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8 Ideas from Beijing that Will Expand Your Creative Thinking

My wife and I just took our 18-year-old daughter to Beijing for Spring Break. You wouldn’t believe the response we received from just about everyone when we told them our plans. “Why Beijing? How random!” We like random. Random is cool. Especially when it involves travel.

We spent a week there and each day was a dive into deep creative waters. Creativity that stretches back centuries.

I was a kid in a candy store—literally taking photos of everything. Ironic, right?

I could spend pages writing about our adventures and sharing oodles of photos, but I’ll save that for a slideshow for close friends and family.


But I Did Pick Up 8 Creative Ideas to Share

Below are 8 creative ideas from our trip to get your noodles noodling. Enjoy!



Subway car advertising on every flat surface – The walls, the floor, the ceiling, the hand grabs. Annoying? Or brilliant? It depends on your point of view.

The advertiser created impact. The advertiser gave people something to read when their eyes wander. The advertiser thought beyond the limitations of the normal—every surface can display your message.

Rule of thumb: Think beyond traditional boundaries.



Subway tunnel wall advertising on LED screens – While we’re on the topic, here’s another brilliant use of blank space. Beijing Subway allowed LED screens to be installed on the subway walls between stations to play video-only ads.

Think silent movies of the past—but in color.

Passengers watch these ads through the windows as they whiz past at high speeds.

Talk about taking advantage of a blank canvas. Some creative genius identified an opportunity in what others see as useless space.

Check out this video example from Shanghai (shout out to TheDanMobil YouTube channel):

Video Credit: TheDanMobil YouTube Channel

Rule of thumb: Don’t discount the rejects.



Kunming Lake at the Summer Palace – Why would I consider a lake a creative idea? Because this 1-square-mile lake is man-made.

Look at the photos. This lake was hand dug!

The area was originally a source of water for the growing population—a very functional area. But then someone dreamed it could be more. It was hand dug by 10,000 laborers between 1750-1764 at an average depth of 5 feet.

The lake and surrounding gardens were designed to represent the traditional Chinese gardening practice of one pond, three mountains. This is large-scale creativity that overcomes obstacles.

Let’s face it. You can overcome a lot of obstacles with a labor force of 10,000 people.

Think of the creative potential in the people around you.

Though originally designed for Emperor Qianlong, it now serves as a park that is open to the public—a beautiful respite in a city of 27 million people.

Rule of thumb: Dare to think and dream large scale.



Deep-Fried Scorpions – Wangfujing is a big shopping area in Beijing. All the big, big, big brands of the world are located there—Tiffany, Cartier, Apple. The list goes on and on.

As you stroll along, you notice this very inviting Chinese gate. It’s colorful. It’s commanding, And beyond it is bustling energy.

You can’t help but venture in. And after just 5 or so steps, you come across what? A stall offering deep-fried scorpions on a skewer.

Yes, I intended to write scorpions.

Wangfujing Hutong (Hutong means Alley) is filled with shops touting a variety of deep-fried delicacies. Delicacies that most of the sane world would never put into their mouths.

It reminded me a bit of a circus freak show.

As I walked the alley and took dozens of photos, I couldn’t help but wonder who first came up with the idea to deep-fry a scorpion. Or a tarantula. Or a sea horse. Or a snake.

If you don’t know what to do with it, deep-fry it.

That being said, this is pure creativity. So the next time you’re sweeping the garage and you find yourself hungry…

Rule of thumb: Be creative with what you have available.



Central Perk Coffee Shop – If you are a Friends fanatic, you want to make your way to this little gem.

A big fan of Friends in Beijing wanted to create a coffee shop. Not just any coffee shop—the Central Perk Coffee Shop. This place is a near identical replica of the TV set.

In a side room, you can explore a near identical replica of Joey and Chandler’s apartment.

They even had Smelly Cat wandering around the shop—and lounging on the counter. (Guessing they don’t have the same hygiene standards in Beijing as they do in the States.)

And while you enjoy your coffee and pastries, you can watch back-to-back Friends episodes.

I love this idea of building off others’ ideas—especially when that idea is meaningful to you personally.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I would never endorse plagiarism.

But there’s something imaginative in bringing a set to life. In making it real for fans. I found myself eyeing the entrance—just waiting for Phoebe to walk in!

Rule of thumb: Build off other great ideas—just make them your own.



The Great Wall – I walked the Great Wall of China. (The ole bucket list just got a little shorter!) The Wall demands respect. It should.

What an engineering and construction feat!

I never realized that the Wall was built along the tops of the mountains. I guess I assumed it was built in the fields. My legs burned just climbing to the gondola to ride to the top!

Think of the difficulty that the tops of the mountains presented—laborers had to transport the stones and supplies and manpower to the peaks and then construct from there.

And this happened in the 14th century.

And it’s a 25-foot wall that is wide enough that a car could drive along the top.

And it extends nearly 4000 miles.

And in addition to the Wall, they constructed towers that could house the soldiers—an estimated 25,000 towers.

The magnitude of what they created will both humble and inspire you. Constraints and obstacles can both humble and inspire you.

Rule of thumb: Embrace constraints in your creative process!



Pebble Art in the Sidewalk – We walked a lot on our vacation. As a rule, we prefer to walk—and explore—when we travel. You can find all kinds of hidden gems if you slow down. And look down.

As we strolled the sidewalks of the Imperial Garden at the Forbidden City and the gardens of the Summer Palace, we found hidden surprises in the sidewalks. Pebbles had been painstakingly positioned in the cement to create beautiful mosaic vignettes.

Most pedestrians missed them. But if you had an eye for noticing the details, you couldn’t help but find them.

I love discovering playful creativity in the details.

I love hiding creativity in the details of the manuscripts I write.

These gems can delight your audience.

Rule of thumb: Find ways to sprinkle hidden gems throughout your designs.



The Tortoise Sculpture – Bronze sculptures pepper the grounds of the Forbidden City Museum—dragons, peacocks, tortoises, elephants.

Beautiful, exquisite sculptures.

Most of the visitors snapped a quick photo and then moved on. I would’ve done the same, but as I zoomed the camera on the tortoise sculpture, I discovered—through a camera lens—miniature sculptures hidden in the water current beneath the tortoise.

I moved in closer. Those details brought that statue to life. And most of the 80,000 visitors that day missed it. (By the way, that number is not an exaggeration. That was the visitor cap for the day.)

Rule of thumb: Don’t scrimp on the details. Embrace them.



And here’s the Grand Rule of Thumb: Travel the world. Get inspired.



A Quick Creativity Exercise

Want to do something right now to improve your creativity skills? Randomly pick one of these ideas and rules of thumb (remember, random is good) and brainstorm how it could be applied to the project or manuscript or art piece you are working on. And if you really get stuck, try deep-frying it. 



A Call to Action

Are you looking to jump-start your creativity? If so, check out my free eBook: 5 Exercises that Will Make You 5 Times More Creative that I use to keep the juices flowing—in myself or in my clients.

Click here to get the free eBook right now.

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Bryan Searing