Some time ago, a quadrupedic ancestor of all of us gazed out through the primordial mists, appraised a half-gnawed mammal bone and decided things had to change.
The very first spark of the very first idea was struck. The human race was on its way to Love Island by way of the wheel, lightbulbs, brand marketing and Brexit.
Those of us who work in brand development and marketing spend our life with ideas.
Our days are surrounded by them; the good, the bad and the desperate.
So this is a tiny attempt at trying to understand their nature and where they come from. A blog truly at the ground floor of the Tower of Ideas where real creativity lies at least 100 floors up. (Apologies to L. Cohen).
We shall consider some of the great commercially creative originators for their wisdom and work.
We shall pay our respects to some great artists, musicians and writers unfettered by any grubby Faustian pact. (Make no mistake though, they do want people to buy/listen/read..)
New ideas – no easy answers
So much is written about this. The subject fascinates us all: to understand creativity is to understand progress, innovation, civilisation and mankind’s very success.
Yes, it includes advertising, name generation, branding, marketing, NPD and that beautiful luxury website you are currently designing…
Picasso on being asked where he got his ideas said: “I don’t have a clue. Ideas are simply starting points. I can rarely set them down as they come to my mind. As soon as I start to work, others well up in my pen. To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing… When I find myself facing a blank page, that’s always going through my head.”
Picasso… to Dave Trott: the adman legend said there isn’t any formula. You have your personality, experiences, hobbies, a life lived. So the idea – or at least the raw material – is already there. Inside you. It’s how you bring it out. There isn’t a formula – if there was it wouldn’t be creative. You have to do whatever it takes, and that changes every time. The important thing is the desire. Looking for a formula is why much of what we see looks the same.
Experience is dangerous
Paul Arden: “Being right is based upon knowledge and experience and is often provable. Knowledge comes from the past, so it’s safe. It is also out of date. It’s the opposite of originality. Experience is built from solutions to old situations and problems. The old situations are probably different from the present ones, so that old solutions will have to be bent to fit new problems (and possibly fit badly).
Also the likelihood is that, if you’ve got the experience, you’ll probably use it. This is lazy. Experience is the opposite of being creative.
If you can prove you’re right you’re set in concrete. You cannot move with the times or with other people. Being right is also being boring. Your mind is closed. You are not open to new ideas.”.
(he wanted the risky, the unusual, the daring)
Ideas are hard work
“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work,” painter Chuck Close said. Creativity and fruitful ideas – including brand marketing and design – come not from the passive resignation to a muse but from the active application of work ethic or discipline.
Every creative journey begins with a problem. It starts with a scary feeling. Stories about creativity tend to leave out this phase. The feeling of not knowing the answer is part of the process. Before we can find the answer – before we probably even know the question – there might be fear. A solution is beyond our reach. It’s often only at this point, after we’ve stopped searching for the answer, that the answer arrives. All of a sudden, the answer to the problem that seemed so daunting becomes incredibly obvious.
Think Archimedes in the bath, Isaac Newton under the apple tree.
Dylan on creative insight. “I don’t know where my songs come from. It’s like a ghost is writing a song.”
The predictability and clichés of pop songs was one of the things Dylan wanted to avoid. He realised it was possible to celebrate vagueness, to write lines that didn’t insist on making sense. ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ was his first “completely free song… the one that opened it up for me“.
There he found a way to fully express his influences – Rimbaud, Fellini, Brecht, Robert Johnson. There’s Delta blues and “La Bamba”, but also Beat poetry and Leadbelly. Dylan found a way to connect his ideas.
(Roots. One of the people who started it all…)
Why is all this stuff important?
Smart creativity and good ideas matter if you are in the business of attracting attention and selling. If you are in the business of Name generation. Brand creation. Imaging. Copywriting. On or off line.
Bill Bernbach is still worth listening to. Advertising Age listed him as “the single most influential creative force in advertising’s history.” His many quotes reveal a deeply thoughtful, highly creative man behind some of the most iconic work in advertising’s history.
They make sense today:
- “An important idea not communicated persuasively is like having no idea at all.”
- “If you stand for something, you will always find some people for you and some against you. If you stand for nothing, you will find nobody against you, and nobody for you.”
- “All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.”
- “Rules are what the artist breaks; the memorable never emerged from a formula.”
- “Getting your product known isn’t the answer. Getting it WANTED is the answer.”
Always on the shoulders of giants
Previous creative thinking lays the foundations for new ideas. Think cars.
(There was less traffic in those days)
Before 1908, building a new car was hard. Henry Ford came up with a critical innovation: he streamlined the entire process, putting the manufacture and assembly under one roof. Wood, ore, and coal were loaded in at one end of the factory, and Model Ts were driven out the other.
But the assembly line had a long genealogy. Eli Whitney had created munitions with interchangeable parts for the US Army in the early C19th. This innovation enabled a damaged rifle to be repaired using parts salvaged from other weapons. Cigarette factories had sped up production using continuous flow production. As did the Chicago meatpacking industry. Berry Gordy later used the model for Motown.
(A Love Supreme at the Hitsville Factory)
The cut-up technique is the literary technique in which a written text is cut up and rearranged to create a new text. A Dadaist discovery, it was most famously used by William S. Burroughs and David Bowie
(David Jones from Brixton. Reinvented himself several times over)
Whether manufacturing cars, or making music, or art, creators remodel what they inherit. They absorb the world into their nervous systems and manipulate it to create possible futures.
The A list: 5 tips on getting ideas
(Strange, unpredictable, dangerous…Gonzo)
Creative people are not all like Hunter S Thompson:
Fear and Loathing On the Campaign Trail ‘72: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
For many, an ordered approach is needed to winkle out the gems:
If this blog is about anything it’s about providing fertile areas for creative thinking.
1. The brief :
To provide direction. Of course. Bust some of the greatest creatives are also great planners and thinkers. Interrogate the brief.
2. Product Truth :
Robin Wight, founder of WCRS: “Interrogate the product ‘til it confesses to its strengths’. Its about the value of factory visits, attending focus groups and – yes- actually listening to clients.
3. Consumer Insight :
Embrace research. You’re looking for an idea for your next campaign and you’re in a hole. Research is the friend with the ladder.
4.Company Culture :
Marketing cannot make a company what it’s not. What it can do most powerfully is reinforce an existing or change of culture. So before you think about any form of communications, think about the company. What are its ambitions? Where is it going? Is this something marcoms should be helping with or reflecting? Corporate ambition can be a powerful tool as well.
Everything has to be there for a reason.
David Ogilvy has the final word:
“Human nature hasn’t changed for a billion years. It won’t even vary in the next billion years. Only the superficial things have changed.
It is fashionable to talk about changing man. A communicator must be concerned with unchanging man – what compulsions drive him, what instincts dominate his every action, even though his language too often camouflages what really motivates him.
For if you know these things about a man, you can touch him at the core of his being. One thing is unchangingly sure. The creative man with an insight into human nature, with the artistry to touch and move people, will succeed. Without them he will fail.”