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Where do good creative ideas come from? How can I churn out hot-shit creative when I work in a place that feels like a factory? How? How? How? Ease up...the problems and the answers are all in your head.
Each and every one of us is different. We all have our own styles, methods and means to dig down and make greatness. Some of us are procrastinators, some of us just seem to be able to blurt out the 8th wonder of the world in seconds. Doesn't matter...what does is getting the job done well and on time. And while very few of us will ever be in the same league as the legendary Lee Hunt, there are a few things we can all do to reach the light at the end of the tunnel.
I'm a big believer in 'triggers'. Triggers are the little things you do (and we all do them even though we don't realize it) that let your subconcious know you are trying to get those creative juices flowing. It was pointed out to me that when I'm buzzing, I've got my legs moving, I'm snapping my fingers to myself, I'm standing up and pacing and I'm blurting out everything that's in my head in a stream of conciousness flow. Although I look and sound like a madman when I'm doing it, that's my own subconcious trigger device, my body's just helping me get my brain in gear. It probably won't work for you, but it helps me...I'm one of those lateral thinking types that just keeps coming at problems from different angles and I guess my madman routine is like trying to move around a pick on a basketball court. Anyway...although it's not as embarrassing as scratching my private parts, its my trigger.
A Creative Director friend at an agency's trigger is the bathroom. He is the worst procrastinator I know, but in the end he always pulls it off...somehow. He seems to let things just move around in his head...and then when it's almost too late, he literally goes to the toilet. He takes a pen and paper...and there he sits and won't come out until he's got what he needs. I'm not kidding. At first he was embarrassed by it, but then he realized that it just worked for him. It's not any Freudian thing about shitting out an idea...its an environment that he can't be bothered in. It's quiet (mostly), there's no phones, no distractions and his subconcious knows he's serious about being creative. He focuses clearly on the problem and he creates a solution.
Someone else I know has a thing he calls 'personal time'. During his working hours, he just takes off. Gets in his car and drives around while he's supposed to be toiling at his desk. Like a kid playing hookey from school. He's not skipping out of work, he's actually doing his best work right there in the car. He has a routine where he goes and gets some donuts, has a couple...and pop goes his trigger. When he's got an idea, he grabs a box of the sugar tops and brings them back for his friends at the office. Again, it's a trigger that allows him to focus when he's alone.
Others I know, need to feed off other people to get their own brains in gear. Its not that they can't do it alone...they just need to verbalize, they need to say it out loud to an audience and get the response they're looking for. Its not that they're performers, they just work better with the pressure of acting like one. Brain storms are a wonderful thing, and guys like these really make those sessions worthwhile. The way they act, the way they pump out their best stuff in those situations rubs off on everyone else, everyone feeds off that energy and (in the right circumstances) it can become a creative feeding frenzy. Marvelous stuff can happen. If you don't have brain stroming sessions at your place, get them going. If its not that kind of place, then start small and pick someone you can be comfortable with to bounce things off...it is never a waste of time. It is a great way to get the juices flowing. Do it outside of the office over a coffee or a beer and see what happens.
There's a great gentleman by the name of Jim Stokoe who gives creative seminars all over the world called 'Psycho Candy'. His sessions cover a huge gambit on creative thought, looking at creative problems from all angles and snapping creative solutions out of the back of your brain. You always come out pumped and confident. The kick is that when the session is over, you realize that you have just been in the greatest brain storming session of your life. Jim is a master of getting everyone in the audience involved in solving even the most ludicrous problems. Somehow he manages to find a mass trigger for everyone in attendence...and even the more shy of us can't wait to blurt out our thoughts. It is fantastic. If he's speaking in your part of the planet, go and see him...you will not regret it.
Another creative trigger can actually be the problem itself. MTV's Robert Tercek used to be famous for taking a negative and making it the positive. A kind of deconstructive creativity. 'We've got a great interview, but the sound is shit...how do we use that to our advantage? Make a spot with no audio, dub it into Spanish, use Japanese subtitles, turn it into a plea for the hearing impared'...this stuff used to flow out of him. He never saw a problem as the problem, he always saw it as the answer. If you looked at it the right way, the solution was always staring you right in the face.
There's lots of other triggers I know of...but as we're all individuals,  you'll have to find your own and use it to your own best advantage. But I do like the idea of 'personal time'...time by yourself away from all the distractions. Time when you can give yourself a treat like a donut or a movie...and do it regularly. I can't see how that could hurt anyone's productivity.
Next up, is your environment. The place you've got set up where you actually do your work. I've got my office set-up in a way that I like. Even though others find it a bit too homey, I feel comfortable in it, I churn out good work in it, I like it. It's my creative environment. And I encourage it in those that I work with. Be as comfortable as you can. I saw a photo once of the creative bullpen at PIXAR. Every desk and cubical looked like it belonged to a 14 year old...toys, drawings, basketball hoops...a really fun looking place. And obviously that translates well to the work they do, and who they do it for. Fun place=Fun work. Simple formula. If, however, you're working for Felix Unger...then I don't know what to tell you.
