Thursday, November 19, 2009

How to take the fork in your creative road.

How can you take the fork? Don't you have to choose?
There's a creative joke that goes like this, "How many art directors does it take to change a light bulb?"

"Who says it has to be a light bulb?"

Creative thinking doesn't normally following logical thinking. And for some of us, that's tough to do when our lives are filled with mathematical precision. OK, maybe yours, but mine is a little light on precision. Everyday, I'm expected to BE creative. What follows is a short primer on giving you a handle on how it can happen - more quickly and with greater success.. with a lot less anxiety.

Quick, from thin air, be creative.
The word comes down from on high (your boss) and you are charged with the task of "coming up with something" that satisfies a very vague set of parameters. You need a theme for this year's big trade show; there's the ad to go into the high school basketball program; maybe you're to get this year's Christmas party gift. It's supposed to be special, and it has to be on-time and under budget. If you're not used to being put to use this way, it may feel daunting.

My job requires me to be "creative" every single day. From the trade show theme to the party, as well as making the website bring in more business; coming up with the packaging for the new product and, oh, BTW, come up with the name, too. Still daunting, but somehow, not as intimidating because I know something that you do not. I WILL COME UP WITH AN ANSWER. I will not have writer's block. Guaranteed.

How can this be?

It's not because I'm special, as much as my mother may say so. It's because there is both a process and a mentality that you can garner for yourself to do the same. Here's how:

First, accept that there is a deadline and that by a certain time, you will have an effective answer. Every creative person worth their salt will want more time. Even when the answer is perfect, at 11:59 in the project, they will be wondering if there isn't some extra little tidbit that would be that much better. Most likely, there is - but you ain't gonna get it because you're out of time. Pencils down.

To do this, you need to actually tell yourself, that you want an answer prior to the time you selected. (This works pretty well for retrieving names and info, too - let your internal computer subconsciously work for you. You'll be surprised how often it will spit out the very answer you seek. (i.e. What was the name of your first grade crush?)

The second part of this is much more mathematical. Let's say it's the trade show theme. Where do you begin? Don't start with the budget, that's last. Applying a great concept to any dollar figure can be done and the concept may still hold. Like a screenwriter, don't write in your own special effects, let the director and producer do that - your job is to tell a great story. So tell it.

Start with what you hope show attendees will think, do or say when they meet with your team (and it's wonderful theme). Maybe they should be thinking, "Wow, what a cool bunch of people; man, are they sharp; I love how focused they are on just the one product; they seem to do everything, don't they..." We could go on, but you get the idea. Once that's in place, you've got a beginning framework from which to brainstorm.

No idea is a stupid idea... oh yes it is!

But that's OK. We are so afraid to make a mistake, that we stay away from doing something spectacular. Most often, the big winners are also the big risk takers. But no one focuses on the big losers who took the same big risks. Why not mitigate the risk by dissecting your ideas into those that seem outrageous, those that seem strong and those that appear to be dull as a butter knife. That doesn't mean to skip dull, but you have to rephrase your quest a bit differently. The famous designer Bob Gill (you recall Gill Sans Bold?) once wrote, "If you accept a boring question, you're going to get a boring answer." In other words, if you want an exciting answer, you need to ask an exciting question.

"We need a theme for the trade show" is boring. You'll get an answer, but it will be just like last years'. What if you re-wrote it to, "Let's pick a theme that will force attendees to deal with us." The operative word here, is FORCE. That may lead you into incredibly loud sounds, or sales people who have to shake hands or actually say "hello" or maybe even the smell of the booth might come into play. In that one thought, you now have three beginnings on theme creation. Let's choose the last - smell. A good smell, presumably - maybe cookies, freshly baked. But, we make widgets, you say. Do your widgets show up in any companies that distribute, deal or make foodstuffs? Maybe even a little co-op dollars from that same company? Hmmm, we may be getting somewhere.

By walking down this path for awhile, you begin to understand if it has legs. Let the "pun masters" go to town on how "fresh" or "tasty" your products are. Maybe your widgets are have their own "special recipe for success". Corny, to be sure, but sometimes that's all it takes. The bottom line is that your prospect needs to come away with a singular positive experience. Don't get too caught up in the nuances.

There's so much more to get into, but we'll save that for another day. For now, take these two points: 1) give a deadline to your subconscious brain and accept the curious path that it will take you. Don't sweat the answers - they will come because they have to - your brain always produces. Just write them down, no matter how smart or dumb so that you may use them in step 2) Which asks you to rephrase your question to demand a better answer - allowing yourself to actively follow that path.

By employing these two skills, subconsciously and consciously following paths, you're sure to come to answers that will finally give you a good night's sleep and the boss his wish for "out of the box thinking"... only you'll know which box (or which path) it all came from.

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