In the early 1980s, when I was a young man fresh out of college, I wanted to work in the advertising industry as a writer. I took the traditional approach and sent resumes with my three best writing samples to 80 advertising agencies. The response I got: ZERO. I made several follow-up phone calls only to learn that my resume had not even been looked at. One creative director told me that he had a stack of resumes from writers that was four feet high and that he had not looked at one of them. I was frustrated, but that frustration stimulated a humorous way for getting those creative directors' attention.
Around that time I had begun to notice a number of homeless people having particularly good success at begging by holding up a piece of cardboard ripped from a box with these words written on it: "Will Work for Food." They had discovered an effective way to advertise and motivate people to give them money. Recalling the old saying, "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," I decided to create my own sign that read: "Will Write Ad Copy for Food." Then I had a friend photograph me holding it. I made 80 copies, stamped my contact information on the back, and mailed it to those same ad agencies. It was amazing; I heard back from more than half of them!
Innovation and creativity are all about solving problems or satisfying needs. And there are three times when we are most likely to think creatively.
One circumstance that brings out our creativity is when we are forced into it. Suddenly you find your back against a wall with nothing at your disposal but spit and a prayer (you'd give anything for some duct tape). There is a proverb you've heard dozens of times that succinctly describes this situation: "Necessity is the mother of invention."
The concept of necessity motivating us to improvise brings to mind a story that my third grade teacher, Ms. McCoy, shared with my class. The imagery was so gross, I never forgot it. She was living in California and had gone to her hair stylist for a permanent wave. While she was waiting for the solution to set, the room began shaking, glass was breaking, and people were screaming. It was an earthquake.
When it stopped, everyone in the building ran outside. Knowing that the perm solution must be rinsed out soon or her hair would fall
out, my teacher asked the stylist to wash her hair. He, however, fearing an aftershock, refused. Ms. McCoy, more concerned about baldness than getting squashed, went back into the building.
She went to the hair washing sink and turned on the faucet. Nothing. She checked the other sinks. Again no water; the main was broken. Finally she went into the bathroom and found what she was looking for. She said it only took an instant to decide between losing her hair or her dignity, before she plunged her head into the toilet.
The second occasion in which we are likely to be creative is when something annoys us. Irritation motivates us to find a way to fix the problem. Remember, "it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease." I wrote about this at length in a previous column, where I suggested that applying creative thinking to some of the tasks you hate to do each day could lead you to a million-dollar idea.
The third occasion in which we are likely to be creative is simply when we want to be. It is human nature to improve things. Whether it is
an artistic pursuit or something more practical, developing something new brings us joy and fulfillment
Your Personal Genius
Sure, it's exciting to solve a problem, but there is more to it than that. Feeding your creative spirit is exciting and invigorating. Creative energy is highly motivating and makes life seem worthwhile. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the results of your own personal genius. It's about the journey, or as the American painter Robert Henri put it, "The object isn't to make art, it's to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable."
Sometimes it is simply inspiring to observe all the innovation around you. Just look around you at all the man-made objects - whether it's the building where you work, the ballpoint pen on your desk, or the chair you are sitting in - each one began with a thought, an idea. And it's not just about things you make. It's about new theories, new ways of doing things, new efficiencies . . . The list is endless, and always will be as long as men's minds are free to explore the limitless possibilities of their imagination.
Have you been neglecting your ideas and creative energy? Take some time today and get back to making it a regular part of your routine. You'll be glad you did.