Snapshot : Learning how to be more creative is fun, but it also has serious benefits for marketing. Being creative gets easier with practice, but often, it’s hard to know where to start. Here, we share our three favourite easy creative ideas to help you take that first step to being more creative.
We love the word creativity.
Who doesn’t? Creativity puts a smile on your face. It’s fun. Create something, point to it and say “look at what I made”. Doesn’t that feel satisfying? Doesn’t that makes you feel good?
You can imagine God leaning back after the 7th day and saying, “yeh, that was fun. That was satisfying. Now I just need to invent Charles Darwin and The Theory of Evolution to torment those crazy creationist guys, and I’m done.”
But combine creativity with marketing, and you also find yourself with a serious business benefit. A serious competitive advantage as one of our favourite marketing quotes points out :-
“It may well be that creativity is the last unfair advantage we’re legally allowed to take over our competitors.”
Great line, isn’t it?
Creativity makes you more competitive. Brilliant. Creativity improves how you connect with customers, because it generates ideas they’ll love.
Serious business benefits, right?
If that’s the case though, why do many businesses do it badly? What stops them being better at creativity? Where do you start if you want easy creative ideas?
Creativity is like cooking
Thinking creatively (!), the best answer for these tough questions is think of creativity as like cooking.
People who cook for a living put in the time and effort to master the skills needed. Fame, fortune and teaching others comes from being a master practitioner.
Most of us know enough about cooking to get by, but we don’t do it enough to become masters at it.
And of course, there’s some people who’ll just say it’s just too much effort. They’d rather pay someone else to do it for them.
In businesses, you’ll find the equivalent three groups – the masters, the enough to get by, and the outsourcers – when it comes to creativity.
Mastering a skill takes time and effort. Nobody starts off as a master. Improvements come from repeated practice. Masters get it wrong many times before they get it right.
Master creatives might smash out the creative equivalent of a chipotle peanut souffle on Masterchef, but their first efforts would have been something more like the creative equivalent of beans on toast.
As you learn a new skill, there’s always hacks and tips like they show on the masterclass on Masterchef. So, consider the three easy creative ideas we share this week as like a mini-masterclass in creativity. Easy creative ideas you can use to become more creative.
They’re the creativity equivalent of the bacon sandwich, stir fry noodles, or the midweek one pot wonder.
Reliable short-cuts that hit the spot every time.
(we’ll stop the cooking analogies here, it’s making us hungry …)
Easy creative ideas #1 - Location, timing and creativity styles matter
Our first easy creative idea involves finding ways to get into a creative state of mind. Getting into a creative state of mind is the first step to becoming more creative.
Think of creativity as like a big switch in your brain. Its default position is off. You have to choose to turn it on. Being creative is an active mental state.
You may think it runs by itself in the background – like when you have an idea in the bath, or you’re out for a walk. But those creative ideas were usually prompted by a prior creative problem or question.
Creativity takes conscious effort. You flick a mental switch to activate it. That usually means you need a signal or trigger to tell your brain that you need its creative power.
Build your own signals and triggers for creativity
If you’re on your own trying to be creative, say writing a blog post about easy creative ideas (!), then you need to figure out which creative signals and triggers work for you.
For many people, location influences their creativity, for example. That’s why artists and musicians have separate studios.
Your “studio” can be anywhere you feel creative.
It might be a wall at home with a bunch of post-its, or sitting with your laptop at your favourite cafe.
Just try to make it a different place or view from where you do your normal boring day to day stuff.
Your creative approach also depends on timing. Many creators work to regular schedules. They focus on creativity at certain times of day or certain times of the week.
(Check out Steven King’s writing memoir On Writing for details of his creative writing routine for example).
Routines help you develop the habit of being creative. Habits are important in all creative skills, as we cover in our article on writing habits.
If you know you need to be creative at certain times, your creative brain gears up to be ready for those times. You’ll know best if you’re a morning person or an evening person, for example. Or if you’re a “do it well in advance” creator, or more a “leave it to the last minute” type.
Be aware of your own creative working style
You also need to work out your own creative working style, and develop signals and triggers that fit that style.
In our article on the three monkeys of creativity, we share how your style changes depending on whether you’re more introvert or extrovert and whether you get more energy from tasks or from feelings.
If you’re introvert and task focussed for example, your creativity comes from quiet observation and reflection. But if you’re extrovert and feeling focussed, your creativity needs other people around you to socialise and interact with.
Making smart choices about location, timing and working style choices gets you to easy creative ideas faster. The right choices flick your creativity switch on.
But of course, many times, it’s not just your creativity you need to worry about. It’s other people’s. Members of your team. Marketing agencies. Customers or clients. You need to work out what the creativity signals and triggers for these people are too.
Other people's creativity triggers
If location, timing and creative working style help you get more creative, then of course, you can also use these factors to help other people be more creative.
Think about the location where you want people to be creative.
In most business, this means going “off-site”, somewhere away from where you do your day to day work.
