Posts Tagged ‘Creativity’

 

My mother’s character was forged early, when she left school at 14 and somehow forgot to tell her parents.

Rather than attend Mrs Llewellyn’s Academy for Young Ladies she spent her days tramping the black hills above Swansea for a view over the shining bay, when the rain relented long enough to do so, or down at the docks watching fishing boats unloading their catch. Sometimes she would patrol the centre of the town, admiring the new “flapper” dresses in the shop windows.

She figured she wasn’t learning anything that would be any help in life’s coming endeavours. She had no interest in discovering how to comport herself to good effect at a middle-class cocktail party full of silly boys who laughed too loud and coughed over their Craven As, and even less enthusiasm for delving into the mysteries of creating a Crème brûlée for some future husband.

She did not make a fuss, just quietly absented herself. And as her father kept paying the fees, so no one from the Academy bothered Mr Reynolds as to why Betty’s chair was empty. Such an indiscrete enquiry would have been considered infra dig. Her wayward wanderings were only discovered when her mother was walking home clutching another bottle of nerve tonic after one of her regular visits to a local physician who never hesitated to relieve her of a shilling for needless consultations, and she happened to discover Betty skipping stones on Cwmdonkin Reservoir.

The confrontation with her father over her behaviour lasted a little over ten minutes. “I am not going back, and you can’t make me.” She pursed her lips with obdurate certainty. Her father looked at her resignedly. He had never thought it worthwhile educating the girl anyway, and had only reluctantly agreed to satisfy his wife, who had some notion that it was the modern thing to do. “You can’t just moon around doing nothing,” he argued. “I won’t,” she said. “I’ll come work in the shop.”

The fishmonger looked at her balefully – he enjoyed escaping to the little shop in Sketty every day, without the responsibilities of dealing with the females in his family for a few hours. And he knew his wife would play merry hell over the thought of the girl standing behind the counter. On the other hand, he knew the girl could be trusted, and was quick-witted. “I can’t pay you much,” he said, doubtfully. “Whatever you can manage,” she replied, smiling. And so it was done.

She took to the work immediately. Her peaceable manner quieted her worrying father and went down well with customers. She seemed to have a natural instinct for those who could be trusted to take some food “on tic” till next payday, and very rarely got that judgement wrong. The gratitude of those customers struggling to survive what they were now calling The Great Depression was palpable. Her father even took to enjoying a quiet pint of a lunchtime at The Vivian on Gower Road, where he would catch up with old comrades from the trenches who, like him, had somehow survived the carnage at Ypres. The lick of gas had left him perennially short-breathed, but some had got it worse. Billy had been blinded, after all. They would talk, and sometimes a runner would take half-a-crown to the local bookie, but only when he knew the business could stand it.

Back at the shop, Betty bobbed and weaved, enjoying the responsibility, and became adept at totting up lists of figures on a scrap of paper, and blindingly quickly. It was a skill that never left her, at least until her mind failed into her dotage, and a useful talent which she eventually passed to me. To this day I surprise work colleagues and my own family with my capacity to glance at a column of figures and deliver an approximation of the total in moments, accurate to within a few pennies at least. Give me a pencil and paper and I’ll give you the exactly right answer in seconds. “Thank the fish,” I sometimes grin, obscurantly.

She married, and moved. But my father died of a massive coronary when I was just two, worn out by six years on destroyers in the second war, ultimately the victim of too many fags and one too many scotches. There wasn’t any money, and she adapted to life as an impoverished single mother with the same resolute and unfussed purpose that she applied to all the other areas of her life. Stoicism was her watchword. She just got on, and did.

Despite the pressure cooker existence of being a single mother with a precocious only child, she and I rarely argued, mostly because early on I worked out it was a pointless exercise.

Once her mind was made up, it was unmade so rarely as to be a news event, and in turn her mulish stubbornness had been passed down to me.

We took it in turns to ignore the adopted position of the other, always moving the conversation onto safer ground when argument loomed. It was, thus, an unproductive relationship by modern standards, but a peaceful one. Where today parents and children would be urged to “have it out” and “find common ground”, we simply left patches of emotional turf unexplored.

She rarely cracked the whip, except when I reached the fringes of adulthood, and then only ever over the time I was due home, as she used to say she had enough to worry about without lying in bed concerned I had crashed the Triumph Herald on the way back from the pub.

Eleven meant eleven. The cold stare I received if I rolled the little white car down the drive at ten past the hour was too high a price for an extra ten minutes of freedom.

And if I was ever going out for a drink she would warn me, as if by rote, against drinking scotch. “It doesn’t agree with the men in our family,” she would intone solemnly. “You do as you like, boy, but I tell you I always knew when your father came back from the pub if he’d been drinking whisky, just by the look on his face. It doesn’t agree with our men.”

She was right. It didn’t. And much as I love a peaty, oaky single malt, to this day I always ration myself to one or two at most. I can guzzle a crisp bottle of Chardonnay, smash down a vodka or three, and above all drown myself in good, chewy bitter ale with the best of them. But if I drink too much scotch, my head is thicker than usual, and my mood next day is always one of black despair. She knew things.

