all posts tagged creativity

Free your mind…and ideas will follow.

Creativity flows more easily from an unstressed mind.

Creativity flows more easily from an unstressed mind.

Has this ever happened to you: You’re about to say something, but you get interrupted and seconds later you forget what you were going to say.

No matter how hard you try to remember, it’s gone.

So you quit trying…and a few seconds later you suddenly remember what you were going to say.

How does that happen?

Simple: The thought didn’t actually vanish; it was just hiding in your subconscious mind. Once you stopped straining to pry it out, it floated to the surface on its own. Funny how that works.

That same principle applies when you’re trying to come up with an idea for an ad, a product name, a visual, or the answer to a problem. Sometimes the best way to have an idea is to simply stop trying for a bit.

When you’ve been brainstorming for a while, the law of diminishing returns often kicks in. The mind turns to clay; the ideas dry up.

What then?

You stop consciously trying. Your mind has all the information it needs. It’s time to let it do its thing.

So you go do something else. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it doesn’t involve thinking about the project. Here are some suggestions:

Take a nap. Ideas will often emerge as you’re falling asleep or just waking up. Somehow that “twilight” region between sleeping and waking provides a natural conduit for ideas to flow from the subconscious into the conscious.

Take a walk. There’s nothing like getting outside and into the fresh air to give you a fresh perspective. The openness of the outdoors lifts that claustrophobic sense of feeling boxed-in by a project. Getting out and seeing some blue sky lets your imagination soar.

Exercise. It’s not just good for your body, it’s good for your brain. Rigorous exercise puts you in a different mental state and causes your brain to release chemicals that give you a sense of well-being.

Take a long, hot shower or bath. Don’t feel guilty about pampering yourself; it’s work-related. Standing in a steamy shower or letting Calgon take you away puts you in a mode of pure relaxation where your thoughts can freely drift. Those wanderings will often bring back useful solutions.

By no means are these the only methods for freeing your mind to do its best work. You can certainly try your own. Whatever you can do to stop consciously thinking about a project for a while enables your mind to work behind the scenes and to unlock all those ideas you have waiting to get out.

Try it for yourself and let us know how you do.

(Note: You can’t predict when an idea will emerge, so be prepared. Make sure you have a pen and notebook handy to jot down or sketch out the idea before it disappears into the ether. Don’t make the mistake of trying to recall it later on; write it down! Most ideas, particularly complex ones, quickly become cloudy unless captured immediately in written form. The mind is always active; ideas start undergoing alterations the moment you conceive them. Five minutes later, your original flash of insight may have morphed into something less useful. Write it down in its pure form the first moment you imagine it, and you’ll capture its essence.)

5 Steps to Having a Great Idea

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The “creative process” is indeed a process.

Some folks think ad agency people “sit around and think up ideas all day.”

This makes the creative process sound random and effortless, neither of which is true.

Agencies would quickly go out of business if they just “sat around” waiting for inspiration to strike.
They need a way to regularly and consistently create interesting ideas for the ads (and other stuff) they produce.

So…here it is, broken down into five simple steps:

1. Preparation

Getting ready to have an idea requires immersing yourself in the product or service you want to promote, learning everything you can about it, asking lots of questions. (Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”)

This may involve talking to engineers about a design, visiting a factory to see how a product is made or interviewing users of a service. It’s a lot of work, but without this necessary step you won’t have sufficient information from which to draw forth a great idea.

2. Incubation

After you’ve loaded your brain with information, it’s time let your mind work its magic. This step is equal parts work and fun, active and passive, conscious and unconscious.

The “work” part is brainstorming different solutions. The “fun” part is doing something completely unrelated, which frees up your subconscious mind to do its thing.

Creative folks have different methods for this: going somewhere quiet and thinking, heading out for a walk, napping, taking a drive, jogging, etc. You’ll need to find what works best for you. But the alternating pattern of working and taking a break seems to do the trick.

3. Illumination

This is where you go, “A-ha!” (or “Eureka!” or whatever it is you say when brilliance strikes). The idea comes to you and you’re ecstatic. You jump up and give yourself a mental high-five, congratulating yourself on your cleverness.

4. Evaluation

This step isn’t nearly as fun as Step 3. (In fact, it can be pretty painful.) It’s time to stand back and throw stones at the brand new, shiny idea you’ve just created.

