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6 things about creativity you’ve always wanted to know (but were afraid to ask)

Article by Bram Timmer – Creativity is like a continent all on its own with some islands floating off its shore and a population that is bigger than that of Europe, North America and Asia combined. It is full of different disciplines from business strategy and product development to advertising, experiential design, music, poetry and on those remote islands there is even some creative accounting. Aside from that, creativity can be encompassing of both thinking as well as doing. From random thoughts and scribbled-on napkins to concrete, impactful and measurable results. The tips you’re about to read hone in on creativity as the instigator for success, and are not only intended as a guide for marketers, brands and borderline schizophrenics to realize creativity’s role in business and life, but also to enhance your creative well-being in general.

1. Without creativity, are you like a fish without water?

Absolutely. The faster your industry changes and your client needs evolve, the more important creativity becomes. Creativity is not only there to support continual growth but also to break open new markets. Take Spotify and Netflix as an example. The streaming platforms’ creative business-strategies have upset the balance of their markets to such a great extent that they are both used as prime examples at marketing conferences around the world, referring to their minimal marketing efforts to obtain a customer base. Not only that, but more and more competitors are following in their footsteps and beginning to try and claim a stake.

How did they do this? By taking a stand against the traditional corporate way of thinking where the client is passively consuming and simply paying the bill every month. They exchanged that thinking for client as participant model.

Circling back to the point about fast changing industries: whoever doesn’t adjust to the times is likely to encounter some circling vultures overhead. Did I just scare you a bit? Good.

Does creativity scare you? In the book The War of Art published in 2002, Steven Pressfield states: “If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), ‘Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?’ chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”

Being scared is in our nature. Being creative keeps the vultures at bay.

2. Does creativity have an expiry date?

The simple answer? Yes. Even if it is as basic as being able to reach and surprise consumers. At times, everything seems to have been done already as is echoed in the book from the Art Directors Club D&AD Everything is Made published in 2010. No matter how you approach the subject, one-dimensional advertising doesn’t work anymore. Today, we approach advertising in a way that triggers action and reaction within the consumer. Actions are real and they involve the consumer, which in itself is much more powerful than a distant ad flashing messages at you how awesome or beneficial a product is.

And? Well, stop shouting at your audience and begin a proper dialog. Just be remarkable and let others tell it for you.

3. What stops your creative flow?

Typically the fear of failure is a mood killer as failure is something our egos can’t handle. As soon as we even think about making a mistake, we would rather pull back into our shells or lie about it outright.

You probably learned to steer clear of the odd ones among us and criticize them freely as if shooting down their crazy ideas shows that you are the most intelligent. This attitude has caused you to be overly cautious when thinking creatively on your own for the fear of looking foolish like the crazy geniuses you judge.

Another thing that stops your creative flow is only taking action when you have the perfect plan or strategy in place that then is signed off on by all parties. We’re just too scared to fail or be anything less than perfect. Of course, deep down, we know that there’s no such thing as a perfect plan but that taking a chance always works better than overanalyzing. It’s not for nothing that founder and CEO of Behance, Scott Belsky, is quoted saying “It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen.”

4. What does creativity deliver?

A nice and fun idea doesn’t make it a marketing sensation. An Ace or an Anvil is not yet a Cannes’ Lion as I’m sure the recent recipients of a Silver Lion, creative ad agency WAX Partnership in Calgary, can attest to.

Creative is only effective if the client embraces it and takes action to further invest in it. Advertising might catch our attention for a few seconds whereas branding is a relationship that lasts for many years, starting off quietly and flourishing into a color you can’t imagine life without.

If creativity is good, it’ll increase awareness, memory and impact. There is plenty of research to back this up, including a study by the NPD Group that surveyed 5,000 Americans. This and other research resulted in projects, services and products that had a greater creative development stage such as the meticulously designed Apple iPhone that outperformed their competitors by 35% from 2013 to 2014. In advertising for the financial industry, projects with a thorough creative planning stage typically sit somewhere around the 20% increase on those without such strategy. Creativity pays.

5. Are there people born with genius and/or regular creativity?

Vincent van Gogh, Kurt Cobain, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Charley Sheen seem to provide proof that there is a real thin line between genius and insanity.

Many creative people in advertising go through ups and downs, dependent on factors such as whether the job they’re in is repetitive, if they have been nominated for an award, or are financially stranded. In the down times they sometimes wonder whether or not they’re actually creative, and if this is the path for them.

Creativity is learned through experimentation with materials or tools, continuous practice, and observing life in general. Every individual has a unique creative process that is influenced by their personal history and their imagination. You should embrace yours rather than think there’s a predetermined way of achieving results or that you’re simply not creative.

In the words of Pablo Picasso: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

6. How can you increase your own creativity?

Strike down the fear of failing. Take the time and space to fail often. In the words of Samuel Beckett “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Most artists are known for their career highlights, not their failures. Sometimes the process to create a piece of art can take years whereas the magazine article describing its merits absorbs the reader for only a few minutes. Worse yet, the pin in your Pinterest feed typically only catches a few seconds of your undivided attention.

Eliminate the need to criticize yourself or others. Don’t focus on the end-result but take comfort in the process of creating. You’ll soon realize that there isn’t simply one answer to a problem but that often you can approach a problem from six different perspectives.

At the end of the process, critique your own work from emotional, positive, negative, and factual angles and have friends chip in their constructive comments and if possible, gain some global feedback as well.

To quote Steven Pressfield once more: “We must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause.”

Staring at a screen and seeing what others have done is not the most productive start. The start is different for everyone. Some people need exercise; others prefer a hot shower; or just some alone time in the bathroom. Try taking a walk, lay down on a fresh green patch of grass and stare up at this amazing sky we’re so lucky to see every day here in Alberta. Allow your thoughts to roam free and fantasize about how amazing it would be if…