Five ways to cultivate creativity

Taxi's Thomas Kenny shares ways to increase the likelihood of getting to a great idea (even if it starts out dumb).


By Thomas Kenny

There’s no formula for creativity.  Turning nothing into something requires a crude alchemy of hard work, talent and inspiration. If there were a formula, then producing great work wouldn’t be as elusive as we all know it to be.

But there’s a reason why certain agencies consistently deliver great work, year after year. On one hand, it’s a testament to the talented art directors and copywriters who have put in long hours honing their craft, and the creative directors who inspire and guide them.

But it’s more than that. These agencies don’t just have great people – they’ve created an environment where great people can do great work. This isn’t something that happens by accident. It’s a culture and environment that is actively cultivated.

What follows are five things we can all do to increase the likelihood of producing great creative work.

Be surrounded by creativity

Ideas are most abundant in places that actively celebrate ideas.  The law of conservation of energy says that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred from one state to another. Similarly, to produce great ideas we need to first consume great ideas. Constantly sharing great work (both from within the industry and beyond) not only inspires us, but creates an ongoing dialogue within the agency about what great work looks like and what we should all be aspiring to do.

Don’t become a slave to the path that’s set

The only thing worse than someone who doesn’t have an opinion is someone unwilling to change their opinion. Creative development is an exploration, so things are likely to change along the way. What may have seemed like the best way forward at the outset of seeing the brief may no longer make sense after spending some time with the problem. Or better yet, after batting around the idea for a while, we may discover that there’s a better way forward. The best collaborators in any creative undertaking are those with strong opinions that are lightly held.

Get the naysayers out of the room

Great ideas usually sound dumb at first. The reason they sound dumb is because they’ve never been done before. It’s important to create a space where these ideas are given the chance to evolve from dumb to inspired. To be clear, many of these ideas won’t evolve into something great – they’re just dumb ideas. But that’s fine too.

Great work comes from places where people aren’t afraid or embarrassed to share a potentially dumb idea. Vulnerability is crucial to the creative process – particularly its early stages – so get anyone who is overly negative or judgmental out of the room. The head of Apple design Jony Ive had this to say about Steve Jobs’ approach to the creative process: “He, better than anyone, understood that while ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished.”

Be decisive

There’s a time to explore and there’s a time to make a call. The best creative leaders are ruthlessly decisive. And while it surely stings to see work that took hours (and sometimes days and weeks) cast aside in seconds, it’s far more painful to continue wrestling with something that isn’t going to work. Making tough choices allows teams to focus their creative energy on work that actually has a chance to move forward. It’s also a clear signal to the team that there is a creative vision being pursued, which inspires the confidence to do something amazing.

Remember – we’re all accountable

Creative success is the responsibility of the whole team, not just the folks with “creative” in their title. Strategy, accounts, and production all contribute in meaningful ways to bring an idea to life. Strategy should inspire, accounts should facilitate, production should realize. We succeed or fail as a team so the onus should never fall exclusively on the creative department to create great work.

Creativity will always be mercurial but there are things we can do to nudge it in the right direction. Our environment has a profound impact on what ends up on the page, so nurturing a culture of creativity can make flashes of brilliance a regular occurrence.

Thomas-KennyThomas Kenny (@thomaskenny) is strategy director at Taxi in Toronto

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock