What is it with ideas? They are such precious things and yet it’s incredibly difficult to isolate their moment of creation. What forces fused together to reach that point where known facts become new thoughts. Where the eye, brain, hand and imagination combine to ‘defeat habit by originality’ as Arthur Koestler defined creativity.
In my experience the thing that makes the process so engaging and so fascinating is that there is no one process. The best ideas can sometimes spring into being, fully formed in minutes, literally ignited by a spark of inspiration. Other ideas emerge as the result of long maturation and distillation. And each time you begin to search anew you don’t know whether this one will be the hare or the tortoise.
What is for sure is that ideas don’t spring from nowhere. Like seeds they grow best in fertile soil – in minds that are fed and watered with the nutrients of creativity.
Advertising and marketing reflect the society they serve, so it pays to have as a bedrock an awareness of what’s going on; in the world, in business, in the economy, in the arts, in design, in opinion, in technology, in the zeitgeist.
Overlaying that is knowledge of the marketplace for the idea. What is the context, what else is out there, what are the drivers, dynamics and objectives?
Then comes the topsoil – knowledge of the product and the target audience. What insights are there into motivations, behaviours, attitudes and how does the product meet those needs. What differentiates the product, what characteristics distinguish the brand.
If it sounds cold and clinical for an artistic endeavour that’s because this is only half of it. This is the conscious side of the equation, the science. And as an American Art Director once described advertising as ‘the bastard art of an imprecise science’ it’s worth considering the other half of the equation – the unconscious mind. The source of the magic dust, the unique, the different, the zig not the zag – the drumming gorilla selling chocolate by beating out Phil Collins. It’s the magic bullet that in the best examples finds its target because the conscious mind has given it aim.
Interestingly, like a band releasing its first album, when you begin in the business, the unconscious mind positively fizzes. Ideas flow freely and easily and the hardest part is to pick the wheat from the chaff.
But as you gain experience and knowledge, the creative act becomes more considered and, counter intuitively, you have to work harder and harder to be spontaneous and to find paths you haven’t been down before.
If anybody saw an excellent BBC2 series on songwriting, you would have heard Sting describe this process perfectly. ‘Don’t stand so close to me’ he wrote in the blink of an eye. Now each song is teased out, crafted, revisited and polished as it becomes harder to detach yourself from an ever deepening pool of experiences, and even cynicism.
The creative struggle is all about keeping the equation in balance. About maintaining an equilibrium between experience, knowledge and insight on the one hand and new and divergent thinking and the enthusiasm of innocence on the other.
The really beautiful part is that the idea doesn’t care how it’s created. Whether it’s the result of perspiration or inspiration, a good idea is a good idea.