Opinion: How to maintain creativity in isolation
Staying creative is the lifeblood of a marketing agency. But how do agencies maintain their creative juices when the world is sheltering in place from COVID-19, we’re all working from home and our pre-pandemic best practices aren’t quite as effective?
When you think of creativity, especially within an agency setting, you might think of a group of people gathered in a room, bouncing ideas off each other, sketching concepts on whiteboards, and “yes-anding” their way to unique solutions. That technique isn’t possible these days.
While we can meet through videoconferencing, that technology is better suited to presenting finished work rather than developing creative concepts. Video calls are great if there’s a single presenter leading a discussion, but they are less effective for free-for-all ideation. If you’re used to throwing ideas at a wall to see what sticks, you can quickly find that screens are a bit more slippery; it’s harder to find ideas with staying power.
Here are some workarounds that can help creative teams keep their imagination engines tuned up and revving while maintaining creative consistency.
Readjust to short-burst output
When working from home you might experience more distractions: Kids home from school, pets, dishes, laundry, spouses and last night’s leftovers. Lower your expectations about how long you can stay engaged.
Divide your work into smaller windows of time. Try 20 or 30 minutes per work window to start. Set up your file, then check in on the kids, then sketch out some ideas, then make a cup of tea with your significant other or roommate, then go back to the computer to work on the file some more—and on and on. This helps you address all the demands that arise from work and domestic life without neglecting any of them. Baby steps for everyone.
Seek out the new
In our normal lives, we’re introduced to ideas, technologies and campaigns all the time. Whether it’s exploring a new part of the city, looking out the bus window on our commute or chatting with a coworker over lunch, we’re engaged in the world. That’s harder to do when your world has been reduced to your home and the occasional (and socially distant) walk around the block. So we have to go looking for the new to spark inspiration.
Whether it’s finding articles about your specialty or taking an online course, proactively seeking out and learning about what’s beyond the confines of your four walls can keep your brain active and alive. These activities don’t have to be work-related. Pick up that guitar you haven’t touched in a few years, perfect your coffee-brewing skills, do those home-improvement projects you’ve been putting off. Or go outside your comfort zone and try something new, like a writer restoring an antique, or a project manager trying out painting for the first time. Resist the pull of Twitter and Netflix and stay engaged in learning by being an active explorer of experience.
Pare down creative sessions
Conversational flow in a physical meeting doesn’t translate to virtual. The more people involved, whether over video or phone, the more unwieldy a virtual meeting becomes. The result can be too many people talking over each other or becoming frustrated by not being able to get in a word. Even if you generate great ideas, the team leads are still the ones who have to take the project forward.
Consider limiting your creative sessions to the primary people on a project. Keep it small and simple, such as a director, a designer and a copywriter. We’ve seen that the work generated by smaller brainstorming sessions is more often than not just as effective as the work created by mosh pits of ideas. Find the right number for your needs and be flexible
Many of us have carved out a little corner of our home for work. Ideally it's a space where we can close the door and block out our housemates and family members to get work done. But just as different meeting rooms at the office offer different vibes and feelings, so too does your home workspace.
If you know you’re going to need to be creative in a meeting and generate original ideas, then consider finding a different space at home to do it in. Maybe you get Wi-Fi access in your yard. Maybe the bathroom acoustics make every pitch that much more resonant. Of course, we don’t all have the luxury to move rooms or find outdoor space. If that’s the case, consider changing up your office layout, sitting by a window, or simply changing your outfit to get in a more creative headspace.
Hack your solutions
We’re all adapting to this new reality. It’s hard. But adaptation is a key element of creativity. So lean into adaptation. Try new things. If necessity is the mother of invention, then we all have the opportunity to get super maternal right now. Remember that failure is always an option—experiments that don’t work clarify the parameters of what will work. So rev up your imagination, explore (and then expand!) your new smaller world, and make creativity bloom.