She ignored my choice of women, figuring it was none of her business, and only tut-tutted mildly at my occasional business misadventures. “Better to give it a go,” was her placid judgement.

There was really only one disagreement that echoed down the years between Betty and me.

It grew from what she regarded as her encyclopaedic knowledge of fish, and a defiant desire on my part to win one argument – just one – on her home territory.

It began one Christmas, when we received our customary creaking crate of fresh fish delivered to our local railway station from Uncle Ken, her brother, who still worked his stand on the docks in Swansea, buying the catch wholesale and shipping it to hotels all over the country in rough hewn planks packed with newspaper and ice.

This was long before the days of refrigerated transport, of course. By the time the crate arrived it would always be showing signs of melting, and smelling strongly. But if the railways managed to get it to us overnight, the fish inside was still fresh enough to add a touch of luxury to our otherwise somewhat bare Christmas feasts. Usually a cod, from Iceland, maybe a ling or two from down Cornwall way, perhaps some langoustines from Scotland or Brittany, and always a sea trout – or sewin as the Welsh call it – Salmo trutta cambricus – because that was her special favourite. Brown trout that had escaped the river for the open sea, and were richer and deeper in colour and flavour as a result.

She would nestle the gleaming silvery fish lovingly in her hands, often three or four pounds in weight, and show me that the mouth of the sea trout is slightly longer than the salmon, reaching behind the line of the eye. At that time of year they often turned up in nets off the North Wales coast, or were caught on lines as they returned to their home river to spawn. She would explain how despite its pink flesh, the real difference between salmon and sea trout is in the taste. “It feeds like a salmon on whatever the ocean has to offer – often small crabs and things – it looks likes salmon, but it will always taste like a trout.”

She would smile in delight. “It always tastes of the river, wherever it’s been.”

The white fish she would bake in a pie with leeks and a potato and cheese crust. Langoustines would be saved for a Boxing Day party with the Sedwells from next door, made merry by a naughty second glass of sherry before lunch, and then helped along with the luxury of a bottle of Mateus Rosé as we cracked the shells, praying our thanks for Ken’s generosity, and afterwards there was always an obligatory game of Pontoon, but for matches only, as Betty didn’t hold with gambling.

But the sewin was always carefully sliced into neat parcels wrapped in greaseproof paper, carefully husbanded to provide her with a few meals, and piece by piece in the coming few days a fillet would be braised on the stovetop for her private lunch, always served with impossibly thinly sliced but thickly buttered Hovis bread. She would eat it alone, at the little lino-topped kitchen table, chewing slowly, with a dreamy, faraway look in her eyes.

Our disagreement came when one year Ken dispatched some skate in the crate.

“Ugh”, she muttered. “Skate. Why on earth would he send us skate?”

I looked at the curious ՙwings’ of fish lying sodden against a background of racing results and a weather report for the Swansea Valley. They were about the size of my spread hand, thicker at the top than the bottom, with curious ridges running the length of the fillets.

“What is it?” I asked, intrigued.

Her lip curled ever so slightly contemptuously. Skate, she opined, was not something that should ever be seen at a polite table. “They’re ’orrible ugly buggers, for one” she said, explaining how the stingray-like fish sometimes came up in the deep nets on the edge of the continental shelf. “Good for cat food, is all.  You have to throw most of the fish away, and they stink of ammonium sometimes, too. All you get are these little bits.” She gestured at the wings with distaste. “Why on earth would he send us this? ’Spect he couldn’t sell it anywhere else.”

Something about her untypical annoyance encouraged a little devilment in me. “We should cook it though, yeah?” I pointed to the clock. “It’s near lunchtime, anyway. How bad can it be, eh? It’s a meal.”

She looked irritated. “The Sedwell’s cat can have it. I wouldn’t thank you for it.”

I persisted. “That’s a waste, Mam. ‘Waste not, want not’ you’re always saying. We should give it a go. How do you cook it, then?”

She picked up the little parcel and thrust it at me. “Stick it in a pan and fry it up with a bit of fat if you must. But I don’t want any.” She scowled.

I chuckled and grabbed an old pan and melted a knob of butter in it. She watched my out of the corner of her eye, and I whistled a few notes, pretending I didn’t know she was watching. I used the Welsh Shir Gȃr from Camarthenshire, as she had treated herself to a pat because it was Christmas, although I found it far too salty.

“You make sure you get it cooked,” she grumbled, “got to be cooked right through.” Despite herself, she glanced at the pan. “See that pink bit? You don’t want that. Hasn’t been bled proper.” And she got the butter knife and carved a small portion off one of the fillets and threw it away, murmuring “Skate” to herself disapprovingly as she did.

The wings browned nicely, and when the fillets were flipped so the ridges were pan side down, that side crisped agreeably, too, although I hadn’t floured them. I flipped a little butter over them, and turned them out onto a plate.

“Mum, “ I urged with my first mouthful, “this is delicious. Really. Try a piece.”

