A young friend of mine, who graduated from university only a year or two ago, offered me this piece of advice about about expanding “How To Be Creative” into a traditional book format:
It’s about taking one’s creativity and learning how to harness it and apply it to anything one undertakes (including careers/business), despite the fact that the business world tends to kill creativity; in other words, don’t focus on life… focus on professional life. As a member of the demographic you’re aiming for [i.e. people my age], I can tell you that we’re more interested in that; it’s easy to be creative on our own time. At work, not so much.
Here are some opening thoughts, by no means a definitive list:
1. Add 25% to amount of hours you work every week, and fill them with fun, interesting, useful stuff. Google allows its employees 20% of their work time to devote to their own personal projects. If your employer won’t allow you to do this, you should unilaterally make the time for yourself, either at the office or at home, hence the extra 25%. Your peers in the office may think you weird at first, but after a while it’ll start paying off.
2. I had no life in my 20’s. Get used to the same. While my peers were partying or zoning out to TV sitcoms, after work I’d head for the coffee shop or the bar, and crank out cartoons until bedtime. Sure, I must have looked a real lonely ol’ saddo, sitting there doodling away in the corner by myself, but at the time I didn’t really care. I really enjoyed doing it, plus I knew I was on to something. Besides, the typical twentysomething TV-and-Budweiser-enhanced nighttime existence didn’t interest me too much. Tis more blessed to make than to consume etc.
3. All business is creative, just sometimes it’s hard to see it. And it’s especially hard to see it when you’re leaving the office at the same time as all the other yutzes you work with.
4. Creative people like other creative people, even if they’re far more senior than you. The great thing about creative people with power and money, is that they would much rather have somebody working for them who reminds them of themselves when they, too were young, rather than remind them of the jocks and cheerleaders they went to highschool with. And you know what? Finding those kind of young people is actually harder than it seems. Truly bright sparks who are honest, reliable and hard-working are rare, even in the younger cohorts. So if you ever meet an older “Creative” like that, don’t be scared of her. Don’t be scared to seek her out. She’s probably just as delighted to have found someone she can give a real opportunity to, as you are for finding someone offering a real opportunity.
5. P.S. When I use the word “creative”, I prefer to use it in quotation marks, metaphorical or otherwise. As words go, it’s pretty meaningless. There are a lot of people in the “creative” industries who wouldn’t know an original idea if it jumped on their lap and peed on them. Aimee Plumley was right. Hipsters ARE annoying. Truly creative people tend to defy the usual stereotypes. Always keep that in mind.
6. Never, ever forget the “Sex & Cash Theory”.
The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the assignment covers both bases, but not often.
7. Always remember: You’re playing the long game. General Kutuzov told the Russian Royal Court that all he needed to defeat Napoleon was “patience and time”. His strategy horrified a lot of people close to the Czar, who were hoping for something a bit more swift and glorious. But it was “patience and time” that allowed the good ol’ Russian winter to come along, and freeze all those poor Frenchmen to death. The rest is history.
Any other thoughts for my friend? Please feel free to leave a comment. I can already see that I’m going to have to give this a lot more thought over the next wee while.
Venturing from the world of advertising account planning, here are some additional tips:
DISRUPTIVE THINKING. Question good ideas (‘good’ is often not enough, and in a short while may be ‘bad’ / boringly safe). Explore ‘bad’, ‘silly’, ‘wrong’, ‘obious’ ideas. They may contain something that could be developed into a great idea.
Think about this. Guinness (with perhaps a history of the most creative advertising campaigns here in the UK and elsewhere) were faced with a massive weakness in the brand about 15 or so years ago when beer companies were trying to make their brands more exciting (or, rather, associate them more with an exciting night out). The weakness was that Guinness takes a rather long time to pour. And what did the brand planner/s do. He / she /they bravely and brilliantly said: let’s turn waiting for a pint of Guinness being poured into something intriging and exciting. And from this has come all the great Guinness ads of recent times. Above all the Surfer ad – considered, by many, to be the best ad ever.
