There are habits that can be cultivated to help with creative problem solving. Creativity is like a muscle that can be exercised and strengthened. This applies to visual designers, brand strategists, brand managers, marketing managers, creative writers, and anyone else involved in the development of creative materials.
Like athletes who adopt training habits to help them perform in their sport, I have developed functional habits to help me succeed as a creative director. I’ve found that by intentionally establishing routines and behaviors, focused on the goal of being a better creative problem solver, it has become easier to perform when it is time to perform.
Here are four habits I’ve adopted and use to solve challenges for our agency and clients.
1. Read every day
The first habit is the habit of daily reading. Very rarely do I read for hours on end. (For all of the habits in this article, consistent application is far more important than volume.) But reading some amount each day has resulted in my regularly engaging with the thoughts, narratives, and opinions of others. By reading articles, books, blogs, and other materials, I expose myself to varied perspectives, provoke my own thoughts and reactions, and thus shape my unique viewpoints. This ongoing interaction with writing acts a foundation to build new ideas from. (More on that in the next habit.)
Getting in the routine of reading everyday has also allowed me to absorb a wider variety of influences. Once I established the habit, I found myself reading more and more, thus giving me wider exposure to different subjects and authors. This sort of breadth of input is critical in creative problem solving as most original ideas are born of unique connections–new combinations of existing materials. It stands to reason that more widely exposed one is to different subject matter, the more likely they are to discover new, unique, and compelling solutions.
2. Write every day
Next, I write every day. I have found that writing is a way to discover what is in my mind. I have a hard time keeping up with the myriad of thoughts that move through my brain. (A symptom of modern life, I suppose.) By writing I organize my thoughts and identify the unique and valuable ones. I can also, in the course of writing, capture thoughts that were previously subconscious. This is particularly true when engaged in free association or guided free writing, and is extremely valuable in generating ideas around a particular challenge.
Interestingly, writing more has extended naturally from reading more. The more I began to read, the more confident I became to write. And the more I write, the more I discover my own voice and thought patterns. By writing everyday I am evolving my perspective in the most authentic way, and drawing lines of distinction between myself and other creative professionals.
3. Ask a lot of questions
The third habit I’ve adopted is the habit of being an insatiable questioner. Early in my career I found it difficult to ask questions. As a young designer eager to earn the respect of employers, clients and peers, I was often apprehensive about revealing what I did not know. I assumed that everyone else knew the answers that were occurring to me.
I have since come to believe that there are no stupid questions. Questioning is the origin of good solutions. Problems can never be solved if they are not well defined, and questions lead to definition. Asking questions helps me turn vague needs into fixed targets–targets that can be aimed at and hit. (The creative brief is the agency’s chosen tool for this.)
The biggest, overarching questions that creative agencies are hired to answer need to be clarified and articulated as early in the process as possible. By considering questions sooner, we can be engaged longer. This leads to more ideas to work with, as our minds process and chip away at the problem, often times subconsciously, bringing up potential solutions and/or more clarifying questions along the way.
4. Work without interruption
The last habit I want to mention is a tactical one. This habit matters most when the time comes to execute on the creative solution. I’ve learned that my best creative work happens when I work without interruption. This has become increasingly difficult. Distractions are everywhere and the longer I’ve gone in my career, the more distractions have come into play. The only way to solve this problem is to make the time and space for uninterrupted work. And the good news is that, like all habits, it becomes easier once it is established.
For me, early mornings are the best time for uninterrupted work. By working at home in the pre-dawn hours, I am able to get into a state where ideas flow and I can explore them without the concern of being distracted by emails, phone calls, or visits. I can experience the “flow” state that so many creative people seek–a state where work become easier because the mind is focused exclusively on the task at hand.
I am extremely blessed to make my living being creative. As a designer turned art director turned creative director, my journey has provided constant creative challenges. In the face of these challenges, and with the help of numerous mentors and creative heroes in my life, I’ve developed what I consider to be good habits, and I believe they have made me a better creative director. I hope you can put them to work too.
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