How to be creative? Here's the big secret

Updated: Jun 19, 2019

How to be more creative in public relations or anything else

Creativity is an essential attribute for people who work in public relations. You're constantly brainstorming pitches.

Then you're figuring out how to make them seem original to a jaded audience of journalists who have seen or reported every story imaginable.

And you have to do that, day in and day out. If you run into "writer's block" then you're pretty much done.

How can you be creative? I'm not going to give you a 10-point list to follow.

Rather, I'm going to pass on a bit of wisdom that comes courtesy of the Making Sense with Sam Harris podcast (I'm a huge fan and have been for some time. If you listen to podcasts and like exploring big ideas, I can't recommend it highly enough). It came from this episode in particular: Understanding Humans in the Wild.

What were the important takeaways I got from this conversation? Let's start with this:

A creative person is not someone who, on average, has more good ideas than anyone else.

A creative person is someone who has more ideas, period.

I really like that definition.

Naturally, you'd prefer to have more good ideas than bad ideas. And it's possible that some people find it easier to silence the voices in their head and keep the really bad ideas to themselves. But that doesn't have to be the case for a person to be called creative.

Generating more ideas means more shots on goal, or for my Canadian colleagues, more pucks on the net.

If you have 1,000 big ideas a year and only 5 percent of them are good, you still will have waaaaay more good ideas than someone who has only 100 big ideas a year (with the same ratio). Even if you don't self-censor ideas that you think are not going to fly, then the marketplace will push back against your bad ideas (ie. nobody will buy what you're selling, whether that's actual products or abstract ideas). The good ones will have the possibility of finding traction.

We all know of Thomas Edison (or at least, his company, which purchased the patent) as the inventor of the lightbulb. As inventor or as the businessman who made the idea possible, he was prolific. But did you ever hear about Edison's phonograph doll? This thing was supposed to be a delight to children -- but ended up scaring the bejeezus out of kids and parents alike. It was a commercial disaster. I encourage you to listen to its recordings, some of the most horrifying sounds ever created by humankind (or a spirit from beyond the grave). Edison was a creative genius, but his success came from implementing his good ideas, not from constantly churning out winners right and left.

So, how do you become more creative? This was the next big takeaway. Taking acid, drinking absinthe or seducing a muse might not be worth the trouble. Instead, try this:

Remove the obstacles to creativity.

Or, to put it simply...

Give yourself time to daydream.

You can't be creative when your concentration is tightly focused on solving a problem or doing the work that's right in front of you.

Instead, you'll find that ideas come when you least expect it. You're taking a break from work, wandering in your neighborhood and you scan a headline at the top of a newspaper, or you overhear a conversation, or you just see what looks like a pattern in a cloud... and KA-POW! The idea comes to you.

I realized shortly after listening to the podcast that I'd heard this concept articulated before on the show, Mad Men.

A client comes to the advertising head office and seems annoyed at the sight of copywriters lounging on couches instead of hovering over their typewriters. The tragic genius of an advertising executive Don Draper sees this and replies:

“You came here because we do this better than you and part of that is letting our creatives be unproductive until they are.”

For my own practice, I make sure to get out for walks at least a few times a day (if only to get exercise). But I often find it's those times when a good idea pops into my head.

I'm also lucky to be one of those guys who can pick up on cues and find connections to ideas when I'm in casual conversation -- otherwise known as riffing.

You can't force creativity to happen. But if you remove the barriers to it, you might just find it comes to you without any effort at all.

Of course, if creativity doesn't come easily to you and you're in need of some help with PR, you could always just leave it to us. It's what we do for you.

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