One of my favorite ways to spark creativity is through exploration. Exploring exposes you to new things. New things are inspiring.

While exploring you might stumble across a new way of doing something, a new thing to do, or something more subtle.

Sometimes you uncover a bit of information that clicks with things you’ve been thinking about and completes (or helps to complete) the picture you’ve been developing in your mind. Other times you may discover a tool, a process or an approach that others are using which is unrelated to you but is still inspiring in its ingenuity. If they can do that, I can certainly do my thing!

OK, so exploration can fuel our creativity, but what does “exploration” really mean?

Well, according to Wikipedia:

Exploration is the act of searching or traveling around a terrain (including space, see space exploration) for the purpose of discovery of resources or information. gives the following definitions:

1. an act or instance of exploring or investigating; examination.
2. the investigation of unknown regions.

For our creative purposes, let’s call it:

Seeking information through the investigation of new areas.

And now that we’ve agreed on a definition, we can explore some different methods of exploration. =)

Urban Exploration

Go into your city (your city is the one you live in, or the nearest one to where you live) and spend a day walking the streets. Visit local, independent shops. Vintage and secondhand clothing stores, antique shops, craft shops, toy stores, flea markets, museums, and art galleries are great places to seek out. Find new parks, beaches, monuments, and other gathering areas. Talk to the people you meet – strike up conversations with everyone!

Sometimes it helps to have a goal, or set of goals, to provide some structure to your creative wanderings. You could set out to find at least 6 new art galleries (without the aid of GPS or maps), to explore 2 new museums, or to speak with at least a dozen shop owners whom you’ve never met before.

One of my favorite structured creative explorations is photographic scavenger hunts. These can take many forms. You can create and execute one completely on your own or you can share the experience with a friend or a group. When including others, you can all work together or make it a competition. The hunt itself can be as mild or wild as your imagination allows. You could have a list of different objects to photograph (very specific lists and very vague lists both spark creativity in their own ways) or shoot for the most pictures of a single type (most street signs, most houses with turrets, most graffiti, most bicycles, most gargoyles, most people, etc.). There are plenty of other ways to play this type of exploration scavenger hunt – get creative!

Another great way to see new parts of your city is with a random bus or train ride. Get on a bus or train you’ve never ridden before and find out where it goes (don’t cheat, just look out the window). If you see something interesting – jump off and check it out, talk to some folks, then get on another bus/train and travel some more.

Many cities have self-guided historical tours which can often be another great way to experience your city in new ways.

Of course this doesn’t have to be your own city. Try exploring a new city as often as you can. This often steps up the amount of new information you can glean, especially when the new city is also in a new region, country, or continent!

Rural Exploration

Another simple form of physical exploration is to investigate the countryside outside of your city (or the city you happen to be in). Often a bicycle is more efficient than walking due to the distances that are often involved, but either one works. While walking or riding through the countryside, you can use many of the same tools that you used for exploring your city. Talk to everyone you meet! Seek out yard or, even better, barn sales. Check out some farm equipment. Discover a country shop (of any type). And of course, take lot’s of pictures! Scavenger hunts, hitchhiking, and road trips all make fun ways to explore the rural areas of this planet. Get out there!

Online Exploration

We are no longer constrained to the physical realm for our explorations. Thanks to the Internet and the World Wide Web, there are vast tracks to be explored without ever leaving our homes. The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) allows the linking of data in ways and on a scale that scientists could have only dreamed about 25 years ago, and the web continues to grow. So take advantage of it! Here’s a few ideas to get you started:

  • Type random words into a web search, explore the links
  • Type random words into an image search, explore the sites hosting the resulting pictures
  • “Stalk” a friend’s social profile (pictures, likes, updates, etc.), explore the things they’re into that you weren’t aware of
  • Search Twitter for random or meaningful hashtags, explore the people and the links
  • Play with StumbleUpon, explore the web with other users as your guide
  • Find new or new-to-you applications and explore the web in new ways, with new tools

Other Explorations

Obviously this post is barely scratching the surface of possibilities for creative exploration. Exploration is a category of action as vast as creativity itself. My hope here is not to create an exhaustive record of ways to explore creatively. Rather, I seek to make the case for exploration as a creativity sparker, and to provide some examples and starting points for your own creative exploration.

With that in mind, I leave you with this list of a few more areas for creative exploration:

  • Musical Exploration: New music is new information and can be just as inspiring as seeing a new painting or a new business. A bonus is that exploring new music is pretty easy these days. With all the online tools for finding and hearing new music, I sometimes wonder how I ever lived with just the am/fm radio. Then I remember that I never really did – I used to buy albums in physical format. And you know what? Exploring an independent music store is still a great way to find new and new-to-you music. When I can’t make it to the store, my online favorites at the moment are: Hype Machine, Pandora, Pitchfork, and Spotify. Where do you find new music?
  • Exploring Human Knowledge: It sounds very lofty, and it is, but it’s not as complicated as you might think. Learn something new. Yep, that’s it. Learn a new language. Learn a (new) programming language. Go hear a speaker talk about a topic you know nothing about. Take a class. Attend a workshop. Learn to tie 10 different knots. The sky’s the limit here – knowledge is out there, waiting for you to explore it!
  • Explore Your Mind: This is another one that often sounds harder than it is. Start with daydreaming. Try meditation. Think about thinking. What makes you tick? What are your hopes? Dreams? Fears? What do you do well? What could you do better? Start practicing observing yourself – you’ll learn a lot, I promise.

That’s all folks. There’s nothing left but for you to set out on your own creative explorations! I’d love to hear all about them; drop me a line sometime.

(Photo Credit)

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