So big (perceived) weakness turned into a big brand success.
PERSISTENCE. More “creativity” happens by keeping at it.
Use your experience, don’t fear getting older. As long as you don’t kill yourself with drugs and alcohol you will only get better. Picasso was working when he dropped it and he was 91.
Wishing you much success ‘young freind’.
“How to be creative”?
Not exactly a narrow scope then. The best way I have found to be creative is, you know, go create. I think procreation counts too … family life, like a good tax law accountant, can open your eyes to the thin fabric of reality we surround ourselves with. People matter. You are a person.
As for the Guinness ads – classic positioning and dramatising the differentiating idea. Exactly the same as Apple practices today, and yet Microsoft just cannot grasp (or their ad agency can’t).
Would a creative accountant do time for fraud and/or corruption?
Did Microsoft’s most creative period lead to the conviction by the DoJ?
Imagination and design will help you create, and forethought can help keep you out of trouble. But then, staying out of trouble isn’t very remarkable, is it?
Great advice. I’d expand upon point 3 and maybe add a twist: in reality, no thing is creative, not business, not artwork, not music. That’s why you can have people in creative industries who wouldn’t know an original idea if it peed on them.
The thing is not creative; it is you who are creative, and you can bring that to everything you do: filing documents, typing memos, washing dishes. Creativity doesn’t get turned on or off for the sake of art — it’s a way of being in the world that allows you to make connections and see patterns and fan the flames of the life spark that is everywhere.
On a side note, Dan Perry is running a contest that will allow you to express your creativity a bit if you’re a blogger! He’s giving away a Google fridge to the most creative argument for what you’ll do with it. My entry is here.
Good luck to contest entrants and your young friend!
Something I just heard seems appropriate here:
“Risk intolerance is synonymous with stupidity.” — Steve Farber
You can’t have creativity without risk. If you work in an obsessively risk-averse organization, but you’re determined to try creative solutions to problems, be ready to “be encouraged to seek opportunities elsewhere.”
I think Gen Y is actually really good at having a life *and* working really hard. They don’t waste as much time as people my age did on pointless stuff, like staying in jobs they hate, trying to impress people superficial ways, etc.
Just wondering if that old work/ life contradiction maybe runs less deep than it used to?- own time and office time both being part of (better?) life now.
One of the things that I’ve found that helps me come up with new ideas is going to new places(it doesn’t have to be far), seeing new things, doing new activities, meeting new people. I think what it boils down to is making sure your brain has new and varied input.
It’s amazing how good the brain is at drawing parralels and finding similarities between really bizare things, and the ideas will arrive at the strangest times.
One thing is sure: it is not mental …. it happens, that’s it!
Anybody who tries to explain it theoretically talks BS.
PS: creativity is love is life is love is life is love is life is love is…….
“they would much rather have somebody working for them who reminds them of themselves when they, too were young,”
This is a bit age-ist (sp?). People change careers in their lifetime and these days “senior” doesn’t always have to do with age as much as position. Perhaps if this is a book about creativity, and thinking outside the box/against the grain, whatever you want to call it, it might be prudent to incorporate a different way of thinking about position.
I don’t really have anything productive to add, except to say good post! I really like the first point, where you find time to be creative in the day, but pay it back. I think that most workplaces would benefit from their employees being creative.
It could potentially make people’s mundane tasks more efficient by providing a much needed brain-break to refocus.
Bee, I consider “age-ist” to be one of the most useless words in the English language; I suspect it was probably invented by a litigation lawyer with ZERO interest in human nature or the human condition.
And as for “Out of the Box”, let’s not even go there…
In his book The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield has a great paragraph about “Turning Pro” … which is something I’ve found to be true of my life: In a nutshell, if you want to succeed at being creative, then practice your craft everyday, regardless … even if you’re not making money off of it. Don’t wait for the muse to come to you, *make* the muse come to you by practicing your craft. It’s a great read for anyone struggling with blocks or resistance. Hugh, check it out, if you haven’t already done so.
