Thursday, March 31, 2011

Creativity, in brief(s)

I know, I wrote about my creative process before, but I think it was a bit long. This time, I am writing it in my briefs, so that my "creative process, in brief" can really ring true.

Here it is again:

1) INCEPTION-Define the problem

-Brainstorm the problem
-Simplify the problem
-find your special purpose
-write down initial impressions
-allow inspiration to strike

2)INGESTION-Swallow the problem whole

-study it out
-Stare intensely at the problem
-read a bunch of stuff.
-look at a bunch of stuff
-talk to interesting people
-ABI "Always Be Ingesting"
-allow inspiration to strike
-Brainstorm, reject nothing

3)INCUBATION -Let it simmer

-put it off
-Hey, what's that over there?
-take a nap
-wake up
-allow inspiration to strike
-write it down


4)CULTIVATION -Reject bad ideas, make good ideas better

-get finicky
-be merciless
-be critical
-workshop it
-check materials
-solve problems
-check your spelling
-identify potential excuses, realize that you can't apologize for it later and solve the problem NOW.

5)PRESENTATION-Narrow the gap between what you intend to do and what you actually will do

-trust the process
-don't allow for excuses
-assume success but be willing to modify
-do it right the first time.
-allow it to be the jumping off point for the next thing.

I think if you see these key stages to the creative process when you work with people you can identify where you are in the process, and what kind of feedback and input is important. The harsh criticism of the CULTIVATION stage is essential, but unwelcome during the INGESTION phase. The point isn't the rigidity. It's that it gives you a common language to deal with creative issues. To work in a corporate structure and still have the assets you need to do your best creative work.

Additionally you can be working on a project, get all the way to the end and say, "We need to rework this, but we only need to take it back to CULTIVATION not INCEPTION", though sometimes the only way for a Phoenix to be reborn is to burn it down to the ashes.

I realized that my post on the creative process was hastily thrown together and a lot to bite off. It needs some "cultivation" if you will (even if you won't). If anyone has a creative problem that they would like to apply this process to, I'd love to hear how it turns out.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Ad Madness" or "Why I learned that everything that is wrong with MARKETING by watching cheerleaders during March Madness.

I work AROUND advertising, but not IN it. It's something I think about a lot and here are some thoughts I've had recently.
If you've never been to a March Madness game, it's a different sort of beast. In the early rounds there are a few fans from each team, then a lot of interested locals there to watch some "sports history". Also, there are a lot more timeouts (for commercial breaks and score updates).

During the long breaks, each teams cheerleaders take the floor for about 3 minutes. They hoot and jump up and down and do lifts and backflips, and no one listens. No one, except the other cheerleaders. After watching a few sessions it was more and more clear that the only one watching the cheerleaders were the other cheerleaders, and that is mostly who they were trying to impress, what with the backflips, back-handsprings and human towers. (you know "cheersport")

Now, I am no historian, but I can imagine how the first cheerleaders got their start. The fans were watching sports and there was a lot of yelling going on, some in support of the team, some against the other team, and a few things about the ref's mother. Someone at the school had a bright idea. What if we could get everyone to yell in unison for our school (0ur brand)? Let's give them giant card-board cones and call them "megaphones! That probably worked for a while, and when people started ignoring the cheerleaders again and watching the game, they added cute girls, then made them do flips.

Fast forward back to the game. As soon as the time out was over, the cheerleaders would sit down, pompoms in laps, and that guy would start yelling. You know that guy. The one with his face painted and the viking hat. He was the guy who understood the game well enough to get everyone on there feet to make some noise on defense. He harassed the ref appropriately and said hilarious an inappropriate things that the school couldn't put on banners. And I realized that this arena was the perfect microcosm of what is happening in Marketing/advertising/social media.

Your product is the team on the court.
The Cheerleaders is your advertising
that Guy is your key consumer (the superfan or maven)
the arena is full of disinterested consumers.

Advertisers are doing backflips and building human towers, Sure they are shouting your message at the crowd, but the crowd just wants the product. You can yell at them all you want, but if the product isn't good they will walk out and get nachos. You can give the superfan a bigger megaphone, and make him part of the cheer squad, but then you have just neutered your strongest voice.

So what's a company to do?