When pressed, she accepted the tiniest morsel of milky-white flesh from me on a fork, and daintily popped it in her mouth. Then turned away, and mumbled “Skate” again, making a disapproving clucking noise. Nothing I could say would induce her to try any more, although I was ploughing through the delicately flavoured flesh at a rate of knots. “You enjoy it, boy”, she said, “if you like it. But it’s not for me. No, thank you very much.”

And no matter how I pushed her for why she didn’t like it, nothing else was forthcoming. Which was her all over, truth be told.

As the years past, and the humble skate metamorphosed into the poisson du jour for so many food experts and critics, her implacable opinion never wavered. I sat her down once in front of a television and made her watch some famous chef produce a clutch of wings in brown butter, with some deep-green baby beans. A picture on a plate. “Not for me,” she insisted, with a steely tone.  And changed the subject.

Towards the end, her mind went walkabout. She would confuse me with my father, grumbling that I hadn’t fixed the side gate yet. She would worry who was minding the shop she had stopped working in 70 years earlier.

One day, the nurse said she was being “difficult”, and would I mind popping in to calm her? And as I made my way into her room, she was banging a fork on her tray, clearly agitated.

“Skate!” she cried at me when she saw me come in. “Skate! Not for me boy, you can take this away. Give it to the cat.” And she pushed the table towards the end of her bed on its roller feet, glaring at me.

She died the next day. 93.

Just sat up in bed, apparently, insisting it was time for a nice cup of tea, then fell backward again, and that was it.

She was a determined woman, my mother, who ate a lot of fish.

But not skate.

No, thank you very much.

 

Copyright Stephen Yolland, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2019-04-08 at 4.43.23 pm

I want to write a poem

Just dripping with angst

Jam-packed with pathos

With oodles of empathy

To tear the hearts out of teenage girls

and stir those of tired old men

I want to write a poem

That years later will still sound fresh

Riddled with irony

Spilling meaning everywhere

Entrancing yet confusing

Illuminating but complex.

I want to write a poem

That drags you in,

locks you into contemplation

pesters you to deal with it

like a nagging ringtone

made solely of words.

 

But you got this, instead.

I need a gin.

 

#poetry #writing #poems #creativity

PS the book is still for sale – get one when you next Amazon yourself.
https://www.amazon.com/Read-Me-Poems-One-Story/dp/1409298604

AIDS

 

We warmly recommend you pop over to Time and have a look at their wall of the most historic photographs ever taken – to both remind yourself of the brilliant photos, but also to read the “back story” of any photo that interests you particularly.

http://100photos.time.com/

It is a very considerable effort by Time and they are to be commended for it.

Some celebrate or expose great moments in history. Some track societal trends. Some are simply the first time a photo was ever taken like that.

All remind us of the debt of gratitude we owe photographers for capturing what we need to know. A picture sometimes tells not just a thousand words, but many thousands of words; often much more immediately than tens of thousands of fractious, argumentative, disputatious words.

A picture frequently says much more, and without argument.

Sadly, in today’s “Photoshop” world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to trust the evidence of our own eyes. Nevertheless, a great photograph taken in context can still inform the world, like the little refugee boy drowned in the Mediterranean a little while back.

A fascinating read. Enjoy.

 

Poem

What’s the perfect way for a client to brief a creative ad agency?

magnumopus-2At Magnum Opus we are often asked this question, especially with new clients or in agency pitches, but some clients are often surprised by the answers.

They expect us to say “tell us everything we need to know, what medium it’s running in, all the technical details, and so on.”

And yes, whilst your agency needs to know these things, they’re often secondary to the real task at hand.

A brief can be a beautiful, encouraging thing, or a horrid straightjacket. The more it leans to the beautiful, the more likely it is you’ll get great work from your ad agency. The more of a straightjacket it is, the more you will get back a mirror image of your own brain. And in that case, why have an ad agency at all?

So the first cardinal rule of great briefs, is “don’t buy a dog and bark yourself”.

Here’s a clutch of quick rules to ensure you get a great ad or campaign from your agency.

Make your brief “media neutral”

Don’t decide in advance, “we need a thirty second radio ad, or we need a TV ad, or we need banner ads” or whatever.

media neutralYour ad agency, even if it doesn’t do your media buying for you, are usually experts in all types of media.

Tell them what message you need to communicate, and who you think you need to communicate it to, and let them advise you as to which media you should use, driven by both their strategic insights and their creative genius.

A massive one-word headline billboard with a killer pic, for example, may be the most dramatic and successful ad you’ve ever run. But if you tell the creatives in advance to think of a radio ad, you’ll never even see it across your desk.

Especially, don’t get your media buying agency to tell your creative agency what they need to produce. Nothing generates more bad advertising than a great idea squeezed into the wrong medium merely because the media agency has locked in too much of your media schedule ahead of time and are inflexible about changing it.

Don’t be too restrictive about target audiences

Creative people aren’t just creative about generating content. They can be creative in a business sense too.

Dart on Target and People

Note in the previous section that we said who you “think” you need to communicate your message to.

Sometimes target audiences are very tightly defined – but sometimes they can be too tightly defined.

