We’ve often heard entry-level or junior staffers in the PR or communications field ask: “Where did you get the idea for that program? I could never be that creative.”
Creativity is a by-product of hard work, as long-time columnist-commentator-curmudgeon Andy Rooney once said. He suggested that the best creative ideas are the result of the same slow, selective cognitive process that produces the sum of a column of figures.
So, perhaps, if you can add, you can be creative?
One way to describe creativity is the bringing together of two ideas that have never been connected in that way before. It’s doesn’t look so daunting under that definition. Even people who don’t think they are creative can do this, right?
The real key to success here, then, is to expose oneself to more ideas. The more ideas you expose yourself to, the more ideas you’ll be able to file away in your cranial database … and the more potential you’ll have to be able to marry two ideas in a new, useful way.
But just how do you do that? Here are my recommendations:
First, be a voracious consumer of news and information – from all kinds of media. Instead of reading the same newspaper every day, read different papers from different areas that offer different viewpoints. While driving in to the office, forego your cell phone, iPod or CD, and listen to a radio station you’ve never listened to before. Likewise, watch different TV channels, read different kinds of publications, and read books of all kinds – from staples like Shakespeare and The Bible to the latest non-fiction and novels. See different kinds of movies. Even take a different route to work when possible. Be curious, receptive and adventurous to seek out new places, new interests and new views.
Second, as the Japanese say, genchi genbutsu – go and see. Get out of the office and visit your client or customer, tour their plant or service center, talk with their customers, attend a trade show or a conference, and visit the editorial offices of a trade publication you deal with.
Third, ask a lot of questions. People in the PR and marcom business tend to spend too much time selling themselves and their companies, products and services, and not enough time listening. Seek to know and understand the trends and issues affecting your client and their customers/clients … and what’s important to them. You’ll gain a lot of knowledge and insight from their answers. That insight leads to ideas that lead to creativity. Bonus: The more questions you ask and the more you let others talk, the more people will comment about what a brilliant conversationalist you are!
Fourth, force yourself to be creative. You’re not going to be struck by a lightning bolt of creativity, so sitting around waiting for the strike isn’t going to be productive. You have to sit down and damn well decide to have an idea! You have to work at it.
Five, start crazy and then bring it back to Earth. When brainstorming, it’s good to start the session with an outrageous idea. For example, years ago, when brainstorming for client DuPont Automotive Products, a colleague suggested that the client host a “World Wrestling Federation Grudge Match under the Bexloy® Dome of Death,” an event idea that the client would never buy. But that outlandish idea helped to prime the pump, and ultimately sparked another idea that the client DID buy.
Plus, being a little outlandish – at least in the confines of your own cubicle or conference room – can be liberating and fun … and you will always do better work when you’re having fun.
I’ve always been tempted to present a self-proclaimed uncreative staff person with a magician’s top hat and ask them to put the hat on. Then I would be able to say: “Now, you’re creative. You’ve got the magic in that hat … but only because your head is in the hat … and the magic is all in your head.”
You CAN be creative. But first, you’ve got to convince yourself that you can.