I think the answer is both simple and complex. Complex because I don't think it is obvious. Simple because it relies on a brand doing what it is already doing but doing it better, and getting out of the way of the consumer.

So here is my solution in a nutshell. Focus on your game, whatever it is, make it the best, most unique one in town. Hear to your fans, you don't let them coach you don't obey them, but you listen to them and find out what they love about your brand. That guy, put him behind the hoop on the other end of the court; let him be. Take care of the alumni but give, the new fans, give them the best experience, let them learn from that guy what the game is all about. Give them a great experience and a voice to share it with. (at Professional Wrestling matches they will often have free poster board and markers, we can learn something from Hulk Hogan).

Okay, you can keep the cheerleaders, but mostly get them out of the way of the game. Choose cheerleaders that are fans or at the very least make sure that they understand the game well enough to shout "D-FENCE" when the other team has the ball.

What does all that mean? well I am not going to tell you everything.

at least not yet.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Inspiration in 5 easy (grueling) steps

So I have noticed that this "Creativity" thing can be a wily beast. One writer described writing as "the process where you stare at a blank screen until your eyes bleed". Creating something form nothing can be hard and tedious, but it should be fun, and I think it is incredibly fulfilling. Coming up with a system has helped me tame the wild beast (at least a little). This process can be done in a few hours or over a few months. You may use it for a BIG challenge then use it in a small way for all the little challenges in between. You can even do it in the course of one meeting, as long as you break up the steps and know when it is time to move from one to the next.

To be productive creativity needs DIRECTION, but to be successful it needs INSPIRATION. notice that INSPIRATION is not a step, it will come at any time and anyplace, usually between steps 2 and 4. It is necessary but It really needs both sides of your brain, it needs different types of thinkers. I'd like to tell you that I have developed a system that works, but I have kind of worked backwards from successful creative endeavors to find that they all have some level of each of these steps. I think that inspiration can strike at anyone one of these steps, so keep a notebook with you, there is nothing more precious than a genius idea lost in time (well except gold, or babies, or golden babies). I find that I use this process when I write, when I direct, when I edit, when I do math (seriously) when I build campaigns and help companies rebrand, and even when I teach Sunday School (yup)

My steps for creativity:


1) INCEPTION: See how I used a popular movie title to get you interested. Really I just wanted a fancy word for "GET STARTED" but this is also really important to clearly decide on what your end goal is. If your goal is "write a commercial" you might get a really funny commercial out of it, but if you later realize that your goal is to "get consumers to go into a store a buy a product" you may have missed the boat. Write this goal down somewhere, let it simmer, and maybe even try to purify it a little bit. There is a difference between "inform someone about what a product can do" and "inspire someone to understand why they need a product". I think all types of creativity rely on truth to gain power, and if you are true in your goal, and truthful in your storytelling and art making it will have more power. I think that telling someone to buy something that they don't need is sleazy, helping someone buy something that could make their life better can be rewarding. If you jump to brainstorming without defining your goal you can head down some paths that you will fall in love with, but that won't get you anywhere. (write those ideas down anyway). Always write down first impressions I have this process, but sometimes my first impression is still make it through to the end is some form, the process makes them better and builds on them.

2)INGESTION "Matter can neither be created nor destroyed". Fortunately for me, both my scientific leanings and religious beliefs teach this same thing. To create something you need stuff. Creative stuff, memories, influences, beauty art, ideas. Think of a monster eating everything in it's path. During the INGESTION phase, I study the problem and try to read related things, unrelated things, look up stuff on the internet, wander around, doodle a lot, listen to music. You can only do this so long, but this is where you need to get the basic building blocks of your creativity. If I am teaching Sunday School, this is where I try to read everything I can about the subject, scripture, talks, even Wikipedia (wikipedia is GREAT for ingestion, but also a bit of a rabbit hole), this is a good time for some PRE brainstorming. People talk about brainstorming, and I think by itself, it's mostly useless. But as part of something else it is VERY helpful. During ingestion come up with ideas, build on other ones, give your first impressions.but don't throw something out. You can move on, but this has got to be a positive experience. Swallow as much as you can, because you don't know what is going to end up fitting together later. This is a good time for writing stuff down on napkins and post its because it's not precious but it is valuable.