Expect your advertising agency to analyse your product and service and have ideas about who you could sell it to, and sometimes to people you haven’t considered. Consumers who are actually way off your radar because you haven’t thought about how your product or service could apply to them yet, or simply because you are thinking about what constitutes “success” too narrowly.

Ask your agency to make you nervous. In fact, insist on it.

You may be brilliant at your job. But you might not necessarily spend your entire life drenched in media, music, comedy, art, and culture. Even many marketing managers come from other disciplines, or may be excellent administrators but not necessarily the most creative people in town. (Some are, for sure, but not all.)

concernedSo expect your agency to put up ideas that seem, at first blush, to be “out there”, a little wild, or not at all what you expected.

Indeed, if you’re getting what you expected from your ad agency, you are either briefing them too tightly, or they may (which is even worse) be dumbing down their output because you are consciously or subconsciously sending them messages that you don’t want very creative content, perhaps because you feel it’s too “risky”.

Creativity isn’t an end in itself, but it is used to punch through the complacency that surrounds most advertising – because most advertising is, frankly, rather dull. Isn’t it? But the best advertising is exactly the opposite. It’s striking, impactful, and attention grabbing.

We even have TV shows dedicated to the best advertising produced around the world – they are some of the most popular TV shows on any channel!

So ask for the best, and you just might get it. And if you don’t, change your ad agency.

And remember, the riskiest ad you will ever run is an ad that no one notices. Because you risk losing every cent you invested in it, and risk losing the sales that it didn’t generate.

Don’t write the ads for them

Especially don’t insist on certain pictures, shots or copy unless there is a very strong reason to do so.

Of course you can tell them certain details are mandatory, but don’t try and write the whole ad for them or lock them into a shape, format or tone that is so prescriptive that you are essentially stifling their abilities.

Need-Help-EditingIn any good ad agency you will find highly skilled artists, and some of society’s wittiest (in the true sense of that word, ie: intelligent) writers.

They have great professional pride, and contrary to popular belief in any good agency you’d be surprised how hard they work: you’d very likely be amazed how many ideas they reject before they get to the ones they show you, and no good agency works 9-5. Chances are, your creative people are thinking about your business all the time.

And just about everyone in any good agency is skilled at understanding consumer motivations and behaviour – they live or die based on their understanding of the market and the insights they can offer you.

Mass communication is their thing.

So tell them what you need to achieve, then get the hell out of their way, and let them do their job. If you don’t get what you need, that’s another matter.

Let your agency fail. As often as they need to, to offer you greatness.

Some clients seem to treat each brief for an ad agency as if it’s a test – “Let’s see how you do with this one, (insert maniacal laugh here), and if you get any part of it wrong, watch out!”

edisonThat’s a guarantee you will receive safe, un-inspirational and un-criticisable advertising. Which is advertising that will very likely under-perform, at best, or not work at all, at worst.

So make it safe for your ad agency to come to you with ideas that might actually be crazy (not just sound crazy at first hearing) but which also show that they are deeply passionate about your business and have the will to push the envelope to achieve great things on your behalf.

Very few ideas have zero merit at all – your agency will have weeded them out before showing you. So oftentimes a first-time failure will reappear with judicious editing and re-thinking as a new and brilliant solution.

Remember: if your agency is anxious about showing you the first idea, you’ll never see that second, refined one.

Last but not least, do you LIKE the people you’re dealing with?

Great relationships between client and agency invariably produce better work. Sometimes it’s that wine-soaked lunch where a brilliant idea pops up at 4pm. (Not always – or even often – but it does happen.) Sometimes it’s an in-depth, heartfelt phone call at midnight.

trustDo your agency welcome your input? Do they plug you with off-the-cuff ideas, proactively? And do they simply love talking about your business with you, drilling down for all sorts of details you didn’t think they’d be interested in?

That’s how you spot an engaged agency, and an engaged agency will always respond better to any brief you give them. So encourage them by discussing your brief with them, not just emailing it to them with a deadline.

And by the by, do they treat your money as carefully as you do? That’s the sign of an engaged agency, too.

Most of all, ask yourself, do you trust them? Deep in your gut. Because there are always bound to be hiccups, in any busy relationship. When those inevitable hiccups occur, are you on the same side? If you can’t answer yes to this question you shouldn’t be briefing them at all. Find someone you do trust.

Follow these simple rules, and your relationship with your ad agency will be more productive, more profitable, harder working, and much more fun.

Go for it!

Stephen Yolland, author of this article and this blog, has worked in advertising for more than 25 years. He is Director of Creativity Strategy at Magnum Opus Advertising in Melbourne.

Gull

One night about a year ago Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink turned the late night TV shopping channel on.

It was an accidental act, in truth, but we found ourselves taken by the subject matter: to wit, buying a new camera at what looked like an amazingly low price.

NikonIt turned out, of course, that it wasn’t an especially great price, and we could have walked round the corner and bought it at the same price and got some professional advice into the bargain.

