The Creative Toolkit

December 29, 2015

Here’s my attempt to answer the age old question, ‘Where do all the ideas come from?’

For many of us, finding creativity isn’t about waiting for random moments inspiration or moody flashes of genius. Rather, it’s about having a well prepared ‘creative tool kit’ at one’s disposal.

To use the tool kit effectively, a very brief explanation of the three fundamental levels of the human mind maybe helpful:

1. The conscious – The bridge of the ship. Communicates your inner thoughts direct with the outside world. It directs your focus and enables you to visualise new concepts in your mind’s eye using your imagination
2. The sub-conscious – The engine room. Mainly concerned with the short-term memory (similar to RAM on a computer) and keeping you aware of your surroundings
3. The unconscious – The storeroom. Where the core essence of our personality and creative ‘inner child’ resides (So no, it doesn’t mean you’ve been knocked out!)

The toolkit outlined below will help to connect the conscious mind directly to the other deeper part your mind (you ‘normally’ don’t have access to) the unconscious mind and your very important ‘inner child.’ Connecting the conscious to unconscious mind is when the creative sparks start to fly (usually:-)

I should say, the concept of the ‘inner child’ is a complex subject best left to expert psychologists to explain rather an ‘art boy’ like me. But for our purpose the ‘inner child’ is part of unconscious mind that:

• Creates freely without fear of judgment
• Speaks the truth
• Has fun!

The Toolkit

1. Be armed with good information.
Gain a detailed understanding the brief in hand. If the brief is thin, ask lots of questions until you get the insight required. On a big scale be well informed about the world around you. Over the years, the best creative people I’ve worked with have minds like a cross between a mini Wikipedia and an old curiosity shop, full of interesting facts, information and stories they can draw on for inspiration. Collect ideas, facts and information like some people collect stamps, and don’t be shy about using them.

2. Have fun.
“The most creative people have this childlike facility to play”.
John Cleese

This is especially true in brainstorming sessions. Be playful. Be irreverent. Be a bit ‘punk rock’. At a glance, the brainstorm can look like everyone is just messing about, not taking the work ‘seriously’. Occasionally, this can be difficult for some stakeholders (even including junior creatives) to understand what’s going on here. But laughter is an important way to break down the barriers between the conscious and unconscious mind. Give your inner child the brief with a smile.

3. Understand the balance between insight and inspiration.
A well-written RFP or thought-out strategic information is crucial to building a solid foundation for most creative executions. However, a blizzard of (sometimes conflicting) information can fog your creativity. Don’t forget to draw on your own experience and talent to make an informed creative judgment.

4. Find inspiration.
Sitting at your desk waiting for a bolt from the blue is usually a waste of time. Actively fill your head with salient information from the brief and start scamping, doodling, writing and researching. Keep active and make it happen.

5. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel.
“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different”.
T.S. Eliot

Often being creative isn’t actually about ‘reinventing the wheel’ but recognising, from the world around you, when you see a good thing – then making it belong to your creative concept.

To help illustrate the point, here’s some ‘highfalutin’ examples from the world of art and music: JS Bach was influenced by many simple traditional German folk tunes weaving them into his most beautiful preludes and fugues. A young Pablo Picasso was inspired to paint the seminal proto-cubist work ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ only after going to an exhibition of African tribal art in Paris. So, no – cubism wasn’t invented out of thin air. Lastly, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones used that old ‘hum drum’ chestnut the 12 bar blues chord progress to write many of their most memorable songs.

In the context of advertising David Ogilvy simply “stole” his famous line “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls Royce comes from the electric clock” straight out of an existing Rolls Royce brochure! That simple! That brilliant!

In short, sometimes, the best solutions are in plain sight. The trick is to recognise it. See diamonds where lesser people see mud – and use them.

6. Get your inner child to come out to play
Your head is full of good information, you’ve had fun in the brainstorm and your notebook is full of scamps but nothing is happening!
• Clear your head and go for a walk/have a coffee break/change your current environment
• Sleep on it. That dreamy time when you first wake up, creatively speaking, is a special time. You may experience something like direct access to your ‘inner child’ seeing the solution in a moment of unfettered clarity
• If you can, think about or do something else for bit. Ideally something fun and relaxing

7. Creative space and boundaries
This can be very challenging in a busy working environment but try to minimise the amount of people trying to trespass on your thinking time. For example;
• If the building is on fire, this needs your immediate attention
• If HR wants a sit down meeting about health and safety, it can wait

Unnecessary interruptions are very costly in terms of time taken to get back to where you were mentally before your were disturbed.

Find spaces to do uninterrupted thinking. An unused meeting room, the drive into work,
In the bath (it was good enough for Archimedes).

8. Delay your decision making as long as possible.
Again this can be tricky in a busy work environment but keep exploring creative options for as long as possible and don’t settle on visualising a creative presentation any sooner than you really have too.

9. Lastly, believe in your own work
If you are not psyched about your work, nobody else will be either. Did your idea give you ‘goose bumps’ when you first thought of it? If it did, the chances are it will have the same effect on other people too.

It’s fair to say, many people with a creative disposition use these tools without thinking about it too much. But others may need a little help and to practice a bit.

Either way. Be bold and have fun with it!

James Wood
Creative Director

Further reading