This is no time to be proud or protective. Take a step back and examine the idea objectively. Look for flaws. Is it strong enough to stand up to scrutiny?

If if isn’t, swallow your pride, kick that idea to the curb and get to work on a better one.

Don’t worry; lightning struck once. If you’ve done your homework it will strike again.

5. Elaboration

If, on the other hand, your idea can withstand the slings and arrows you shot at it in Step 4, it’s ready to be turned into an actual ad.

That means writing the copy, designing the layout, creating the artwork. (In other words, a lot of hard work and effort.) But when it all comes together it’s a thing of beauty.

There’s no more rewarding professional experience than being part of a creative team transforming a single “big idea” into a campaign that impacts thousands or even millions of people.

Acknowledgment: Chapter Four of The Copy Workshop Workbook by Bruce Bendinger provided source material for this post.

How Amy designed a charming book cover

Amy Wessel, a graphic designer on our staff, recently had the opportunity to put her skills to work designing the cover for a self-published book by a local author, Mary Kay Mayer.

The book – entitled From Diapers to Dresses: How a mother’s past helped to shape her daughters’ futures – chronicles how the author used her grandmother’s folk wisdom to guide her parenting decisions and to convey important life lessons to her three daughters.

Amy describes her experience with the project:

Mary knew from the start that she wanted the main focus of the cover to be a dress that her grandmother had made for her. So I developed several ideas that centered around the dress and Mary chose the one she liked best.

Along the way, we discussed incorporating additional prop items and personal photographs into the layout, but in the end we decided to keep it simple and just use the dress.

Mary liked the idea of using an illustration rather than a photograph of the dress. As the book is intended for moms, not children, I was concerned about any illustration that appeared too “childlike.” So I used a combination of photography, hand illustration and Photoshop brush techniques to produce an image that has a childlike quality but is still firmly rooted in reality.

The background colors were chosen to complement the colors of the dress. The font combination was chosen to convey a whimsical yet sophisticated feeling.

The book is available at amazon.com here.

It doesn’t take a genius to see the obvious. (Then why don’t we notice more stuff?)

A  friend of mine has a gripe about the CBS show “The Mentalist.”

He says, “The guy’s not a mentalist, he just observes stuff – like Sherlock Holmes. They should call it ‘The Observer’ or something.”

He’s got a point. The character isn’t clairvoyant, he just notices things. Everything, in fact.

Most of us don’t do that. With images and information constantly buzzing around us, we’ve conditioned ourselves to “grazing,” to picking out only the bits that are most interesting and ignoring the rest.

That’s true whether we’re on the computer, watching a TV show or just living our lives.

I realized how non-observant I’d become when I tried my hand at an online “choose the correct logo” game.

I failed miserably.

I’m a writer, not a designer, so I tend to think verbally more than visually. But that’s no excuse. I realized I need to put more effort into retaining more of the information my eyes feed my brain every day.

After all, us agency folks work in a “creative” field. Ideas don’t spring from an information vacuum but from our accumulated knowledge and experiences. If we don’t actively gather that data and catalog it in our minds, we’ll have much less to call upon when we need to brainstorm an idea.

If we do load up our palette, however, we have that much more information from which to pull solutions.

Of course, being observant also has “real world” applications too:

• It’s a useful skill if you ever need to tell police about something you witnessed.

• It can help you remember a new acquaintance’s face so you’ll recognize them later.

• It can help you talk someone through a procedure over the phone without having any visual reference in front of you.

• In extreme cases it may even save your life.

But how do you become an observer, rather than a viewer?

You just have to do it. Take in your surroundings. In your mind, describe to yourself what you’re seeing.

For example, the next time you’re standing in line at a fast food restaurant, make a point of observing:

• The color and pattern of the floor tile

• The number of cash registers

• What the counter is made of

• If the lights are fluorescent or incandescent

• The number and location of the exits (This ties into the “may even save your life” statement above.)

That’s just one example of opportunities for observing. Any time you’re standing in line, waiting in the doctor’s waiting room, surfing the Internet, or if you’re just out and about, stop and force yourself to observe.

It’s a great mental exercise, and the things you remember will most likely be useful to you down the road.

________________________________________________

“You have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”

“Frequently.”

“How often?”

“Well, some hundreds of times.”

“Then how many are there?”

“How many? I don’t know.”

“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”

—Sherlock Holmes and Watson, from “A Scandal in Bohemia”