But no matter. We had always wanted a nice camera, as opposed to taking snaps using the iPhone, not that the remarkable and ubiquitous little device didn’t actually take nice snaps, but this one seemed very swish and a nice colour, and the front pointy bit went in and out really far, so in we dove.

Anyhow, as a sign for how ludicrously busy all our lives have become, this weekend is almost the first chance we have had to play with the camera, at Smiths Beach on gorgeous Phillip Island, in Victoria, Australia.

Of course, as you will have discovered previously, Dear Reader, the new technological age sits somewhat heavily on our prematurely aging shoulders. Fresh from wrestling with things that go bing, we now found ourselves poking with uncertain, stubby little fingers at a camera for which a high-flying degree in advanced sub-atomic particle physics would be inadequate preparation.

There is not one, not two, but fully three ways to make the telephoto thingy whiz in and out. meaning, of course, that it does so when one least expects it to.

Press the wrong button, and the playback screen turns into a mass of statistics and charts telling you why you have just messed up the last shot taken. Trying to get back to just seeing the photo on its own again without the accompanying science takes fully half an hour of increasingly frantic thumbing through the “destructions” as Mrs W calls all manuals, which as with most things seems to be written in a sort of pig-din Japlish which defies easy translation.

The little diagrams of buttons on the camera would be very helpful if one didn’t need a magnifying glass to see which buttons they refer to, (dagnabbit, knew we left something out of the beach bag), as the whole booklet is clearly written for people with A1 20-20 vision aged 18, which as it emanates from the Land of the Rising Yen is somewhat curious as we never yet met a Nipponese who could see past the end of their nose without glasses as thick as the bottom of a Coke bottle, so quite who the manual is aimed at is something of a mystery.

Meanwhile the little twirly thing on the top offers you fully twenty “shooting modes”, and heaven forbid you should try and photograph a sunny Aussie beach in “Night Portrait” mode, as the seagulls flying by suddenly all look like Ring Wraiths or Dementors come to drive us back into the cottage.

Plumping for “Scenic” seems like a safe option, until you realise the sub-Menu offers you fully fifteen variations of scenic to choose from. Choosing between “Cloudy” and “Dusk” looks tricky to the untrained eye …

Seagull at dusk. Or cloudy. You choose.

Seagull at dusk. Or cloudy. You choose.

Then, when one finishes the hour-long process of turning the damn thing on, one realises that there is actually more to taking a good photo than pointing and pressing. More digital photos (and before them, bazillions of miles of film) must have been taken of waves crashing on rocky seashores than almost any other subject matter you care to name. One very quickly realises that taking a good photo of a wave is clearly nigh-impossible. There is that wildly improbable nexus of the right camera, the right setting, the right moment, and that indefinable “eye” that true photographic geniuses have.

Which we, Dear Reader, do not.

Looking west at Smiths Beach

Luckily, the world is such an intensely beautiful place that it is impossible to entirely stuff up photographing it even with one’s new techno-rich clicky thing. We did, we think, nevertheless manage to make the photos quite big and a suitable format for desktop wallpapers. Feel free to nick any you like.

A Spring day on a beach in rural Victoria is probably the best balm for the soul imaginable. Even when your camera is just another way of reminding you that the world is hurtling ever onward to a place where you no longer really belong.

No, these photographs are not very good.

DSCN0218

Looking East

But the world is. The world rocks.

(Gettit? The world rocks. Oh, never mind …)

Respect.

Respect.

For more of the same, head to: paltrymeanderings.com. We like.

Neil-Patrick-Harris-2015-Oscars-Host

On Wellthisiswhatithink we are fairly consistent in two things.

1. We celebrate talent, and hard work.

2. We love creativity.

The opening of today’s Oscars starring their host Neil Patrick Harris (amongst others) was simply superb. Frankly, we wonder if the rest of the show could possibly live up to it.

Harris was consistently the best thing about the gloriously funny and touching show “How I Met Your Mother” and has also been awarded for his onstage work on Broadway. We stand in awe of his talent. Frankly, we’d be hard pressed to even remember our lines in a song as long and complex as this. His timing is superb, his performance faultless. Big ups too for Anna Kendrick who is wonderful, and Jack Black, in supporting roles.

Phew. And a word, please, for whoever wrote it. As a writer, we fear we are always the forgotten ones, or nearly always. The writer here has earned his or her money a dozen times over. “We are here tonight with our Xanax and Dior.” Glorious stuff.

The technical quality of the staging is brilliant too. Just look at the Sharon Stone moment to see what we mean. So clever.

This is American popular culture at his best. When they’re good, my word, they’re good. The YouTube page we watched it on was running a bit wonky and has now been removed for copyright issues, but if it’s not on YouTube watch it on the tele later. Or find, you know, a proper website. You could try this one:

Watch here

We’re TRYING, OK?

Can’t wait to see the rest of the show.

homeless-bw

We defy you to watch this short video without tears springing to your eyes. Extremely powerful, and yet another example of how creative people – writers, costumiers, make-up artists, cameramen – can change the world for the better, if they are only given the chance.

