Creativity is a funny old thing. Advertising has managed to give one department a near-monopoly on the word ‘creative’, tangling it up in all sorts of ugly ego-related things. I’m not a fan of the idea, I just think everyone is creative (it’s enough to look at this blog about redneck engineering solutions, appropriately called ‘There, I fixed it‘). Given enough motivation and constraints, necessity becomes the mother of invention.
But because the term is used to pigeon-hole people (you’re creative because you work in a ‘creative’ industry, you’re not – bad luck), there’s been a bizarre focus on how to (badly) maximise the creative output.
I like Imagine as a book that links together all the New York Times, New Yorker and Wired and Frontal Cortex posts. It’s not fantastic – if you follow them, the book will be boring and repetitive. If you’re new to it, it’s worth reading because it nicely ties all those ideas together and opens your eyes up to more. It’s a very easy read so it might not feel challenging, but to give it some credit*:
#1 : We all have hunches about how creativity happens.
From the ‘write drunk, edit sober’ advice to the whole story about talent vs. effort. Advertising people may be familiar with JWT’s James Webb Young “A technique for producing ideas”. The technique does relate to the advice in Imagine. Creativity happens when we’re more open to remote associations: being relaxed, well rested, happy. The downside is that the knowledge must exist in our brains. The more diverse, the wilder the associations if you’re lucky. Students: listen to all the advice that says ‘absorb stuff’, whatever ‘stuff’ may be. Galleries, films, pop culture, business reports, etc.
#2 – Are people just born talented or can you work towards it?
The brain is a muscle, and the more you exercise it, the better it gets – just like with everything else, like memory. Some are better at it, but there’s no reason why anyone can’t work towards it. Read, read, read some more, listen, experience stuff (divergent thinking). And then let the brain do the work. Relax, drink (not coffee), let thoughts process in the background. When it hits you, hone it down and then refine it some more (convergent thinking). There’s a lovely example on how Milton Glaser created his created “I <3 NY” idea. Art is work.
#3 – I’m so relaxed I don’t mind being sober
As for the drinking for fuelling creativity – drink enough to relax and loosen up so you’re a little bit less self conscious. ”Beanz Meanz Heinz” from Young & Rubicam is a good example of a line that came suddenly after having sandwiches and a few pints in a pub at lunchtime. But creativity through drug and drink binges doesn’t necessarily work. Or as the book says,
“We become a little less aware of what we’re thinking. But awareness is also the key to a productive session of mind-wandering. You might solve a problem while drunk, but you probably won’t notice the answer.”
#4 – Obsessions make our life worse and our work more interesting
Creativity is linked to mood swings and even depression (related -Tali Sharot – The Optimism Bias; she’s a neuroscientist). The highs and lows of life and some illnesses like autism, bipolar disorder and ADHD are associated with creativity. ‘Imagine’ talks about how famous and successful books were written during drug binges (cocaine and Benzedrine) because they sent the brain into overdrive; useful, but not a recommended shortcut. (Original article:The Upside of Depression)
#5 – Brainstorming isn’t very useful
Brainstorming done for the sake of it. Because some business book said you should. It enables people to come up with associations without ‘hurting anyone’s feelings’, but it may be counter-productive if not used properly: complete strangers or too close friends will never come up with good ideas. (Original article: Groupthink)
*I read books so you don’t have to – £50 per book please.