“Ideas come from everything.” — Alfred Hitchcock


The term “jackdawing” is derived from the jackdaw, a common black and gray bird related to the carrion crow. Jackdaws are notorious for picking up objects, especially shiny ones, to hoard in their nests.

To reach your creative potential, you must develop the instincts of a jackdaw. You must be curious about everything that confronts you and on constant lookout for new stimuli. Like the jackdaw, you must collect and hoard images and ideas that catch your attention, regardless of their apparent value.

One way to do this is to photograph anything that catches your eye. Smart phones make this easier than ever.

You can also squirrel away (perhaps “jackdawing” should be called “squirreling”) bits of information as you find them, building a compilation of seemingly useless and unrelated facts, newspaper cuttings, URL bookmarks, quotes, brochures, etc.

Keeping a small notebook handy is a great way to jot down snatches of conversation, excerpts from books and magazines or fresh ideas.

Once you’ve begun collecting this treasure trove of inspiration, the next steps are to catalog it and make it searchable and easily accessible. I used to have folders and folders and boxes and boxes of this stuff, but in my effort to de-clutter and become more paperless, my computer is now my filing cabinet. However, sometimes you need real objects in hand to start the creative juices flowing.

Michael Michalko in Creative Thinkering suggests one way to prime yourself for creativity is to create an “intention board.” An intention board is a large poster board on which you tape photos, sayings, articles, printed pieces and other items you’ve collected. The idea is to surround yourself with images of your intention (what you want to create) and, in the process, encourage inspiration and innovation.

A hi-tech approach is to use Pinterest. Although designed as a photo-sharing website that allows users to create and manage theme-based image collections such as events, interests and hobbies, it is an excellent jackdawing tool. And, if you want, you can share your online hoard with others … and vice versa. Personally, I use an ever-evolving cataloging system on a thumb-drive plugged into whatever computer I’m using at the time.

Regardless of your approach to jackdawing, having a broad foundation of borrowed stimuli can be the perfect launching pad for a creative solution.