Homelessness is a modern plague. If this makes people COMMIT to actually seeing the homeless on our streets, lives will be improved, and lives will be saved. Bravo. MakeThemVisible.com #makethemvisible

Over here at the Wellthisiswhatithink dungeon we have made a living from writing for more than 25 years now, so we were fascinated by this excellent article from Carolyn Gregoire of Huff Post on the things that creative people do differently. Indeed, the Wellthisiswhatithink household comprises a writer, voiceover artist and speechmaker (er, that’d be yours truly), a leading glass artist, and an aspiring young actor with her own improv troupe. Close relatives have included an accomplished drawer of portraits, a member of the Royal Academy of Art, one of Australia’s leading watercolourists, and an amateur sculptor … so anything that explains the quirks of creative people is very helpful in surviving our somewhat unusual family!

When you work in advertising and marketing (areas where creativity, applied to a purpose, is supposed to reign supreme) people often ask us, frequently in a despairing tone, “what can I do to make my organisation more creative?”

In response, the Wellthisiswhatithink gurus always reply “Give your people room to fail.”

To be allowed to experiment and fail, even when that creates cost, is the critical pre-requisite of thinking (and acting) creatively. Thomas Edison, history’s most creative inventor and genesis of one of the world’s most powerful and profitable companies, tried over 1,000 filaments for the electric lightbulb before he found the right material to sustain light, and in doing so, made the world a brighter and safer place for millions of people.

He called them his “One thousand magnificent failures.”

egg crushed

So often, not always, but often, we observe the creativity being battered out of new joiners or junior staff by the (usually) older and more cynical bean counters that head up organisations. Creative people are not risk averse – bean counters and lawyers are.

When we let bean counters and lawyers run organisations they become increasingly stifled and fail to act with entrepreneurial flair.

People who create brilliant businesses are always creative thinkers. Sadly, as those businesses grow, as a result of the very risk-taking creativity that sets them on the path for success in the first place, they become riddled with ‘creativity cut outs” and increasingly bureaucratic, and much more prone to worried introspection than creative flair.

If you want to unleash creativity in your organisation, read this article and make a note of how creative people need to behave. And remember, they are the very lifeblood of your organisation, not a distraction.

Great article. Really. Read it. Specially if you run a company or anything else bigger than a knitting circle. Article begins:

Main Entry Image

 

Creativity works in mysterious and often paradoxical ways. Creative thinking is a stable, defining characteristic in some personalities, but it may also change based on situation and context. Inspiration and ideas often arise seemingly out of nowhere and then fail to show up when we most need them, and creative thinking requires complex cognition yet is completely distinct from the thinking process.

Neuro-science paints a complicated picture of creativity. As scientists now understand it, creativity is far more complex than the right-left brain distinction would have us think (the theory being that left brain = rational and analytical, right brain = creative and emotional). In fact, creativity is thought to involve a number of cognitive processes, neural pathways and emotions, and we still don’t have the full picture of how the imaginative mind works.

And psychologically speaking, creative personality types are difficult to pin down, largely because they’re complex, paradoxical and tend to avoid habit or routine. And it’s not just a stereotype of the “tortured artist” — artists really may be more complicated people. Research has suggested that creativity involves the coming together of a multitude of traits, behaviors and social influences in a single person.

“It’s actually hard for creative people to know themselves because the creative self is more complex than the non-creative self,” Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at New York University who has spent years researching creativity, told The Huffington Post. “The things that stand out the most are the paradoxes of the creative self … Imaginative people have messier minds.”

While there’s no “typical” creative type, there are some tell-tale characteristics and behaviors of highly creative people. Here are 18 things they do differently.

They daydream.

daydreaming child

 

Creative types know, despite what their third-grade teachers may have said, that daydreaming is anything but a waste of time.

According to Kaufman and psychologist Rebecca L. McMillan, who co-authored a paper titled “Ode To Positive Constructive Daydreaming,” mind-wandering can aid in the process of “creative incubation.” And of course, many of us know from experience that our best ideas come seemingly out of the blue when our minds are elsewhere.

Although daydreaming may seem mindless, a 2012 study suggested it could actually involve a highly engaged brain state — daydreaming can lead to sudden connections and insights because it’s related to our ability to recall information in the face of distractions. Neuroscientists have also found that daydreaming involves the same brain processes associated with imagination and creativity.

They observe everything.

The world is a creative person’s oyster – they see possibilities everywhere and are constantly taking in information that becomes fodder for creative expression. As Henry James is widely quoted, a writer is someone on whom “nothing is lost.”

The writer Joan Didion kept a notebook with her at all times, and said that she wrote down observations about people and events as, ultimately, a way to better understand the complexities and contradictions of her own mind:

“However dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable ‘I,'” Didion wrote in her essay On Keeping A Notebook. “We are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its marker.”

They work the hours that work for them.

Many great artists have said that they do their best work either very early in the morning or late at night. Vladimir Nabokov started writing immediately after he woke up at 6 or 7 a.m., and Frank Lloyd Wright made a practice of waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. and working for several hours before heading back to bed. No matter when it is, individuals with high creative output will often figure out what time it is that their minds start firing up, and structure their days accordingly.

