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What does it take to be creative?

DJ Saul suggests ways to network at the panel discussion, "Creativity: Tips and Tricks" (Ad2DC)

Last night, I attended a panel discussion presented by Ad2DC on “Creativity: Tips and Tricks.”

Naturally, I expected the speakers to talk about creativity.  Well, I was misguided.  They mostly talked about how to manage a beginning career as designer.  Creativity really didn’t come into it.

Erik Dreyer focused his comments on productivity.  He shared organizational tips about using jump drives, notebooks, and email reminders.  He explained how to keep a neat Mac Desktop.  He did mention that he drew pictures of people in meetings to jog his memory of who they were later, which was kind of funny.  But his suggestions didn’t strike me, you know, as overwhelmingly creative.  Alex Slater also didn’t really talk about creativity, per se.  He just talked about how you couldn’t make it as a creative professional unless you had talent, passion, and were in the right place at the right time.  That pretty much went without saying, so the only insight I gleaned from his remarks is that he has some kind of unnamed problem with the Ad Club that he wouldn’t elaborate on, and with managers who critiqued his work.  DJ Saul was a marketer and didn’t really address creativity at all.  He shared professional networking tips.  The audience of 20-somethings responded to his rapid-fire style of speaking and Millenial-style quips of wisdom.

I guess it was all hard for me to relate to, and I felt it didn’t really have much to do with creativity, but I think the audience enjoyed the irreverent style, peppered with f-bombs.

As the lone 40-something in the room, I did long to say: here’s a creative tip for you.  Have a kid!  (The ultimate creative act).  Then you will never lack for creative inspiration, no, not ever.  You will be particularly inspired in December when it’s time to deliver on Santa’s promises.  Then, you will be creative like nobody’s business.  Nothing inspires creativity like rent, tuition, car insurance and a box of spaghetti left 🙂

But honestly, having a kid means you will never, ever do work you’re not proud to sign your name to, which is a huge boost to your creative powers.  At least, that is true in my case.   My son knows what I do, watches my videos, and even meets my clients.  I couldn’t do work I didn’t believe in because — well, I’m trying to make him proud of me.

I decided to take the evening for what it was worth and just absorb what younger people had to say.  I was struck, as I always am, by their energy but also how different this generation is from my Generation X.  When I and my peers were in our 20s, we were not quite so aware of our age as these people are.  We did not make a point of being under 30.  Our youth wasn’t something we cultivated as an identity.  We identified ourselves by our work and position.  We mixed a lot more with older and more experienced people, and we didn’t have “young professional” networking groups or “under-30 entrepreneur” groups.  My generation would have thought that was odd, because we were trying to climb the ladder, which for us, doing whatever we had to do (ref: 80s movies “Working Girl”, “Baby Boom,”  and “Secret of My Success”) to connect with older, more influential, and more experienced people.  So, I always have trouble relating to the Millennial mind set in this regard.

But I did feel inspired by the thoughts of one of the speakers (Caleb Stewart), who rather elegantly explained (without four letter words) what he felt was the point of creativity, from a commercial standpoint (but not how, exactly, to tap into your creativity).  He talked about how every creative video or graphic should tell a story and get people emotionally invested.  He said when people react, they naturally take a side (hopefully your side) and relate to you/your product/the story.  He also referred to this as finding your theme, and said in your artistic or creative work, you might find yourself coming back to certain themes, or being true to certain themes (to a point where they could be identified).  When people react to your (commercial) creative work, claimed Caleb, they naturally reach for their wallets.  He cited the Apple logo as an example of this storytelling, with the theme of simplicity.

I also liked him because he said Pee Wee’s Big Adventure was the greatest movie ever made, and you just have to like someone who says something like that 🙂

But back to creativity.  Since I didn’t learn any creativity tips or tricks tonight, what does it take to be creative?  And is creativity limited to “creatives” who swear a lot and who are under 30?

Of course not.  Children are incredibly creative.  People of all ages are.  Look at Da Vinci.

What does it take, really to be creative?  What helps us create?  In my view, it is this:

  • A willingness to play, explore, and learn, and try new things.  An openness to the world.
  • A desire for self-expression.  Actually, a real drive, almost a compulsion to create.
  • Materials and tools — clay, sewing machines, paint, drawing pads.  But a really creative person can be creative with almost anything — a bar of soap, some foil, or a piece of fruit.  I saw an artist carve a beautiful goldfish from a carrot.
  • Leisure time, or otherwise, tremendous pressure, depending on your style…It’s hard to be creative if you are very stressed, or have lots of housework, or are exhausted from raising children or working a tough job, or have other distractions.  On the other hand, people like J.K. Rowling managed to be creative even under very challenging circumstances.
  • Inspiration, whether it is an art exhibit, a garden, or colorful pillows in a row.
  • Courage, to try something and have it not be as good as someone else’s, or not live up to your own expectations. The ability to take a risk and run with it.
  • Guidance, from teachers and models who show us new ways of telling a story, whether it’s with words, paint, photo, video, or other media.
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