Hotels, conference centres and other venues regularly hire out rooms for these types of meetings and workshops
The rooms come with a standard set of equipment – projectors, flip charts, marker pens and plenty of space to move around.
If the space feels creative, then the people attending will also feel more creative.
Ceiling height triggers different type of creativity
For example, did you know that ceiling height influences the type of creative solutions generated?
Known as the Cathedral effect, it comes from a University of Minnesota study that showed that ceiling height primes the brain to think in certain ways.
High ceilings prime thoughts about freedom. Creative thinking in rooms with high ceilings delivers ideas that are more open and wide-ranging.
Low ceilings on the other hand, prime thoughts about confinement. Low ceilings work better when you need more action-focussed short-term ideas.
Creativity with others takes more time, so use it wisely
As for timing, group creativity often takes longer than individual creativity.
You need to plan ahead and organise diaries. You need to set an agenda and structure how the creative session will run. There’s a temptation to try and cram a lot into one session, if it’s hard to get everyone together at the same time.
But, in our experience, it’s tough to ask people to be creative for a long period of time. It’s a huge energy drain for most people. Giving people time to turn their creativity switch on and off over the course of day generally works better than full-on creativity from 9 to 5.
Most people don’t spend their “normal” days being creative. Non-creative work tasks still need to get done. You need to allow people time to manage those tasks, so when you do ask them to be creative, you get their full focus and energy.
We’ve found creative thinking sessions that start later and finish earlier work better. Think 9.30 – 3.30 or 10 – 4. This gives people time to clear any overnight emails before the session starts. It gives them time to clear stuff at the end of the day.
This means they’ll be more focused on your creative task during the day.
Give them plenty of breaks too.
When your brains is in creative mode, it’s like putting your car on turbo charge – you get higher performance, but it drains energy fast.
You need to give people “off” time to recharge their creative batteries.
Group creative working styles
Groups can and should include a variety of creative working styles. A diversity of styles brings a greater range of thinking and ideas to the creative problem. But, it also brings the challenge of how to get different styles to best work together in a group.
If you’re leading the group, be prepared for the different creative working styles that’ll need to work together. If you can, pick the people that you know will work well together. But if you end up having to invite more difficult people, try to plan out how best to handle them.
Dealing with difficult people
This can be a problem, because there may well be some less than ideal creative styles in the team. Knowing who they are, and how difficult they can be is a big help.
For example, one Sales manager we knew would happily come up with ideas during creative thinking sessions.
But we could always guarantee five minutes before the end, he’d say “but of course, the trade customer will never go for any of these ideas.”
Way to piss on everyone’s creative bonfire.
Then there was a super extrovert innovation manager we knew. As the innovation manager, they felt the need to be the most innovative in the group.
All the time. Every time.
So, they dominated conversations, rewrote everyone else’s ideas, and made everyone feel superfluous to the process. They also got super huffy when the group didn’t go for their ideas.
Way to motivate a group to be creative.
Then, there was the digital marketing manager who agreed the process up-front. But then refused to ever adjust it on the day. That’s the plan, and we’re sticking to it, even if clearly the plan wasn’t working.
Way to push the boundaries on creative thinking.
Plan for creative group quirks and foibles
Of course, nobody’s perfect. We’re all human, and have our own quirks and foibles. But, if you’re leading a creative group, it’s important to recognise these early. Build strategies to counteract them if they threaten to disrupt the group dynamics.
Ask the sales guy to present the customer point of view up front, so they can’t derail you at the end.
Rotate the chairman role between sessions, and give the innovation manager the first go, so they get their moment in the spotlight.
Build a fast brainstorming chaos session into the process, and ask the digital marketer to lead it, so they’re forced to be more flexible.
Whatever the quirks and foibles of your creative team, plan ahead so they don’t derail the day.
Easy creative ideas #2 – You’re more creative when you play
Creativity comes when ideas connect together to create new ideas. The most innovative creativity comes from ideas that don’t normally “go” together.
To encourage this sort of creativity, you need to park the natural mental barriers that tells you things “go” or “don’t go” together.
Think of creativity as like a game you play. This helps remove those barriers. Being creative and being playful are very similar concepts.
It’s why so many creative books use the concept of play and being playful. Most people’s associations with play go back to childhood.
Playing is how children explore and learn about the world. The toys they play with, the stories they tell, these are wonderful sources of creativity.
But often in adulthood, play is seen as something that’s not “grown up”, not serious, not important, not “real work”.
Well, pbbbt to that.
(incidentally, we found out that blowing a raspberry is actually Cockney rhyming slang. Blowing a raspberry tart. Fart.Our inner child loves that!)
Yes, adult life means doing serious things. Like tax bills and visits to the doctor. But doing serious things doesn’t mean you can’t do fun and creative things too.
Because without creativity, nothing outside nature would exist. No internet to read this article. No device to view the internet on anyway.
Creativity made the design for your comfy sofa, the label on that bottle of wine and what you’re watching on Netflix tonight.
Someone, somewhere had a creative idea that made those things happen.
