Published in Mar-Apr 2022
Most people do not realise it, but creativity is a form of energy. Granted, you cannot measure it in accurate decimal points or store it in a tank for future use, but it still remains a critical and poorly understood resource, especially in advertising and marketing. Some days, one is brimming with creativity and on others, it just seems to be locked away in an unreachable chamber inside the depths of your mind.
When I started writing this article, I could not summon any of this elusive creative energy to put seemingly arbitrary words on an empty screen. There were a bunch of false starts and I even contemplated not attempting this topic altogether. I just could not find a steady enough flow of that creativity – or it was already completely consumed by my other pursuits at the agency. The good folk at Aurora, however, were kind enough to extend the deadline repeatedly, so I could wrestle with this and find another source of creativity. That gave me just enough time to reach into my bag of tricks to convince my mind to get back into a ‘flow state’ for this.
That was when I realised that creativity can be a renewable and sustainable form of energy. Creative folks have an ‘inner tank’ that gets depleted pretty quickly, but there are a few ways to find a constant source of refill without abandoning stuff altogether. At the risk of this sounding like yet another self-help motivational spiel, here are some tried and tested methods of building a sustainable source of creativity within you. They are hacks that have personally worked for me and I am confident that at least some will be helpful to get you out of your rut.
It’s an Ocean, Not a Pool
The first step is to think of creativity as a mindset. Unfortunately, in our industry, we have divided ourselves into ‘creative’ and ‘not-creatives’. Typically, those working in the art and copy function are considered creative and everyone else just sort of stands on the sidelines, expecting those ‘creatives’ to harvest said creativity. This is highly problematic. Creativity is not just pixels and words; it is the ability to find a solution in the absence of mechanical instructions. The ocean of creativity exists to serve everyone; it is not a members-only pool. Yes, it is a seemingly finite supply, but it is a large enough source to sustain you and millions of others for all time to come. If you think of it as a pool and you take a teaspoon out every time you need an idea (maybe multiple times a day), it will dry out in a few years. However, in the vastness of the ocean, there is no real chance of it being completely depleted anytime soon.
Aim for the Worst
Whether we show it or not, we all have latent imposter syndrome. This means that every time we put something out in the world, there is that nagging doubt that it is not good enough and that someone will call us out on it. Over time, this doubt begins to internalise in a way that our minds will not even let us think of ideas for fear of exposing ‘substandard’ stuff to ourselves. In this case, it often helps to consciously aim for the worst; challenge ourselves to come up with the worst possible idea. By doing this, we allow ourselves to acknowledge that we are deliberately thinking of something that is not good enough, so it takes the edge off. We begin to be more forgiving of what we put down on that empty piece of paper.
Disengage and Switch It Up
Every time I am in a rut, I change something completely unrelated to break the monotony. Sometimes, this means decluttering a random part of my cupboard that I have not seen forever. Honestly, it feels like I am wasting precious time, but it helps get my mind off the urgency of the task at hand. A lot of us are driven by productivity hustles and by-the-minute optimisation of our efforts, which is not a great conductor of creativity. Allow yourself to be bored, to let your mind wander. Engage in the most mind-numbingly repetitive chore you can think of. The way it works best for me and most people in my team is to focus really, really hard on a particular problem and then just abandon the line of inquiry for the rest of the day. Usually within a few hours (or perhaps the next day) a bolt of inspiration hits. If you are working in a silo, try changing your sleeping pattern for a day or hanging out in a different environment. The change of pace is likely to reignite the creative fire.
Embrace the Constraint
I know that in our industry we are artificially pushed against the wall in terms of limitations, whether they be timelines, budgets or guidelines. Instead of feeling bad about it, recognise them for the opportunities they are. In a perfect world, there is no need for innovation. But the world’s most interesting inventions and history’s most maverick stories are borne out of a response to adversity. Unrealistic deadline? Awesome, it will force me to think more efficiently. Restrictive brand rules? Sure, I will have to be extra creative to make something interesting within this framework! By thinking of adversity as the great equaliser rather than a weight on your creative back, you will be able to think of solutions that would not have come in a more convenient environment. Seek discomfort. Always.
Steal Some Inspiration
Before you raise the pitchforks, I am not suggesting you copy something. In the instantly-searchable internet age; it would be akin to shooting yourself in the foot and it will not be long before you are being ranted on by Ad Mad Dude and roasted on KAMN. What I am advocating is the ability to steal inspiration from other creative endeavours. At our agency, whenever we are stuck in a rut, we open up something like LoveTheWorkMore.com and look at random case studies. It allows us to move away from the usual fog of formulaic Pakistani advertising and see some truly strange creativity from around the world. We are indeed the company we keep. It would make sense to keep company with great content, lofty ideas and bonkers approaches. Ideally, you should be the dumbest one in your surroundings, because that way the only thing you can do is learn.
While these mind shifts and hacks may seem overly contrived right now, I would urge you to give them a try before you burn out and admit that you have ‘run out of creativity’. Just like the solar panel will completely replace your electricity grid connection right away, this is just a start in the right direction. Over time, these lessons will make your creative output not only better but sustainable as well. Your next ‘aha!’ mental moment should be powered by renewable creative energy.
Umair Kazi is Partner, Ishtehari.