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November 9, 2023

Rethinking Creativity – How to Have Better Ideas

Isaiah Harwood

Rethinking Creativity blog article header image.

Creativity: what is this vague imaginative quality that seems to be valued so highly across almost every industry? Some see creativity as an inherent ability that belongs exclusively to artists bending their backs over an easel, but it’s also a tool that accountants and bookkeepers use every day. Creativity, in my eyes, is the ability to imagine a better version of something, to solve a problem, and to question the status quo. That is why it’s so important that we find ways to fuel that capability in ourselves and others. I think creativity is a muscle that everyone has, it just needs to be stretched and worked to reach its full potential. As a Junior Designer at Creative Energy, here are a few lessons I’ve learned and ways I’ve found to stretch my creativity muscle, get out of creative ruts, and improve my ability to generate creative ideas.

Talk to People

Many people, including myself at one time, see art as a solitary pursuit. I’ve indulged in the stories of Andy Warhol, Paul Rand, and Frank Lloyd Wright, imagining that they emerged from their studio, ready to share their genius with the world. It’s easy to fall for the fantasy, but I promise you none of those people did it by themselves. Great ideas can come from anywhere, but they aren’t realized in a vacuum. When I am in a creative rut, there is one solution that never fails me. What’s the secret? Other creatives, and the discourse, feedback, and direction they provide.

Other perspectives are key. There is no better way to orient yourself and find your place as both a person and an artist. You don’t need to conduct a focus group to talk about your ideas. The best lesson I have learned while working at an agency is that we’re stronger together. Every idea I’ve bounced off a coworker has been improved tenfold. “Iron sharpens iron,” and it’s true, that only the best ideas survive being tried and tested. You might be thinking that I just have extraordinarily talented creatives as coworkers at Creative Energy, and you would be right, but this fact holds true even outside of the world of advertising and design.

Stop Playing it Safe

Every great rebrand happens when someone at a company realizes their brand identity has fallen short. I bet that this is what was going through the head of the executive at Burger King who first suggested the idea of a rebrand. Their logo before the 2021 rebrand got the job done, and it was instantly recognizable. Still, the company thought “We can do better.” Burger King reverting back to a retro look, similar to their 1969 to 1994 logo, took guts, but their brand identity is now undeniably better. The truth is, we could all be better. Every day that we accept “good enough,” we miss out on “great,” or our own version of the cool new Burger King rebrand.

Break the rules. Get out of your comfort zone, and do the one thing that scares you the most. Reaching your full potential is going to demand some risk-taking. If you’re a designer, maybe take a moment to open up Illustrator and make a fun color palette that no client would ever agree to use. If you want to get really crazy, try using a font other than Helvetica for once. Even if it is only to loosen up, you will learn something from this exercise. This can be applied to any field, too. Roll the dice for once and make something weird. Ideas can be ugly and rough around the edges for a moment. Truly great ideas have never been done before. They have no point of reference, and they may seem ugly or make us uncomfortable at first. These are just growing pains, so keep pushing through.

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

Doing any creative work without an overarching goal or mission in mind is like setting out to sea without a compass. There’s no need to rein yourself in when you are brainstorming because that part of the process should be messy. Let your inspiration and curiosity be your guide, but also know where you want to go. These don’t have to be goals you reach overnight, any progress forward counts. The world around us is always changing and evolving despite our efforts to hold it still. Be discerning when choosing which ideas to pursue, but never let your need for perfection or people pleasing render you stagnant.

Chances are there is already someone or something out there doing what you want to do. Every creative brings something wholly unique to the table, but the toolkit needed to forge a path is something that can be taught and learned. Seek out a person, organization, or mentor who can help you make your ideas and goals tangible. Ask yourself what skills you want to bring to the table. Learning from creative mentors can bring a fresh perspective to your internalized ideation. Look for ways to break the rules, but be open to direction and guidance. As I said, don’t create in a vacuum.

Don’t Burn Out

Believe it or not, you are not a machine. The very things that set you apart from AI are actually the things that make you such a strong creative. Take a break, and think about something other than work. You can be creative without inspiration, and inspiration comes from living life to the fullest. Your free time doesn’t always need to be devoted to a brainstorming session; give your brain a chance to remember what it feels like to be a kid with no responsibilities. Don’t run on empty when your imagination needs fuel.

A small dose of procrastination can be your friend. This might sound crazy, but put off your disbelief for a second. Waiting until the last second, surprisingly, has some benefits. The pressure of a deadline can push you to do your best work; for example, nothing electrifies my brain quite like an impending client review.

Even when I have not actively begun working on a project, it is stewing in the back of my mind. There are times when procrastination can offer time for me to consider all possibilities before I jump in. It is important to be accountable and to plan ahead, but there are benefits to stepping back and carefully planning before jumping into action.

Believe in Yourself.

It sounds corny, but please bear with me while I wax poetic for a second. We are mortal beings here to breathe air and take up space only for a short time. We are only here for a millisecond on the cosmic scale, and the universe will continue vibrating long after we are gone. Suspend what you know about life and death and the nature of reality for a moment. Stop worrying about what other people will think and make the kind of art that you want to make; tell the story you want to tell.

You can do anything you put your mind to while you’re here. Take the word “can’t” out of your vocabulary, because at the end of the day, there is no rule book. Use your time here rather than doubting yourself or rationalizing your place in the universe, stretch yourself beyond what is expected, and then push yourself further. People set their own limits, so don’t get in the way of your own inherent creative intuition. The best thing you can do for yourself, and for everyone else, is to reach out and share what you have to offer. Be ready to listen, too. You never know where your next great idea will come from.