How to Keep Creativity Flowing

Letting the Faucet Drip Will Prevent Freeze-up

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Bart Cleveland Bart Cleveland
When was the last time you did some work that you couldn't wait to show off? The daily grind is not always filled with incredible opportunities. One day flows quickly to the next and before you know it, you haven't done anything worth sharing for years.

One of my co-workers made an interesting comment about how he believes you keep work quality high. He said that when he lived up north, he learned quickly that a faucet that was not dripping was the sign of a frozen pipe in the near future. The same goes for our work. You have to let the creative faucet drip. You have to keep ideas moving and your psyche motivated. When we feel our ideas can't flow, we will literally stop trying. I thought his observation was a perfect analogy. It got me to thinking: If cold weather freezes pipes, what freezes up ideas?

Connectivity: Being attached to the world via Treos, Blackberrys or iPhones is a sure way to keep us from thinking. I know I'm too busy responding to e-mails to just take a walk in the park to think through a problem. These devices are great tools, but they should not be allowed to become a shackle. I heard about a creative director who was offered an awesome job that he turned down simply because the agency was adamant that he be reachable 24/7 through his agency-supplied Blackberry. Another problem is our consumption of too much "garbage-in" entertainment that wastes time to solve problems. We must unplug ourselves if we want to connect with our best thinking.

Overload: There are a lot of examples of burnout in our business. It's a result of the same type of problem the Blackberry causes: Too many things to pay attention to that have nothing to do with ideation. Many agencies require their employees to work so many hours, there is little time for personal hygiene, much less experiencing the world we're supposed to be able to communicate effectively with. A person simply can't be spontaneous when he is worried about getting a mountain of work done in the next 24 hours, indefinitely. Certainly, this is an occasional need in our business. But when it becomes daily life, it works like subzero temperatures on an unwrapped pipe.

Conformity: We all create differently to develop ideas. I like to write. Others like to doodle pictures. Some like to sample from books and magazines, etc. It doesn't matter how you come up with a great idea. There isn't much room to explore in a 7' by 7' cubicle. However, with freedom comes responsibility. You must know the difference between being productive and goofing off. If you consistently produce great thinking, most agencies will let you do so in whatever fashion works best for you.

Balance: My co-worker, the one who gave me the lessons on avoiding frozen pipes, made another observation about cold-weather plumbing. If you leave the faucet wide open, a lot of waste happens unnecessarily. Turn the faucet off completely and you get shut off from what you need, when you need it. The key to being productive is balance. Know when you need to walk away and give the problem time to simmer in the recesses of your brain. Have confidence that you are working on it while you're taking that walk or shooting a few hoops. In fact, it's good to bring it back to the frontal lobe while you're engaged with something totally unrelated. I once worked with a guy who was amazing at finding fresh insight from the most random thing. For example, seeing something as generic as an ant carrying a leaf across a sidewalk would spur a comment like, "You know, that would be a really cool ad for a health club, or a plumbing company or something." He sponged up everything that was going on around him and held it up next to the problem he was trying to solve. Not surprisingly, his ideas always had a fresh feel.

So keep your creativity flowing by never shutting it down even when there doesn't seem to be much opportunity. Be one of those people whose work is continually envied. That's why you wanted be in this business in the first place, right?
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