Ideas are everywhere.
The problem is opening your eyes and mind wide enough to see them.
What exactly is creativity? The dictionary defines creativity as:
The use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.
But that doesn’t address where the ideas actually came from in the first place. That’s why I like this definition much better:
“Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen, and thinking what no one else has thought.”
That definition comes from none other than Albert Einstein.
Unlike the dictionary definition, Einstein tackled the very source of creativity. More importantly, he gave us a blueprint on how to be creative.
Think about that. Every creative idea you’ve ever seen boils down to those two things. First, someone makes an observation. Then they think about it in a new or innovative way.
Take copywriting, for instance. Most of the best performing pieces started with an already existing product (or service). Nothing new there. But what they did was look at it in a different way. They merged it with another idea that made it more powerful in the eyes of the viewer.
Consider the iconic Marlboro Man, for example. Those cigarettes weren’t new. Neither were cowboys. But when those two ideas were merged together, they created an image that captivated a generation.
The famous “two young men” control letter for The Wall Street Journal by Martin Conroy merged an existing newspaper with a fable of education and prosperity. This story-themed marketing proved to be one of the greatest marketing successes of all time.
Want success like that?
Building Your Creative Skills
Some people assume creativity is a natural talent. You either have it or you don’t. But that’s not true. You can improve your creativity. How?
Every time you see a good idea, look a little closer. Ask yourself:
- What was the core element or concept that everyone had seen?
- What was the new thought the author or innovator brought to it?
Step it up a notch and record your findings in a journal. The more you think about how these ideas get paired together to form something new, the more you’ll open yourself to the same types of patterns in your own mind.
It really is that simple.
Observation skills can be learned and improved with practice. So can lateral thinking and imagination. Together, they combine to form the bulk of your creativity.
Think of all those articles and blog posts that follow the pattern: “Tips I learned from … ”
And then they match their core concept to something totally unrelated — like kindergarten, or Sesame Street, or a popular TV show. That’s creativity at work.
I wanted to try this out.
So I decided to write a post to share on LinkedIn.
Exercising My Creativity
My first step was to come up with something unusual. Something I don’t normally see when I’m reading marketing articles and blogs. Something that would capture a reader’s attention.
And that’s when I remembered the wild turkeys.
They’d been loitering in my backyard yesterday. At least until I went to find my camera. Then they dashed away, of course.
I couldn’t remember seeing any business articles about turkeys. And with Thanksgiving right around the corner, it seemed like a great topic to write about.
So now I needed to blend it with my core concept — marketing. I wanted the article to support my business while having a little holiday fun. That’s where the creativity came in.
Merging marketing and wild turkeys was not a straightforward task. I had to think about how those turkeys reminded me of a problem I could help solve.
The way they ran away when I was ready to engage them (i.e., take their picture) was my first connection. That reminded me of businesses that fail to nurture their leads.
I wanted more than one lesson, though, so I needed to dig a little deeper. I thought about other encounters I’ve had with wild turkeys. In particular, I thought about the times when they just stand there in the middle of the road, blocking traffic.
And there I had my second lesson. It revolved around engaging customers where they wanted to be engaged.
The article practically wrote itself from there.
Flexing Your Creative Muscles
I started with two unrelated concepts — marketing and wild turkeys — and used creativity to connect them in a meaningful way. And I did it on purpose, with no light bulbs blinking on above my head or sudden bursts of inspiration.
That’s the exciting thing, if you’re a writer. You can take your core concept and connect it to practically anything you want. As you practice it — as you flex those creative muscles — you’ll find it gets easier and easier.
The most important thing is to pick something that will resonate with your audience. While turkeys popped into my mind because I’d just seen them, the post wouldn’t have had the same impact in July. Thanksgiving is what made it a good match.
The best subjects will interest your audience and draw them into your writing. By merging them with your core message, you can create powerful new ideas — over and over and over again.
After all, seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no one else has thought is not just an exercise in creativity … it’s good business.
Feel free to share your own creative new ideas below!
Have a great week!
Editor’s Note: Want to learn more about producing ideas?
James Webb Young, copywriter and Advertising Man of the Year 1946, was asked to speak at an ad club on how to come up with great advertising ideas. His five-step methodology is reprinted in his book, A Technique for Producing Ideas. It’s a quick and useful read!
This book was recently featured on AWAI’s Great Books Club. You can join the Great Books Club for free here.