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Dan Fietsam


Rick Rubin vs. Aaron Rogers. Or 9 practices to boost creativity without sitting in a completely dark room for 4 days straight.

Admittedly, as a Chicago Bears fan, my first inclination is to mock Aaron Rogers. I understand it’s unjustified as he has dominated the Bears for so long, but his recent “darkness retreat” certainly has inspired a ton of chatter. Even more than the “ayahuasca retreat” he went on last year.

Interestingly, news of this retreat coincided with the release of Rick Rubin’s new book “The Creative Act: a way of being”. While not a NFL quarterback, Rubin, as a music producer, has nonetheless lead teams of musicians across the hard-earned goal line of artistic victory, such as Run-DMC, The Beastie Boys, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, just to name a few. Subsequently, both have inspired me to audit my various practices to enrich and enhance my personal creativity, resulting in the following list of techniques, ideas, practices, and approaches to boost personal renewal and performance.

1.    Type, without stopping, for twenty minutes, timed.
Setting a timer and keeping your fingers moving on the keyboard delivers so many benefits. No agenda and no expectations other than constant output. This practice gets you past dreaded blocks, fatigues your internal editor, gets momentum and energy flowing, and often, especially towards the last 5 minutes or so, often yields really refreshing and unique material.

2.    Then type for an additional ten minutes, timed.
Some days, with a twenty-minute warm-up, you’re now firmly in a flow state, the internal editor has completely left the room, and you’ve focused on a couple of interesting insights and tidbits that have surfaced. I have found that there is often gold in pushing on for that additional ten minutes.

3.    Take a cold shower.
I have discovered the miracle of the cold plunge. Three to five minutes in water that is 55° or colder does wonders for clarity and cleansing. I’m no neuroscientist, but it releases endorphins, increases blood flow to the brain, and lifts mood. Whatever happens biologically it absolutely sets the stage to be a creative genius.

4.    Live by deadline.
This comes from Lorne Michaels – “nothing makes you more creative than 11 pm”. Meaning, give yourself an unnegotiable showtime. I’ve been amazed at how that curtain call increases focus, urgency, incentive, and accountability.

5.    Go on a 30-minute technology sabbatical.
No input, no screens, no music, no nothing for thirty minutes. Much more do-able than a multi-day darkness retreat, it’s so powerful how just quieting and relaxing the system leads to energy, focus, clarity, and a richer, more vibrant imagination.

6.    Then totally use technology.
I’m finding AI to be a super fun creative partner. It’s like having an entire creative and research department standing by eager to jump on any wisp or whimsy of a thought, idea, or direction I have. I’ve always believed creativity is a volume game and the infinite depth of variations and extrapolation that generative AI brings to the party is mind-blowing. Plus, outside of site traffic jams, it’s always ready to rumble – following whatever oddball thought or idea I’m working on. Like this article.

Speaking of which . . .
Here are the variations ChatGPT gave me for the headline of this article (once I wrote the original):

1.    "Creativity Face-Off: Rick Rubin vs. Aaron Rogers, or 14 Techniques to Inspire Without a Darkness Retreat"
2.    "From Rick Rubin to Aaron Rogers: 14 Surprising Practices for Unleashing Your Creative Side"
3.    "Out of the Dark: 14 Ways to Boost Your Creativity Without a Darkness Retreat, According to Rick Rubin"
4.    "No Darkness Required: Rick Rubin's 14 Techniques for Unlocking Creativity, Plus a Comparison to Aaron Rogers' Latest Retreat"
5.    "Lighten Up: 14 Unconventional Methods for Enhancing Your Creativity, with Insights from Rick Rubin and Without the Darkness Retreat"

7. Take a nap while holding a glass of water.
Salvador Dali would snooze while holding a large key in his hand. That way, when it would fall out, it would wake him, and he would immediately capture the images from his nap and dreams. I have found substituting a glass of water to be a more effective way to make sure I wake up!

8. Chase questions instead of answers.
This is a powerful oxymoronic dynamic that gives you more results by not directly seeking them. Playing with questions keeps things open to more possibilities instead of narrowing thinking and imagination. The striving and desire for the “right” answer” get in the way of actually finding a more beautiful solution. The 2008 advertising for HP captured the essence of this practice in their “What if” campaign – showing the power of asking a simple question. It has been my experience that the consistent practice of chasing better and better questions is how you eventually get better and better answers.

9. And finally, from Rick Rubin, make it a practice.
Creativity is not a retreat; it’s a practice. It’s not an escape, but a deep dive. It’s a muscle, an approach, and a schedule. Especially if you want to produce creativity that has application. I have found it best to have a framework of discipline fueled by a spirit of experimentation. 


All due respect to Aaron and his questionable journeys with tripping on ayahuasca or squatting in sensory deprivation darkness, the above practices have really helped me turboboost my creative output and keep my imagination in fighting shape. I hope sharing a couple of these reliable exercises gives you the inspiration to try them out or find your own. 


Regardless of our specific roles, be it a CEO writing to inspire employees, a copywriter cranking out the next batch of social posts, or an innovation leader identifying the next big customer experience, building your creative muscles are equally important across all our jobs.

Hopefully you can see the light in that, without having to sit in the dark.

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