When I first started working in the creative department at Southpaw, I felt like a baby. The Creative Directors were twice my age and they would constantly be surprised, almost disgusted, at the films I hadn’t seen and songs I’d never heard of. But I was born in the 90s. I didn’t grow up watching Star Wars or listening to Pearl Jam.
If you’re already an established creative in an ad agency, you’ve probably approached this article with outrage. ‘You can’t teach creativity! You either got it or you don’t!’ Fair enough. Feel free to stop reading; these tips are probably of more use to the younger, fresh-out-of-uni creative anyway. However, if you can put your infinite cynicism on hold for the next five minutes, you may get something out of it after all.
1. Read books by creatives
The whole basis of this article stems from two passages – one from Hegarty on Creativity by Sir John Hegarty, the other from One Plus One Equals Three by Dave Trott.
Here’s the first:
‘The truly great creative people I know are constantly working. Looking, thinking, watching. They are curious by nature, fascinated not just by their own interests and experiences but those of other people too. Everything they encounter is being absorbed, processed, and re-formed, eventually to return in some new shape as an idea. I think of these people as transmitters – they absorb diverse, random messages, influences, and thoughts, they reinterpret and play them back to an audience in new and fresh ways.’
And the second, where Dave Trott explains Dave Dye’s conversation with Dave Wakefield about what it was like being in a band with David Bowie (confusing, I know):
‘Dave Wakefield said they always knew he was going to be a star. Just because he wasn’t anything like the rest of them. Dave Wakefield said it was his music. The rest of them just collected their favourite type of records: mainly rock and roll. But David Bowie collected everything; really weird stuff they’d never heard of. Stuff they wouldn’t dream of listening to. Show tunes from Broadway musicals, ‘oompah’ music from brass bands, country and western music, Japanese music, whale songs, men playing the spoons, opera. Dave Wakefield said the rest of the group didn’t even know a lot of this music existed, much less where you’d buy it. And it certainly wasn’t the sort of thing they wanted to listen to. But you could tell David Bowie was taking it all in. And he was going to use it one day.’
Inspiration is everywhere. Use it. These books are a great place to start. Another few I recommend are Hey Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan and Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite by Paul Arden.
2. You have to go backwards to get ahead
If you soak up the same inspiration as everyone else, you’re going to produce the same ideas as everyone else. To stand out you have to go to the places other people aren’t looking, and the easiest way to do that is to go backwards.
I recently started working my way through IMDB’s Top 250 Movies list. These are the greatest films ever created: Schindler’s List, 12 Angry Men, Seven Samurai, Psycho. If you haven’t seen them, chances are other creatives your age haven’t seen them either. So get ahead of the game. Go backwards.
3. Mercury Prize > The Brits
The world is full of unoriginal, uninspiring music. There’s nothing wrong with dancing to the latest chart hits on a Saturday night, but they’re never going to inspire your creativity. For that you have to look outside popularity contests like The Brits. Instead, look to the Mercury Prize.
Every year, ten British albums are shortlisted for the Mercury Prize. The winners, ranging from Dizzee Rascal – Boy in da Corner to Benjamin Clementine – At Least For Now, are always brilliant. But it’s when you scratch beneath the surface and start delving into the other nominees that things get really interesting. Some of it can be difficult to watch or listen to (just look up Róisín Murphy’s performance of House of Glass at 2015’s awards show) but difficult is worth doing in the pursuit of creative inspiration. If it challenges your concept of what music should be, keep listening.
4. Travel broadens the creative mind
This is an obvious one. If you’re making the effort to travel to a town, city or country you’ve never been to, absorb yourself in it. Steal every ounce of culture you can find. Soak in the sounds and the sights. Eat food you can’t find at home. Spare no expense. You may only be there once. Make the most of it.
5. Knowledge is power
When you pick up the paper on the train, you probably skim through it, stopping only at the headlines that interest you or relate to you somehow. That’s all well and good, but it’s hard to be inspired by yet another 80s paedophilia scandal. My advice here is simple: start reading The Economist.
The Economist app gives you three free stories every week, providing you with in-depth insights into global issues. You’ll learn about China’s ambitions of becoming the world leader in computer chip manufacturing, and you’ll discover that – on the eve of hosting the Olympic Games this summer – Brazil’s economy is in disarray.
If you’re thinking that random information like this is of no use to you, I’d like to return your attention to what Hegarty said earlier about creative people: ‘they absorb diverse, random messages, influences, and thoughts, they reinterpret and play them back to an audience in new and fresh ways.’
And one final note…
When you next get the opportunity to meet a Creative Director for a book crit, don’t just talk about advertising. Ask what inspires them. What’s their favourite book, film or album? Then go away and read it, watch it or listen to it. If they never invite you back, at least you’ve got something out of it. And, if they do, then you’ve got something more interesting than your work to talk about.
Ethan Lott, Copywriter