you make your authentic voice heard and move from quoting others to becoming quotable.

How to use quotations to come up with ideas for your challenge?

Here is the general process on how to use quotations to stimulate associations and then turn those into raw ideas for your challenge:

  1. Review your Final Challenge.
  2. Source a couple of quotations using one of the processes described below. Thereby, you can look for quotations that relate to your challenge — or are completely unrelated to it.
  3. Note down any thoughts and associations related to the quotations that come to your mind. Ask: What’s the main message here? How does it relate to our challenge? What other thoughts and associations pop up in our minds? (If you’d profile as one of the “brainy” types (i.e., Ideator, Theorist, and Conceptualizer) in our talent & innovator profiling method TIPS, then you probably can skip this step, as reading the quotation is likely to directly let ideas pop up in your mind.)
  4. Finally, relate all your thoughts and associations to your challenge, and write down the raw ideas triggered by the quotations.

Using quotations related to your challenge

If you prefer to get inspired by quotations in ways that stay close to the creative challenge you want to tackle in your innovation project, then hunt for quotes related to your challenge. List a couple of keywords that closely relate to your challenge, and then look up quotations for the challenge and let them inspire ideas for your challenge.

Suppose you’re a member of an innovation team in a Foos & Beverage company working on the challenge: “How to create Wow-Ice Cream Concepts for 6-12-year-old kids?” So, possible keywords for searching for related quotations could include ice cream, snacks, kids, and play. Here, you find almost too many quotes to handle, among them many slogans from the (in-) famous Anonymous:

“Happiness is watching a kid enjoying ice cream.”

— Anonymous

“You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy ice cream, and that is pretty much the same thing.”

— Anonymous

“Ice cream is cheaper than therapy.”

— Anonymous

“The best time for ice cream is always.”

— Anonymous

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

— Pablo Picasso

“If children grew up according to early indications, we should have nothing but geniuses.”

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

These quotations inspire several raw ideas for the kids’ ice cream challenge:

  • “Create a Happy Parents Ice Cream with the quotation’ Happiness is watching a kid enjoying ice cream’ printed on the packaging.”
  • “Print funny self-help mantras on the ice cream packaging (e.g., “Just lick it” or “Learn harder, play cooler”)”
  • “Launch a new Ice Cream named “Always'”
  • “Create a DIY Artist Ice Cream for Kids (with colorful ice cream palette and a waffle canvas).”
  • “Launch Genius Kids with Ice Cream shapes referencing well-known themes of famous geniuses (e.g., Einstein Ice with wild hair and tongue out; Edison Ice shaped like a light bulb; Muhammad Ali Ice looking like a boxing glove; Mozart Ice shaped like a classical with with a musical note in the center).”  

Sourcing and using quotations unrelated to your challenge

Another option is to seek out quotations that are unrelated to your challenge. Type “Inspirational” or “Motivational Quotations” into Google and review the quotes shown on one or more of the websites showing up. Alternatively, if you use this tool regularly to inspire ideas, search for “Quotation of the Day” on your browser to get a random selection of quotations that change each day. Then, use today’s selection and link it back to your challenge.

For example, when I looked at BrainyQuote’s Quotations of the Day on the day of writing this article, I got the following quotes:

“Success is the sum of all small efforts – repeated day in and day out.”

— Robert Collier, American author

“In fair weather prepare for foul.”

— Thomas Fuller, English clergyman

“To love for the sake of being loved is human, but to love for the sake of loving is angelic.”

— Alphonse de Lamartine, French poet

“Rules and models destroy genius and art.”

— William Hazlitt  English critic

“I believe I can even yet remember when I saw the stars for the first time.”

— Max Muller, German educator

“I was a vegetarian until I started leaning toward the sunlight.”

— Rita Rudner,  American comedian

These quotations lead to the following ideas for the kids ice cream challenge:

  • Launch a “success bites” ice cream that allows parents/teachers/coaches to reward successful kids’ performances.
  • Create a Four Seasons ice cream theme where the ice is shaped according to a seasonal motive (winter: a snowflake or Santa; spring: a flower or an Easter bunny; summer: the sun; fall: a leave or Halloween pumpkin)
  • Shape the ice cream like an angel with two wings holding a heart in her hands.
  • Create a Starry Night Ice Cream (quote 3 and 4)
  • Create a healthy veggie-based ice cream for kids who dislike eating their veggies

Energize your quotation-inspired ideation with balloons

One of the Ideation Tools in Thinkergy’s X-IDEA Innovation Toolbox is Quotation Balloons. The tool uses the playful energy of playing with and bursting balloons to amplify the inspirational power of quotations. How does it work? Each member of an ideation team gets a balloon containing a quote (related or unrelated to the challenge). Upon the start of the exercise, everyone in the team bounces their balloons in the air for a minute. Then, the facilitator signals that now is the time for everyone to burst one’s balloon and get the quotation hidden inside. Finally, the team uses the quotes to stimulate associations and then turn these into raw ideas for the creative challenge. Quotation balloons is a fun way to evoke the creative power of quotations in an Innovation workshop and works best if used to reenergize the group of ideators after a break.

Conclusion: Quotations motivate, encourage and inspire

“Quotes are everywhere because they work. They motivate, encourage, and inspire,” notes the American author Melissa Eshleman. So, the next time you need fresh ideas for a challenge you’re working on, check it out yourself and be surprised about how well they work to inspire original creativity.

  • Would you like to learn more techniques to generate fresh ideas for your innovation challenges? Consider booking an experiential X-IDEA training workshop (which we can deliver online or, preferably, face-to-face)?
  • Or can we help you produce immediate innovation results in one of our dynamic X-IDEA projects (and then —depending on the project focus challenge— possibly also use Quotation Balloons as one of the Ideation tools to trigger fresh ideas)?
  • Contact us to tell us more about your planned innovation and training initiatives for this year.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2022. This article is going to be co-published in a shortened version in the Bangkok Post in the coming weeks.