Another thing. during this process, whether it is a group brainstorm or your private hunt. Don't worry about ideas that don't work or that you hate. Focus on things you love. If you throw out everything that you hate, you will come up with something that everybody doesn't hate, but that doesn't mean it will be something that anybody loves. Eliminate this phrase "Well the problem with that is..." This is not the time to ask questionsWe are creative, we solve problems. If it's worth loving then we can solve the problem later (we will get to that during "Cultivation"). It is worth mentioning that you can push ideas, but when pushing an idea, don't think you are making the idea "better" you are offering another option, keep the original too.

You know that moment after you are done laughing and you sigh, and you know that the last part of the joke has left your system? (but you wish you were still laughing). It's important to note that you can't revisit that laugh, that it is time to move on. Brainstorming and Ingestion is work, but it can be fun once you get going, but learn to recognize when it's time to move on.

3) Incubation Incubation is the lazy part of Creativity. I usually say "Let's let this simmer for a bit" but it is SO important. This is usually where inspiration strikes, where you come of with at few "workable ideas" and maybe a few actually "good" ideas. I think it was T. H. White who suggested that writing is like hunting, and you spend days waiting for the right words to come along. Creativity needs some space to wander, don't expect a solution to come out of a brainstorm, expect some GOOD ideas to come out of a brainstorm, but the solutions will expand on those ideas.

Some of my best ideas come from that moment between waking and sleeping, many come in the shower. Even if I am giving a 5 minute speech I make sure to take a nap between studying it and writing it. This is where sleep is important for me. I have a good nap couch in my office. I don't care if my co workers think I am being lazy, I know what my creativity needs, and it doesn't need to make them think I am working. I heard that Napoleon took short naps before battle. I spoke with a former executive who is working late into his retirement who told me he takes a 30 minute nap every day. His secretary calls him at one. I delicately asked him if it was because he was older now, and he said, I wished I would have discovered it earlier in his career. I spend my afternoons fighting distraction and ineffectiveness. Naps give you TWO sleeping/waking periods each day. (and those are the MOST important periods of each day)

I also believe in the power of procrastination. Nothing like the stress of a deadline to bring your mind into a lazerlike focus. and that means you need to give yourself a timeline to incubate to let the nascent ideas simmer. INCEPT and INGEST early so you will have time to wander for in those walks will inspiration most often strike. If you put off the incpetion or ingestion phase too long you won't have the time to wander, and worse you will come up with a great idea and not have time to make it right. which lead me to the next step.

4) CULTIVATION By now you should have something to work with a bunch of ideas that you like or love. Now is where you get pragmatic. This is where you invite that naysayer from the brainstorm session in who starts saying "the problem with that..." so you can start finding solution. This is where you make your good idea great. This is where you take your shrub of an idea and make it into a topiary elephant. There are steps to this as well, but I will keep it relatively brief.

To cultivate a garden you need to weed it. This is the stage where you can discard ideas that are great, but just don't work. In fact you need to throw out beautiful ideas so the other ideas can grow here. Go back to your INCEPTION your big purpose. Now take your musing and see how well they point back to that. Can they be modified to make them work better? This is where you work the ideas out, you solve problems, ask questions. You have to trim the fat.

What is the fat? It is the stuff that gets in the way of the idea WORKING. It might be the baggage that makes the idea look the SAME as other people stuff. You have to ask, how can we make it different. One of my brothers (who is one of the most creative guys I know) says that he always takes his idea and says "Okay, now how can I take this idea and make it one step away from normal, how can I take it one step away from what you expect". He takes a good idea and makes it into a new idea, makes the idea do more than one thing. This is important.

I think there is also an important part of this that I will call DISTILATION. You don't just cut away stuff, you get to the core of it, it's essence. the thing that makes the idea good and you make sure there is lots of it and it is concentrated. This is where you polish the idea, you make it more than an idea, you make it work. When you are done here, you don't just have an idea or ideas. You have something or somethings to show. This is where practice is applicable. This is where you make minor adjustments, but don't change anything major.

