June 2, 2014Five rules for being a better creative

It’s far easier to destroy than to create. Anyone who’s ever kicked over a sand castle on the beach knows this to be true.

And like the proverbial bully who kicks over the castle that the other boy has spent hours perfecting, when you’re a creative, it can be just as easy to kick apart an idea just as it’s taking shape.

Partly it stems from a sense of creative frustration. It’s easy to take the page you’ve written and tear it in half, or press delete. All creatives are perfectionists. We have a vision of how it should look. And when it doesn’t come out looking right, our instinct is to tear it down and start again.

But of course, this is often counterproductive.

To give you an example, a friend of mine wanted to drive to the South of France for Summer a few years ago. We were both broke, the only car we could lay our hands on was a lemon, our French was sub-GCSE level and neither of us could read a map.

I poked at least a thousand holes in our plan. The main hole being the fact we didn’t have one. So we never went.

Now you and I know we would have both ended up stranded somewhere in rural France with no money, a broken motor, asking a surly French mechanic what time it was and if he had any trifle in his underwear when all we really wanted was for him to fix our fan belt.

But the point is it would have been an adventure. Who knows what fun we could have had?

Because of my negativity, we never went.

We never even tried.

We went nowhere.

And speaking as a creative, I think my biggest mistake in my career has been to shut ideas down too soon because they didn’t come out perfect straight away.

It’s easy to find problems — especially if you go looking for them. It’s easy to take pride in finding problems — especially if you’re good at it. But it’s no good if your goal is to create.

So I’ve started setting myself rules to help me keep my destructive side in check.

They’ve helped me carry more ideas to successful conclusions. If it helps, here they are:

Five rules for being a better creative
1. Save everything

Frustrated at my inability to write, I once torched seven notebooks and half a novel. That was six years ago. These days, I’d love to know what I wrote. It probably wasn’t great, but the point is it was something. You never know when you might want to revisit old work. If you destroy it, you can’t.

Old work may seem bad. But if you can come back to it with a fresh head, a new perspective, and more experience, you might be able to turn them into something good.

2. Never say never

If an idea sounds completely crazy, instead of writing it off, consider it a matter of scale. That idea’s too crazy, OK, but if you were going to do it, how would you begin? You may discover a smaller idea the works just as well, or find it morphs into another idea if you take the crazy out of it.

And of course, sometimes a crazy idea is exactly what’s required. Somewhere in an agency brainstorm somewhere, someone said “let’s send a man into space and have him jump back to Earth. It’s to promote a soft drink”.

Most people would have laughed in his face. But the people around him didn’t laugh, they figured out a way to make it happen. And the rest is history.

Which brings me on to my third point…

3. Be supportive

If it’s easy to pull apart your own ideas, it’s even easier to pull apart someone else’s. As creatives we tend to get a little precious about our own ideas. But other people’s? Well, even if we don’t see them as a threat to our own ideas being advanced, we don’t have the same level of attachment to them.

But imagine if we were all like that all the time… nothing would ever get done. We’d all be kicking over each other’s sandcastles instead of building our own. Instead, we should be helping other people build theirs.

4. Collaborate

Two heads are better than one. Usually. I’m no fan of decision by committee or the dreaded brainstorm. But it never hurts to collaborate with people whose opinions you respect.

The great thing about most creative people is that we’re complete weirdos. We all get to be ‘creative’ because we think in odd ways and it’s rare to find two people who think alike.

When I was younger I used to hate working with other people because I believed it diluted the purity of my ideas, because other people just didn’t ‘get’ what I was trying to achieve.

Now I realise that a different perspective is always welcome. Provided you have the courage of conviction to say “no”.

Which leads me to my final point.

5. Be strong, believe in your ideas

Confidence in your own ideas is probably the most important thing you can have.

For starters, the more you believe in an idea, the less likely you are to kick it apart and give up on it. Instead, you’ll improve on it until it works — because you know it’s right.

And if it’s a good idea, you won’t let anybody else interfere with it. You’ll fight for it.

But being confident is also about knowing which ideas are good and which ones are bad. The more confident you become, the better you’ll be at separating the losers from the winners — and the more ruthless you’ll be when it comes to backing the winners.

These are my five rules for producing better work. What are yours?

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This entry was posted on Monday, June 2nd, 2014 at 12:25 am and is filed under Advertising, Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

One comment

  1. Alex P says:

    My top tip is to get out more/do other things. Creativity doesn’t come from nowhere, it needs feeding. It will be those serendipitous moments when doing other things that your most creative and possibly best ideas will come through. Being holed up day and night in the same space, no matter how hard you try, won’t do you any good.

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