Ideas come from creativity, and ideas are what moves the world forward. Take the idea of creativity seriously, even if being creative rarely feels serious. In fact, the less serious you are when being creative, the better.
Many people’s creativity peaks in childhood
The peak of many people’s creativity comes in childhood. Think about it. When did you last paint, draw, write a story or make up a song?
Kids do those things all the time.
Adults? Not so much.
Kids do these things to learn about the world, to take in new ideas and express themselves. Their creativity comes from feeling liberated, having no fear, being excited by playing and experimenting.
Why should kids have all that fun? Shouldn’t we keep those things into adulthood?
Our natural childhood creative behaviours are ground down by the growing up process. Adult stuff like keeping your boss happy, pointless meetings and HR workshops (!) kill creativity.
The sense of liberty, the lack of fear, the excitement of playing and experimenting all lead to finding better and easier creative ideas.The playfulness of childhood is a huge creative opportunity in adulthood.
Encourage playfulness in your creative teams
When you pull together a creative team, think about how they’ll play together.
You could for example give people a score based on their playfulness before deciding who to invite. Think about them lining up like picking a team in the school playground. Aim to pick the people with the most playfulness.
For example, give people a score out of 5 on factors like …
- Openness and energy for new things and ideas – Are they the type of person who jumps at the chance to do new things? Or do they sit there with a face like a smacked arse when anything new comes up?
- Do they think differently to other people? Do they come out with unexpected things? Or are they predictable and just go with the flow? Unexpected ideas are gold in creativity.
- Do they play well with others? Can they listen to others ideas and build on them? Or do you see them shooting down ideas? Are they creators, critics or coasters? Which do you hear them saying more often – “yes, and …” or “yes, but …”? Saying “but” is kryptonite for creativity, it kills ideas.
When you plan a creative session, who needs to be there? Everyone in your team, or can you select a smaller group? Creative sessions usually work best with teams of up to 8 people.
Any more gets harder to handle.
If you can cherry pick the best people for the team, you’ll get faster and better ideas. And you won’t have the problem of dealing with people who under-contribute.
Don’t invite people to creative sessions out of obligation. The goal of creativity is great creative ideas, not to make everyone feel nice during the process. If you feel the need to be nice, throw a morning tea or take people out to lunch.
Constructive heathy playful debate from the right team of people drives you to easier creative ideas.
Easy creative ideas #3 – Random mental connections drive creativity
As we said, creativity comes when ideas connect together to create new ideas. One area where adults can beat children (as in do better than them, obviously) on creativity, is adults have experienced a wider range of ideas to draw from.
The wider you read, the more you travel and meet different people, the broader your range of ideas you can use to be creative.
You find easy creative ideas when you open up your mind to a range of experiences and perspectives. Check out the book reviews our founder puts on Goodreads for example.
Other than a fondness for crime novels, you’ll also find a reading list that covers advertising, biographies, design, history, humour, leadership, politics, psychology, storytelling and writing.
These are the sort of topics that broaden your mind. They help you come up with easy creative ideas, because you have a much wider pool of experiences to tap into.
Read widely. Make an effort to read outside your normal area of expertise or comfort.
You’ll learn things that’ll give you new ideas, or at the very least interesting anecdotes or stories.
In fact, next time you run a creative thinking session, ask everyone to find out an unusual fact related to the topic as pre-work.
Let’s say you’re having a creative thinking session about transportation. Did you know that in World War One, French troops stuck in Paris couldn’t get transport to the Battle of the Marne? So, they commandeered 600 taxis to get troops to the battle?
The first army to turn up for battle in taxis.
So, imagine thinking of transportation as a way to win a war. Not something that involves overcrowded buses and trains and smelling other people’s farts and armpits.
Making random mental connections like this takes you in wonderful creative directions. Get into the habit of feeding your creativity with different experiences and perspectives.
As easy creative ideas go, this is one of the most enjoyable and fun.
You’ll feel more knowledgeable, you’ll make better small talk at parties, and above all, you’ll find creativity easier and come up with better ideas.
Clearly, creativity drives great marketing. In fact, great marketing demands creativity.
Even though marketers love to argue over other concepts in marketing (check out our recent article on the marketing 4Ps for example), everyone agrees creativity is a critical skill.
Think about how many areas of marking it impacts. It’s all through your marketing communications.
To do those things, like a creative cordon bleu chef, you need to practice the skill of creativity. In this article, we’ve given you three easy creative ideas to improve your own creative skills.
Firstly, location, timing and an understanding of different creative skill styles make a big difference. These set the context and trigger the right thought patterns to flick the creative switch in your brain.
Then, be aware how much playing and being playful drives creativity. We’re not talking about regressing to childhood. But, put away your serious grown up self sometimes. You’ll be more creative, honest.
And lastly, build your range of mental associations to tap into for future creative ideas. Be curious about the world. Explore a wide range of topics. Know lots of little things about lots of different stuff.
These random mental associations are the seeds that will bear the fruit of your future brilliant ideas.