They take time for solitude.

solitude

 

“In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone,” wrote the American existential psychologist Rollo May.

Artists and creatives are often stereotyped as being loners, and while this may not actually be the case, solitude can be the key to producing their best work. For Kaufman, this links back to daydreaming – we need to give ourselves the time alone to simply allow our minds to wander.

“You need to get in touch with that inner monologue to be able to express it,” he says. “It’s hard to find that inner creative voice if you’re not getting in touch with yourself and reflecting on yourself.”

They turn life’s obstacles around.

Many of the most iconic stories and songs of all time have been inspired by gut-wrenching pain and heartbreak – and the silver lining of these challenges is that they may have been the catalyst to create great art. An emerging field of psychology called post-traumatic growth is suggesting that many people are able to use their hardships and early-life trauma for substantial creative growth. Specifically,researchers have found that trauma can help people to grow in the areas of interpersonal relationships, spirituality, appreciation of life, personal strength, and – most importantly for creativity – seeing new possibilities in life.

“A lot of people are able to use that as the fuel they need to come up with a different perspective on reality,” says Kaufman. “What’s happened is that their view of the world as a safe place, or as a certain type of place, has been shattered at some point in their life, causing them to go on the periphery and see things in a new, fresh light, and that’s very conducive to creativity.”

They seek out new experiences.

solo traveler

 

Creative people love to expose themselves to new experiences, sensations and states of mind – and this openness is a significant predictor of creative output.

“Openness to experience is consistently the strongest predictor of creative achievement,” says Kaufman. “This consists of lots of different facets, but they’re all related to each other: Intellectual curiosity, thrill seeking, openness to your emotions, openness to fantasy. The thing that brings them all together is a drive for cognitive and behavioral exploration of the world, your inner world and your outer world.”

They “fail up.”

resilience

 

Resilience is practically a prerequisite for creative success, says Kaufman. Doing creative work is often described as a process of failing repeatedly until you find something that sticks, and creatives – at least the successful ones – learn not to take failure so personally.

“Creatives fail and the really good ones fail often,” Forbes contributor Steven Kotler wrote in a piece on Einstein’s creative genius.

(Or as a Creative Director once appositely remarked to us, “Always remember, our job is to say “Imagine if you will …” to people with no imagination.” – Ed.)

They ask the big questions.

Creative people are insatiably curious – they generally opt to live the examined life, and even as they get older, maintain a sense of curiosity about life. Whether through intense conversation or solitary mind-wandering, creatives look at the world around them and want to know why, and how, it is the way it is.

They people-watch.

people watching

 

Observant by nature and curious about the lives of others, creative types often love to people-watch – and they may generate some of their best ideas from it.

“[Marcel] Proust spent almost his whole life people-watching, and he wrote down his observations, and it eventually came out in his books,” says Kaufman. “For a lot of writers, people-watching is very important. They’re keen observers of human nature.”

(And as John Cleese once remarked, “If you are calling the author of “A la recherche du temps perdu” a looney, I shall have to ask you to step oputside.” – Ed)

They take risks.

Part of doing creative work is taking risks, and many creative types thrive off of taking risks in various aspects of their lives.

“There is a deep and meaningful connection between risk taking and creativity and it’s one that’s often overlooked,” contributor Steven Kotler wrote in Forbes. “Creativity is the act of making something from nothing. It requires making public those bets first placed by imagination. This is not a job for the timid. Time wasted, reputation tarnished, money not well spent — these are all by-products of creativity gone awry.”

They view all of life as an opportunity for self-expression.

self expression

 

Nietzsche believed that one’s life and the world should be viewed as a work of art. Creative types may be more likely to see the world this way, and to constantly seek opportunities for self-expression in everyday life.

“Creative expression is self-expression,” says Kaufman. “Creativity is nothing more than an individual expression of your needs, desires and uniqueness.”

They follow their true passions.

Creative people tend to be intrinsically motivated — meaning that they’re motivated to act from some internal desire, rather than a desire for external reward or recognition. Psychologists have shown that creative people are energized by challenging activities, a sign of intrinsic motivation, and the research suggests that simply thinking of intrinsic reasons to perform an activity may be enough to boost creativity.

“Eminent creators choose and become passionately involved in challenging, risky problems that provide a powerful sense of power from the ability to use their talents,” write M.A. Collins and T.M. Amabile in The Handbook of Creativity.

They get out of their own heads.

creative writing

 

Kaufman argues that another purpose of daydreaming is to help us to get out of our own limited perspective and explore other ways of thinking, which can be an important asset to creative work.

“Daydreaming has evolved to allow us to let go of the present,” says Kaufman. “The same brain network associated with daydreaming is the brain network associated with theory of mind — I like calling it the ‘imagination brain network’ — it allows you to imagine your future self, but it also allows you to imagine what someone else is thinking.”

Research has also suggested that inducing “psychological distance” — that is, taking another person’s perspective or thinking about a question as if it was unreal or unfamiliar — can boost creative thinking.

They lose track of the time.

