How To Be Creative On Demand
When people hear that I’m the Creative Director of an advertising agency, their reactions are either, “So you’re like Don Draper from Mad Men?” or “Wow, I can’t even draw a stick figure. I wish I was creative.”
First of all, yes. I’m exactly like Don Draper in every conceivable way, minus the misogyny, chain-smoking, and day-drinking.
To the second point, I generally tell people that whether they know it or not, they are creative. You may not be able to draw a portrait or even a recognizable stick figure, but everyone has the ability to think creatively and bring amazing, fresh ideas to the table at a moment’s notice. Even you.
Creativity is not (necessarily) a natural gift. It’s a skill that can be learned, practiced, and developed, just like juggling, cooking, and dancing. And just like most things in life, the more you work those muscles, the more your strength in that area will grow.
Here are some things you can do every day to stay sharp and enhance your creative abilities:
- Doodle Something – Besides being a fun word to say, doodling is possibly the most effective tool in your kit. You may have been told as a child to stop doodling and pay attention but, in truth, doodling is an effective way to stay focused during those times your mind tends to wander. Presidential doodles found on notepads date back to the founding fathers. Steve Jobs was a prolific doodler, as was Henry Ford, Samuel Beckett, and Leonardo da Vinci. It has a profound effect on a person’s ability to process and evaluate information and helps relieve stress often associated with the pressure of being creative.
- Take a Class – Since creativity is a skill that can be learned and fostered, why not take a painting, cooking, or pottery class? Creative classes can be a great way to escape the everyday stresses of your day job and try something new and fun. It can also be a great way to supercharge your creative side.
- Exercise – When you feel pressure to be creative, there’s a tendency to try too hard and you end up stressing yourself out and wallowing in self-doubt. Before the stress takes over, get up, go outside, and take a walk. Physical activity can have a positive effect on creative thinking and just being in a different location for a while can trigger some new ideas.
- Don’t Self-Edit – Kids tell the best, most outlandish stories and draw some of the craziest stuff imaginable. We often give them a lot of credit for their unique creativity, but how are they always able to come up with such fun, creative ideas? Because they haven’t learned to second-guess themselves yet. They’re not embarrassed or afraid to fail. They just put it all out there and relish the praise they receive. Long story short, do more of that as much as you possible can. Don’t edit. Just write.
- Don’t stop thinking, even when you think you have the answer – When I started my career, my first creative director assigned me to write taglines for a client. I quickly came up with five to 10 different taglines I was sure were absolute gold. My CD took a look at my very short list and said, “Don’t show me anything until the page is full.” When the page was full, she circled a few that were okay, then told me to fill another page. It was a struggle, but I did it. She circled a few more and told me to do it again. I thought I was spent, but on that third page I was thinking way outside the box and eventually came up with something truly original. Creativity doesn’t just happen. Keep going. You’ll get it.
No matter what you do, practice makes perfect. John Cena was an average, skinny kid. Steven Spielberg’s first films weren’t great. It took 39 earlier attempts to invent WD-40. The point is, whether you mow lawns for a living, crunch numbers all day, or want to be the next David Ogilvy, you already have the potential be as creative as anyone. It just takes some practice.