In my life that has always been the case. I wrote poetry/creative prose even while I was working a 9 to 5 writing fundraising grants. It was hard, and sure, it meant not having a “life” sometimes, but I wouldn’t be writing the stuff I am today if I hadn’t persisted. I took my “creative” side as a professional endeavor then just as much as I do today and no greater proof of that is that 99% of every freelance writing job I’ve gotten has come through my blog.
Really excellent post. You’ve clearly articulated some things that I’ve been wrestling with (particularly what you say in No. 2 in regard to the amount of time and hard shell required to try to be creative all day and into the evening).
I’d add: Study those whom you admire. A lot of people argue for separating the art from the artist, because often you can only be disappointed when you don’t, but I’ve been very inspired by biographies. For example, imagine the discipline it took Wallace Stevens, a VP of an insurance company, to write amazing poetry and run a business. Unless you’re one of those who believe his secretary did most of the writing. 😉
Regarding your point #5, I don’t think it has any bearing on the other topics in your post as I read them. What I read in your preamble is being creative at work, not being “a creative” at work. If the motivation of your young friend is the latter, tell him to buy a VW, lose 20 pounds and shop at Banana Republic. If the motivation was the former, read on.
Alice is spot-on: millenials are not going to trudge through sucking up to some blowhard because that’s “what you do”. This is part of why I started following your blog so long ago; I found some of that line of thought here. Blue Monster and all of that, I guess.
Don’t write off agism so quickly. If you happen to be trudging through a job but looking for ways to better your surroundings or utilize your skills and abilities, it’s often those damn blowhards preventing you from doing what you think you’re capable of. It takes a good manager (or perhaps those ellusive creatives we’re discussing) to allow a younger employee to have a go at it, whatever it is. Agism may be a ridiculous word, and thrown around a lot, but I have more than a few friends who are actively prevented from succeeding on projects by those who “know better”. My interpretation: “I did what you’re trying to fix, and I don’t want to look bad, and you should have to put in your time while we suck your soul away.”
Hugh, it seems to me this friend of yours was trying to get at some of these points. Granted, I’m not doing a great job of providing more insight…but reading your comments, I would say forget or retool 1, 2 & 7, expand 3 & 4, reverse 6, and I’m not sure what to think about 5.
As I went through a little above, milennials (and I, even though I’m technically an X’r) don’t want “you do this because it’s what you do”. What I (we?) want is an more attainable version of the 4 Hour Work Week. But the concepts Ferriss runs through aren’t as accessible to someone who has one of those “normal” jobs. I think your points 1, 2 & 7 can drive at this concept without becoming cult-like. This is also why I say reverse 6. The goal isn’t always to make your job something you love, but to find ways to love what you’re doing. Perhaps that’s all gushy talk, but expanding on your points 3 & 4 above begin to touch on this concept.
Wow. You make so many LISTS ….
This is a good one–except that I disagree COMPLETELY about #2. If a person has no life, their “creative” work is likely to lack a certain depth. No life means no subject matter, no fuel for the ol’ artistic fire.
Balance. It’s alllll about balance.
I read a great line by Derek Walcott the other day:
‘be grateful that each craft stays hard to do’
He’s writing that as a poet and painter in his seventies, having won the Nobel Prize, achieved worldwide fame etc. And it’s still difficult for him to write or paint – and that’s the pleasure of it, what keeps it fresh, what makes it worthwhile.
Or as Noel Coward put it, for creative types, ‘work is more fun than fun’.
As a member of Gen Y (is it a members only club?) I’d wholeheartedly agree with “young friend’s” steer. I would just clarify whether you mean “professional” or “corporate” – for me the two aren’t the same.
Re the advice back, I think point 3 deserves a lot more thought. I absolutely agree, but as you say it’s pretty hard to see opportunities for creativity sometimes, especially if you have decided to join the *corportate* hordes of a behemoth technology/banking company, as opposed to, say, a *professional* media agency.