5) Presentation Whether you are speaking to a group, pitching a client, making a commercial, or just writing a story. You must present it to an audience. In art there is always a gap between what you intended to do, and what you did. This is where you work hard to narrow that gap. Focus on your original goal and the distilled idea when you present the something. Believe it in, know that it works, and make it effortless. When you present have confidence because your audience has no idea how much blood sweat and tears when into your end product and they should be. If you want to wow someone with a backflip you pretend like it is no big thing

So how about you? Do you do something similar? Do you have a system? Do you think I am missing anything? Let me know. I am always looking for ways to cultivate my existing system.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Be "Creative"

"Being Creative" sounds like a lot of fun. When your work requires you to be creative it can tend to dampen the enthusiasm for it a bit. Yet I count myself lucky that I can use creative skills in a number of different ways throughout my work day.

First off, let's talk about what it means to be "creative". It means a lot of different things to different people. For me, there are three essential part to creativity. The first is simple CREATION, the making of stuff, things, videos, music, objects. It can be a paper airplane a Cathedral or a Sonnet. The Second part is making something DIFFERENT (or novel), people are often described as being "creative" because they have a different way of looking at things. Just because something is DIFFERENT doesn't mean it's is GOOD (or useful) which leads to the last point. Being creative for work means that the new thing or idea must also be USEFUL. Now not all creativity has to be useful, personally I believe that any creative act is inherently useful (although maybe not purposeful).

But at the same time, I have found that you can't force creativity. Well at least not by itself you need this sacred beast called "inspiration". Ancients waited for muses to deliver it, the word itself relates to being breathed on by the gods. Well technically breathed IN by the gods (that first breath that gave us life) . But you see how if you let "inspiration" run your life, you can digress and digress down a rabbit hole and really be satisfied with yourself and not get anything done.

If you wait around for inspiration you will get it, eventually, but it probably won't relate to anything useful. You might come up with a brilliant idea for a churro, or a blog about shoes, but that sort of inspiration is a fickle beast, capricious in both it's timing and it's intentions. So while I think my best ideas have come from "inspiration" I have learned that I need to discipline that process a little bit. Sure you need to wander and meander and "be inspired" but I have kind of come up with and informal 5 step process that works as midwife for inspiration (move over Socrates). Most of the stuff you see here is wanderings and musings, but not really purposeful creativity, problem solving, message-carrying, lesson-teaching, story-telling creativity. Whenever I have a creative problem to tackle I find that when I am successful I have used some form of this process to come up with a (brilliant) solution. Rather than tease you further here it is:

1. Inception

Genius and inspiration can strike anywhere, but lightning is more likely to strike a tall metal object. For me this process is about stretching that rod higher and higher.

What process do you use?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Down To Business

It's been a while since I shared some of my GREAT IDEAS, and Since I don't have time to actually start a new business I thought I would share some of my business ideas with you, you are welcome to use these ideas for yourself and get fabulously wealthy. My only request is that you share some of your humble millions with me.

1. Literary-O's
since I often spend my evening with "Honey Bunches of Dinner" I realized that the literary merit of cereal boxes is somewhat lacking. With Literary-O's you would get a healthful breakfast(dinner) cereal, but on the back there would be short stories by innovative up-and-coming writers. Here is the beauty part, the stories would be "Cerealized" so you would have to buy a box a month to get the whole story. Also, it's available in chocolate and walnut-crunch.

2. Air Dunk 'ems
Since Michael Jordan died there is a huge market for Michael Jordan memorabilia. There are even a couple of b-ball players pretending to be the next Air to the Jordan name. But no one has really taken advantage of how much he loved churros. So I would make a handy pack of 6 churros and a little thing of chocolate that you "dunk" them in. The little thing of chocolate would also have a drawing of a b-ball net on it so you could pretend like YOU are the Air of Jordan. It the thing of chocolate could come in other flavors too, like caramel and walnut-crunch.

3.Circle of Friends
This would basically be like Facebook, but awesomer. So instead of having this huge clump of people you know called "friends", you could sort them by how close they are to you. Imagine a group of concentric circles. On the outside is "dude you just met", then there is "acquaintance", you could work your way all the way down to "comrade", "Friend", "Framily" and then "family". When you added someone you could let them now what circle they are in. You also click on the circle every time you post something so not all of your posts/pictures/statuses are shared to everyone. But here is the beauty part. The "family" is both the inner circle and the outer circle, and they won't know which one they are in. Also, it's available in walnut-crunch.