Break the ruler!

I hear people say “break the rules” all the time, when talking about creativity.  I agree breaking the rules is certainly one of the ways to be creative.  You could argue that if you don’t break some rule somewhere, can it really be creative?

I absolutely believe in breaking the rules. As long as you’re willing to break the ruler, that is.

Let me explain by walking you through what happens in a good many of the brainstorming sessions my fellow Before & After creative thinking coaches and I facilitate.  Typically we distill the best, freshest ideas throughout the session, building our short list, as it were.  At the end of the day we revisit this short list, which if we’ve done our job right, is rather long, and we do a final distillation to get to THE short list, THE action list.

The problem that too often happens is that when distilling to this final list, people often forget to break the ruler that measures these rule-breaking ideas.  The effect is that the freshest new ideas frequently get filtered out in the final screening process.  So much for breaking the rules.

Continue reading

What busy people can learn about creativity from bumblebees.

You know my favorite way of being creative?  I call it “bumblebee sex.” It’s an effective, efficient, perfectly natural way to think creatively. Particularly for when you’re crazy busy.  Which is like – what? – 90% of the time?

You’ve seen bumblebees going from flower to flower. They think they’re sampling the buffet of sweet nectars from the garden. The flowers know better. They’re creating.

That’s a great way to work out a creative challenge. Or better yet, a few challenges at once.

Besides being one of the most effective and efficient paths to fresh ideas, and in spite of it’s seeming on-again/off-again appearance, this method is also a pretty fast way to find creative solutions.

Like my little winged friend in the striped jacket who buzzes from rose to daisy, daisy to mum, working on this creative challenge, then that one, then another, then back to one of an earlier one, and so forth… Buzzing around… Picking up pollen here, depositing it there… It’s really quite a dynamic way of bringing creativity to your thinking.

We all already do this to one degree or another.  It’s what we’re doing when we’re not applying direct creative energy to a problem.  The between moments, of which we have many.  But do we do it consciously?  Do we make it a part of our creative process?

This way of thinking doesn’t cost a nickel and it doesn’t take much time. Actually it usually saves tons of time. Plant your creative topic on the back burner of your mind, then go do something else. Your subconscious mind is always working on it even when you’re not aware of it. That’s what accounts for those ideas you get seemingly out of nowhere. You do do this. But, again, do you do it consciously and consistently as part of your creative routine? Why not?

Fresh ideas don’t come from the same place as logically deduced ideas. Thinking through a creative problem directly in real time is rarely the best way to find a truly original solution. But in this ultra busy, get-it-done-now business world, we often have little choice. I suggest you try picking up a little pollen from this challenge and go place it on that.  Do the rounds in your idea garden, and see what blossoms.

© Tom Monahan, Before & After

Tom Monahan is founder of Before & After Inc., a company specializing in training business people to think more creatively and facilitating brainstorming sessions.  B&A works with major marketers and ad agencies worldwide, including Target, Virgin Atlantic, Budweiser and Unilever, among others. Previously Tom was a founder and ECD at Leonard/Monahan, a major incubator for advertising creative talent. Tom has published The Do-it-yourself Lobotomy for John Wiley & Sons, under the Adweek imprint, he was advertising columnist for Communication Arts for over a decade and was written up in The Wall Street Journal’s long-running “creative leaders” series.

 

 

Going with your first idea is rarely a good idea.*

One of the biggest mistakes most people make in creative pursuits is to go with the first good idea they come up with, or worst yet, they go with the first idea, period. This can be a particularly damaging habit when brainstorming. There are several reasons why this is usually not a good thing, not the least of which is the cold hard business reason: losing competitive advantage.

Years ago when I was an advertising creative director and used to look at dozens of advertising portfolios a month I could tell four pages into a book if that person was shooting from the hip or really thinking through a marketing problem and finding fresh solutions.  When you do something for a living you can spot this type of lazy thinking a mile away — ideas that are tired cliches, not surprising nor differentiating concepts

Today as a creative thinking coach serving many industries I continue to see this rush to creativeness.  There have always been three subsets of the population who tend to fall into this trap.  But, more and more, I find this inclination across the board.   Continue reading

Problem child? It’s the problem parent who can really screw up a brainstorming session.

When you lead a group ideation session sometimes it’s good to anticipate the potentially difficult players in advance to head off the problems.

There are many types of problem children who could mess up the process. Here I’m going to talk about a trouble maker who is not necessarily a problem became he or she can’t play well with others.

But more than that, it’s their mere presence that often presents a problem because of where they are on the org chart, not who they are as individuals.

I speak not of the problem children, but the problem parents, if you will. The big cheeses. The bosses. The heavy hitters.

These are the people who, because of their positions, wield all kinds of influence on the brainstorming process, whether they intend to or not. It’s best to handle that potential dysfunction in advance, to head off any possible issues before they happen.

Here’s what I do. Continue reading

Graduates-.002

DON’T GIVE IN TO TEMPTATION!

It’s that time of year. New ad creatives are busy trying to get that first job.  And, yeah, you’re hearing from your professors and placement department about how to get that entry level job.  You’re hearing that the advertising business is tough to break in to. That it’s a buyer’s market.  You have to have a strong plan, a focused strategy to get in.

Well, I’m telling you all of that is true, except it’s not totally a buyer’s market.  And not just if you’re amazingly creative and talented.

Getting your first job is more within your control than you might think.  This difficult-to-crack field is in some ways a seller’s market, too. That is, if you’re smart, patient, and, yes, I’ll admit, it doesn’t hurt if your portfolio displays your supreme creativity and talent.

Or, to put it another way, don’t be seduced by the first job that comes along, or even the first half-decent job.  There are a lot of lousy jobs out there.  That last thing you want to do is take one and start your career off on the wrong trajectory.  Continue reading

Want to be more creative? Invent a musical instrument.

 

Viola_organistaOh, you’re an __(occupation goes here)__, not a musical instrument inventor.  That’s, my point.

Leonardo da Vinci wasn’t a musical instrument inventor either, until he had the idea for this viola organist recently built by Polish pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki.  Leonardo is generally regarded as one of the great minds of any era.  He had diverse creative pursuits.  Best known as a great painter, he was also a sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, inventor and writer.

So, did his success in so many fields come from his keen mind or did is keen mind come from his activity in many fields?  Hmm.

How diverse are your creative pursuits?  I might suggest that if you want to be really good at your job, do something else. People with diverse creative activities bring fresher thinking to their primary party because they go to lots of parties.

I suggest you contemplate your next creative field while listening to Zubrzycki playing da Vinci’s wonderfully melodic viola organist.

© 2013 Tom Monahan

Tom Monahan is Head Creative Thinking Coach at Before & After, a company specializing in training business people to think more creatively and facilitating brainstorming sessions.  B&A works with major marketers and ad agencies worldwide, including Target, Virgin Atlantic, Budweiser and Unilever, among others. Previously Tom was a founder and ECD at Leonard/Monahan, a major incubator for advertising creative talent. Tom has published The Do-it-yourself Lobotomy for John Wiley & Sons, under the Adweek imprint, he was advertising columnist for Communication Arts for over a decade and was written up in The Wall Street Journal’s long-running “creative leaders” series.