Creativity Agency

Brave creatives should run and hide from their ideas

By Richard Jones | CTO



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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June 21, 2022 | 6 min read

Generating and refining ideas is advertising's bread and butter. But for The Drum's Creativity in Focus Deep Dive, Richard Jones, executive creative director EMEA at Wasserman, tells us that chasing the muse is a losing game. In the battle for ideas, the smart move is usually to take a long step back.

Brands constantly demand ideas. Of course they should. But, in an on-demand world, can ideas be on-demand?

This expectation shows that the greatest challenge to creativity today is time. Our love of immediacy has sped up the expectation on creatives to have ideas immediately.

Wasserman considers the practice of generating ideas and suggests a new formula.

Wasserman considers the practice of generating ideas and suggests a new formula.

A game of ideas

I often hate trying to have ideas. I doubt I’m alone. Just sitting there staring at a blinking cursor or a blank page as the clock ticks? Ugh.

I like to play hide and seek with ideas. Pretend I’m not interested. Ignore any thoughts I may have – which is counter to everything I was ever told.

The received wisdom used to be to keep a notebook with you at all times; write down everything that comes into your head. I hate doing that. I find thinking easier when I’m almost distracted by the world. Maybe that's why it felt easier when I was younger. Or maybe constant ideas would have been more natural in a different era, like Paris in the Jazz Age with new experiences in every bar. Haight-Ashbury and LSD. London in the eighties. So many new experiences that could be tamed into ideas.

In the meantime, I’ve tried pink noise, to see if that speeds things up or makes them more interesting. Oblique strategies. Sleeping under the desk. Reading two or three books at once. Listening to podcasts about really obscure stuff. This all made for good dinner conversation, but little else.

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No agency worth its salt is using algorithms to create ideas yet (well, maybe in a new circle of advertising hell, some are). And we all still favor the unexpected brilliance of people. So we all need to create time to do something brilliantly unexpected.

To conquer this challenge, I urge you: embrace a counterintuitive active departure from ideas, to ultimately embolden effective creativity in our cluttered, content-obsessed world.

Buy time. Run.

Here are a few behaviors that help you run, so you can eventually run back. These behaviors all create something, in their own way – just not ideas. Yet.

1. Create your own white rabbit

Don’t wait at the hole for the rabbit to appear. That's how Neil Young talked about his muse and songwriting. It’s why having an open tab or a pad and pen constantly ready scares the ideas away. Let your mind work unencumbered. Take it for a walk. Give it something else to process while it thinks about the problem.

2. Create a world to hide in

Meander and improvise your way to an idea; sometimes just noodling around without any real focus enables bold and unusual connections to find each other.

Everyone in the last two years decided to learn something new; I’m now on my third 'home school' session, fulfilling a teenage fantasy to be a guitar god. It’s hard, frustrating and boring, doing things step-by-step as the rules say. When I just let my mind and fumbling fingers wander I feel more connected and come away motivated to focus on the lessons again.

As an emotional warm-up, play with concepts that are not directly linked to the problem you are trying to solve.

3. Create beautiful friction

You should never build a team or creative department in your own image. You need diversity of background, interests, culture, gender… you name it. Difference makes things interesting, unexpected, and helps everyone grow.

The same goes for ideas. So we know who the intended audience is, what the CEO likes, and we have all the data points around previous success. And?

Once we finally get round to sharing initial thoughts, never aim for consensus by democratic vote or data point detail. That is how bland is built. How boring triumphs. How you create inoffensive, generic, ignorable work.

Like all good relationships, the process of defining an idea needs friction. You hate something; I love it. We spend hours talking about it. Debating its merits. Exploring it.

Then the real idea may finally show its nervous but brilliant face to us all.

It's not about shaping ideas non-stop, but applying your energy to creating circumstances that allow for ideas to form.

Replenish the well; set expectations around how the best ideas flow. It's only when you retreat that you can replenish. So don't be afraid to innovate and move away from that screen to create the space for a nap, or an obscure documentary, or a new hobby. It's essential to tomorrow's meeting.

Creativity Agency

Content by The Drum Network member:

Wasserman is a global sports, entertainment, and lifestyle marketing agency with expertise in creating connections between brands, properties, talent, and consumers.

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