Creative types may find that when they’re writing, dancing, painting or expressing themselves in another way, they get “in the zone,” or what’s known as a flow state, which can help them to create at their highest level. Flow is a mental state when an individual transcends conscious thought to reach a heightened state of effortless concentration and calmness. When someone is in this state, they’re practically immune to any internal or external pressures and distractions that could hinder their performance.

You get into the flow state when you’re performing an activity you enjoy that you’re good at, but that also challenges you — as any good creative project does.

“[Creative people] have found the thing they love, but they’ve also built up the skill in it to be able to get into the flow state,” says Kaufman. “The flow state requires a match between your skill set and the task or activity you’re engaging in.”

They surround themselves with beauty.

Creatives tend to have excellent taste, and as a result, they enjoy being surrounded by beauty.

study recently published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts showed that musicians — including orchestra musicians, music teachers, and soloists — exhibit a high sensitivity and responsiveness to artistic beauty.

They connect the dots.

doodle

 

If there’s one thing that distinguishes highly creative people from others, it’s the ability to see possibilities where other don’t — or, in other words, vision. Many great artists and writers have said that creativity is simply the ability to connect the dots that others might never think to connect.

In the words of Steve Jobs:

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

They constantly shake things up.

Diversity of experience, more than anything else, is critical to creativity, says Kaufman. Creatives like to shake things up, experience new things, and avoid anything that makes life more monotonous or mundane.

“Creative people have more diversity of experiences, and habit is the killer of diversity of experience,” says Kaufman.

They make time for mindfulness.

Creative types understand the value of a clear and focused mind — because their work depends on it. Many artists, entrepreneurs, writers and other creative workers, such as David Lynch, have turned to meditation as a tool for tapping into their most creative state of mind.

And science backs up the idea that mindfulness really can boost your brain power in a number of ways. A 2012 Dutch study suggested that certain meditation techniques can promote creative thinking. And mindfulness practices have been linked with improved memory and focusbetter emotional well-being, reducedstress and anxiety, and improved mental clarity — all of which can lead to better creative thought.

As a professional writer for over 30 years now (a very scary thought) who is yet to actually go broke (got close a couple of times, admittedly) I am often asked “How the hell do you make a living writing?”

I have wondered myself on a few occasions. When people ask me the next question, which is always “What do you write?” I always answer “What someone will pay for.”  In fact, of course, I frequently write for no financial reward at all, but hell, I don’t want that idea gaining too much currency.

The answer to conquering the biggest problem most creative people face is in this little video from Ira Glass. He sums up the greatest thing holding most creative people back – the fact that they know that what they are doing could be better – and neatly provides a solution.

 

If you are in any way involved in art, writing, advertising, or miscellaneous content creation, and whatever stage of life you are at, I do recommend you listen to this short video. It happens to be charming and uplifting to.

And then do what it says.

Poet in pub

I am not playing pool until I can work out what the fuck rhymes with “buttock”.

People usually enjoy it when I post my own poetry here, and I am happy to do so, so long as some of you buy the book occasionally too. Remember, any profits benefit a number of wonderful charities. You can head to: http://tinyurl.com/7tzxxgg where it is available in both book format and download.

I am always – like most writers – pondering the nature of writing and the creative process. 

This is not mere self-absorption, I feel. Well, I hope it isn’t.

Like a musician who hears notes constantly in their head which won’t go away until he plays them, or an artist who perceives the lines and colours of the world in a particular way and feels compelled to depict them, so the writer is frequently the victim of his or her words, not their master or mistress.

Sometimes – often – I simply feel an urge to write things down, to express them just so. If I ignore the urge, it becomes a mental nagging, then an indescribable emotional itch, then a full-blown obsession.

Like all writers I have been tortured by words or phrases, and eventually tossed back the sweat-drenched sheets and stumbled angrily to my typewriter or computer, willing the damn things down onto the empty page, so I can get some damn sleep.

And as any writer will tell you, it is the day you forget your shiny new portable electronic device, or more prosaically, your notepad, that the thoughts come flooding thick and fast, insistently, clamouring for attention, and you have to press confused bystanders or friends into giving you pen or paper immediately less the internal howling becomes too intense.

So: I wrote a poem about it. As you do. (Well, as you do if you’re a poet.) About how writing doesn’t just invade my life, it really is my life – has been for as long as I can recall, actually – and the rest of my life goes on around it, sometimes uninterrupted, and sometimes completely dominated by it.

The poem’s very long, but I do hope you find it enjoyable. It describes a real evening, long, long ago. Deep in the last millennium. Or perhaps, an amalgam of evenings. The pub was the Leinster Arms in Collingwood, in Melbourne, which for a while I seemingly kept open almost single-handedly through my contributions, (it would have been cheaper to rent an office, as I later did), and I only reveal that location now because I am perfectly sure that no-one there remembers me at all, and most of those that I now report on are either dead, demented, or simply moved on. And anyway, the poem is written with affection, and “no names, no pack-drill”, eh?

I am sure other poets and writers of all kinds – indeed, creative people of all kinds – will find echoes of themselves in here.

The Writer, by Stephen Yolland