Environments aren't just stuff laying around on your desk. What they sound like, what they smell like can be just as important as what they look like. Music is a huge influence on me. If I can, I play my kind of music as loud as I want, when I want, where I want. Music helps me bigtime. If you can't play a stereo, use a walkman. Get your favorite tunes onto a tape and play it while your working. It is only a distraction in the sense that it blocks out all the negatives...everything from the noisey photocopier to those dark thoughts about the boss.
Maybe its something else. Maybe you need to get a lamp on your desk and turn off those flouresent tubes throbbing away above your head. Maybe a plant, or some flowers or a little plastic Tellitubby that can have an imaginary fight with a little plastic Jesus. Whatever works for you works for you. Remember, we're just creating a place for your brian to work the way you want it to.
The last bit of my dime store psychology is some advice I was given by someone I respect very highly. Even though you may be able to do it, never give people the idea that your creativity can be switched on and off like a light bulb. If the sales guys have a problem, if your manager needs you to come up with something seemingly right that second...even then, make them wait a little bit. Tell them you'll get back to them in a day or two. I'm serious...make them wait. This isn't an ego booster for you, it's a brain saver. There's 2 reasons. First, they will end up taking you for granted and assume you can do it all the time (and then actually try and get you to do it all the time) and the second is burn-out. Your brain is a thinking muscle and it needs it's rest time . Hell, even Stephen King takes time off between books. I know it's your job, but it's television for God's sake and nobody really dies. Don't kill yourself over it. Remember, no on and off switch.
If you've ever attended a Promax conference, chances are you heard that phrase become a mantra. Just shows you're not alone. For a lot of people, that phrase was about their bosses. For everyone else, it had to do with the office politics. You can't get away from it, everyone from the management on down to the tea lady thinks they're a creative director and they'll all have an opinion. And some of the evil ones will have the power to make you do as they want. It's up to you how you deal with it. But if you let this kind of thing get under your skin, you'll either end up with ulcers or we'll be reading about you in the paper after you go postal.
Sometimes the box that constrains you helps generate the ideas within. If you're working with a specialty channel, chances are you have a branding guide, a channel bible, an audience manifesto, et all. While rules were made to be broken, you need the rules before you can break them. If your channel doesn't have these guides...then write one for them. Seriously. If anything, use it as your own guide of what you believe your channel to be. Use it as a measuring stick with your fellow producers, your boss, your sales and marketing teams. Don't let it become a political struggle to get one done (more on that below)...do it from your viewpoint and then present it if you want...or just keep it around for your own use. For samples of these, any website of a decent specialty channel will have their guidelines spelled out in black and white. Look at a few, adapt what you can, reject what isn't right, add in your own local spin, culture, audience needs and there you have it. And once you have it, use it.
I know it's easier to say than do, but ignore it. And if it turns into inner-office politics, stay out of the circle of death. Don't get involved in politics but stand up for what you believe in. If you know you're right, stand up for yourself and back it up...but don't quit, don't kill. You've had your say, and that's that. Let people know that you're dedicated, that you know what you're doing, that you know what you're talking about...and keep it at that. Eventually it's going to come around that you were right, that the person that's causing you this anxiety wasn't and then changes will happen. But all that takes time. While you're waiting for that glorious day, keep doing the best you can do under the circumstances. You're in fine company 'cause everyone else goes through the same thing.
I have a friend working for a movie channel who had to do some spots for 'Lake Placid'...the crocodile-Jaws film. Like Jaws, the actual creature isn't shown until the end of the film...one reason probably is because it doesn't look very good. The film is actually pretty good in building up the tension...you're much more afraid of what you don't see, (I don't think they even showed the monster in the trailers that came out for cinema release). Anyway, this guy did these great spots where you never saw the monster...you knew something was there...you knew it was nasty...you knew there was something under the calm surface of that lake. There was no voice over...the modd told the story and told it better than any script could. Everything worked together really well...the audio, the movie title floating just beneath the water...I loved it. The spots were chilly...they made me want to watch the film. His new boss saw them and freaked. 'Where's the crocodile? Show the crocodile! In Every Shot!'. He calmly explained that he thought the audience interest would be more peaked without it, that he had tested the spots on others (including me) to positive feedback and that showing the croc would defeat the purpose as it was kind of lame looking and not actually very scary. The manager was not interested in his opinion. I only know this because I saw the spots on air...and I've got to say they made no impression on me at all. They weren't even close to getting me interested in watching the film. Don't get me wrong, the new spots were still very well made but they just didn't have that thing that makes you sit up and say 'shit, I'm watching that'. Anyway...he's still at that channel, he's still got the same boss, he's still making great spots...hey, wait a minute...shouldn't there be a moral here?
There will be...stay tuned. As soon as something happens with the guy I'll put it in.
Just don't get involved in politics. Once you've been around long enough, you'll learn that the sharks eventually eat their own. Until then, do the best you can.


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