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Inspiration can strike at unexpected times but in the working world, we don’t always have the luxury of waiting around for that million dollar idea.

That’s why we’ve compiled a cheat sheet for unleashing your creative genius, based on feedback from tech leaders featured in our Working Geek series. We asked each of the executives and industry leaders below where they get their best ideas and their answers range from running to writing to unplugging and more.

Continue reading to find out how they summon inspiration and click on any person’s name to read their full Working Geek profile.

Gabe Frost, engineering manager at Microsoft and co-founder of Outsider: “Reading and long-form writing. I’m best at shaking out the details and drawing key insights when writing long-form rather than crafting bullet points in a PowerPoint deck. I’m always reading three books — one on a specific technology that I’m curious about, one on some dimension of management or leadership, and one related to a personal goal. It’s uncanny how ideas emerge when connecting these three areas, at least for me anyway.”

Microsoft Engineering Manager and Outsider co-founder Gabe Frost.

Mark Suzman, chief strategy officer of The Gates Foundation: “A mixture of reading and conversation. I read a lot. More than most. I try to expose myself to as diverse a range of inputs as possible. I often ask for more detail on papers that I don’t really need to know, but I find that extra detail often provokes a reaction or a thought or a perspective that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. Regarding conversation, one of the great things about being at the Gates Foundation is the caliber of people and the diversity of experiences they bring is enormous and unique.”

Mark Suzman. (Gates Foundation Photo)

Tammy Perkins, managing partner and chief people officer of Fjuri: “Some of my best ideas came from the beach. When I can’t go there, I take walks with my dog to reset and focus. It’s good for both of us. At work, going to a different location (a coffee shop or walk with different scenery) will help me reset and think about new ideas.  Great ideas happen when I brainstorm with colleagues.”

Tammy Perkins with Fjuri co-founders Thom Gruhler and Paulo Resende. (Fjuri Photo)

Ryan Metzger, in-house growth advisor of Madrona Venture Group: “My best ideas come when I am outside going for a run or on a hike. Being outside removes distractions and helps me focus. It’s common that I’ll come back with a few new marketing ideas to share or even a new business that I may want to start or seek out.”

Madrona Venture Group’s Ryan Metzger is a diehard Seattle sports fan. (Madrona Photo)

Aravind Bala, chief technology officer of Nextio: “I get my best ideas when I’ve been thinking about the problem for several days, usually when I get up in the morning having thought about solutions to the problem the previous night.”

Nextio’s Aravind Bala. (Nextio Photo)

Brian Surratt, director of the City of Seattle’s office of economic development: “I love the quiet and solitude of the morning. I feel the sharpest and most open to ideas after my morning workout, meditation and journaling.”

Brian Surratt is sworn in as director of the City’s Office of Economic Development by Mayor Murray with his family beside him.

Brianna Wettlaufer, co-founder of Stocksy: “When I clear my plate, turn off being in reactive mode, step back and start walking through projects, our website, possible features, from start to finish  — just scribbling down ideas and challenging how we can improve. I can be a bit insatiable.”

Stocksy co-founders Tyler Stalman, Brianna Wettlaufer, and Daniel Ross.

Eric Ringer, co-founder and strategic projects engineer of Skyward: “My best ideas never come when I’m trying to have good ideas. They seem to always come when I’m doing something else so when I get a good idea I try to get to Slack or Wunderlist right away to jot it down. That way I can easily return to the idea when I’m able to do something with it.”

Eric Ringer is a drone photographer and co-founder of drone software startup Skyward.

Lori Twomey, chief merchant of Zulily: “I get my best ideas in a variety of places. Some ideas are inspired through traveling and experiencing new people, cultures, and environments, while others are cultivated through brainstorming with our team on unique and innovative ways to drive the business. My daily commute can also foster new ideas while I drive in and out of work and reflect on recent projects and what we achieved or learned from that particular day.”

Lori Twomey in her office. (Zulily Photo)

Grant Goodale, co-founder and CTO of Convoy: “While running. I run while listening to music — I’ve actually listened to the same running mix over and over for the last three years, so it’s essentially background noise at this point. Between the music and the simple mechanics of breathing and putting one foot in front of the other, my mind goes into free association mode and good things happen.”

Convoy co-founder and CTO Grant Goodale.
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