I think point 3 is actually why I started my (very!) nascent blog…
8. When you are slapping a client in the face with a cod, and the client says, “you should write FISH on that thing,” do so and then triple your fee.
“The goal isn’t always to make your job something you love, but to find ways to love what you’re doing.”
John, that is a most excellent point. Thanks for that.
Hugh, thanks for expanding on your best post ever (HTBC).
#1 is great. I’ve been trying it lately and it works. john, for me this is actually an awesome way to find ways to love what I’m doing.
#2 is so reassuring I can’t help you enough for it Hugh. Same with #4.
#6 has been on my mind ever since I first read HTBC. It’s simple and it rocks.
#7 I’ve only begun to see what this means and why it’s important. It’s taken me a long time to develop a ‘long time’ vision. When I read ‘dying young is over-rated’ it really rang a bell inside. I had used it as an excuse for the longest time. No more.
Looking forward to more enlightening expansion.
To your friend, from my experience: If a workplace feels wrong (read un’creative’) it will stay wrong. It is better to jump ship and find a company that suits your own particular brand of ‘creative’..or create one.
The least creative job I had was ostensibly the most creative – at a marketing agency. The most creative? At a software company working with ‘geeks’. Maybe it suits my microbrand of ‘creative’ better.
One more addition to the list:
Gen Y (seriously, who thought of that?)
One more: look under weird rocks.
Creativity is stimulated by variety. Get used to looking in places you’d never, ever look for stimulation. If you love country music, listen to Brahms. If you only read 19th century novels, pick up a NASCAR magazine. If you only play video games, watch long films. If you keep fishing in the same spots, don’t be surprised by pulling up the same fish.
What I took away from the ‘How to be Creative’ pdf was the idea that you should put your creativity into everything you do. Too many people hold back. They are waiting for something worthy of their creativity to unlease it. A little like some actors who hold back their best acting for the close up. But of course you have to earn that close up in life.
Anyway – it worked for me. This change in attitude also changed my perspective, or possibly it was the other way around – it doesn’t matter. Either way I feel much more confident in my creativity and my role as a creative person and my bank balance feels healthier also.
I dig that you came right out and said to work 25% more. Enthusiasm is the twin of creativity, imho, and people who love what they do don’t punch out at 5
Not sure about doing the 25% extra hours on creative things at work… I try and build 25% creativity into everything I am doing at work now and still go home when I am ready 🙂
OBSERVE MORE,LISTEN… TALK LESS. Professional environments always push you to talk, complaint,talk,give your point of view, talk, talk and talk. If you are the “expert” you should talk! That’s a lie!
If you want to apply creativity to your professional life, spend more time observing behaviors, people, machines, places…and listening to others, “listening” to processes, to nature, to stuff.
Get up of your chair! Stand up and start looking for something new (I should say, something you haven’t noticed before!)
I learned at an early stage of life that many people have little or no love for their work – I didn’t understand how anyone could work at a job they hated until I was stuck in one by circumstances over which I had little control (ex-husband, bill collectors, etc). I realized I could spend the rest of my life in a secure but hated job, or I could take the biggest gamble of my life. Quit the job, borrowed every dime from every student loan I could swing, and got my Masters, which finally gave me a piece of paper that said I knew what I knew.
I got a new career that pays much more than I expected, gives me the opportunity to play with new technology every day, and provides me with enough free time and disposable income to do what I really love in my off-hours.
No big lesson here, I suppose, except that if you can’t find someone who will pay you for your creativity, find a job that won’t drive you insane so you have the spirit to create when you get home.
Wow – so many good bits and bobs of advice, I’m going to have to juggle the best! As a little Gen Y-er still finding her way in a stifling work atmosphere, I’m figuring out the next step to take before ‘jumping ship’. It’s going to be risk-taking, but of the calculated variety.
For the moment, I think that unleashing the creativity in an uncreative environment will probably keep interest levels up, and I’m full of ideas for that. And in the meantime it seems like I’ve lit upon a great source of inspiration and advice.