Creativity, And How To Prevent It

by John Pellegrini

Ever get the feeling that many of the higher-ups in your corporate slice of heaven would like to see the headline of this article carved into our collective heads? We've all worked for, or maybe are working for, GMs, GSMs, and even PDs who have their minds set in the concrete of terminal sameness. "Don't Rock The Boat" seems to be the battle cry of nearly all of corporate America. So, what's a wacky creative type like yourself supposed to do in this no fun situation? More importantly, how can you keep creativity under negativity and adversity?

It is much easier to explain how to be creative than to actually do it because, to be creative requires the ability to abandon all inhibitions and insecurities that you have placed to limit yourself, or that society has deemed necessary for co-existence with the rest of society. I'm not saying that to be creative, you have to go out and break any laws. Just be aware of how to break them. It's the thought, not the physical act. This is the process to opening your mind to possibilities.

John Cleese has stated that, "creativity isn't a talent. It's a way of operating." You weren't born with the ability to write goofy copy or funny comedy bits. You instead allow yourself the time and the freedom to come up with these possibilities. Recognizing that ideas are not miracles (although some religious folk may differ with that), but are instead the result of the freedom to think things over, is how you allow more creativity to occur in your life. You need to set aside certain times for fun and silliness. If you are the type who needs a schedule, then give yourself an hour or so each day for "play time." See the molecules in the concrete sidewalk, as it were. Discovery and curiosity lead to creativity.

Of course, creativity, and the use of "play time" require more effort. Yes, silliness is work. Bad copy, loaded with clichés, is the result of taking the easy way out, not taking the extra half an hour or so to think about things and perhaps discover other ways of looking at the picture. Nothing aggravates me more than to hear about big time agency Creative Directors getting huge salaries to write crap that you and I both know couldn't have taken more than five minutes to toss off. But instead of becoming hostile or bitter, channel that frustration into ensuring that your production will sound better. It may take longer than the salesperson or the client wished, but they're going to be a lot happier with the results.

But why does mediocrity and the resentment toward creativity persist? Why are expressions like, "play it safe," and "we've done it this way for years; there's no need to change" continually pervading among those in positions of authority? Some would say the recession means you've got to be careful and conservative in your approaches, but I disagree. These attitudes were very much in vogue back when the economy was supposedly doing well. The answer lies more within the psyche of the authority who dictates these policies.

Humor and creativity represent playfulness, spontaneity, and relaxation. And, to the average authority-type, this isn't sound business thinking. Plus, not everyone has the frame of mind to allow the freedom required to create. Because the process of creativity is so much accelerated with play, fun, and other silliness, certain managers have formed the opinion that it is a time wasting activity. Besides, it's difficult to explain in business terms to the board of directors why the entire creative staff was bouncing on pogo sticks the other day. So, it is up to us to furnish a sound, business-like explanation of what we do, and why we act so weird in order to do it -- in other words, how we gain results.

People don't like being told what to do. You don't. I don't. And the "Typical American Consumer" certainly doesn't. Yet, that is precisely what we do for a living. We create messages that sell the station and sell the station's clients. We tell the "Typical American Consumer" what to do every day. "Listen to W*** for the best music!" "Buy your next car at Joe Schmuck's Dealership." Well, as the old saying goes, if you're gonna screw someone, at least do it with flowers and a smile. Our job is coming up with new flowers and smiles each time. As production/creative professionals, we must examine new ways of expressing commands to do things so that they will not annoy, but instead attract people to do something. That requires creativity!

Watch how your station's salespeople get clients to buy a schedule. They use a variety of methods to persuade. More often than not, humor is a prevailing ingredient. You always hear them asking, "What's it gonna take to get this guy on the air?" We constantly hear them bitching about how long it takes to get some clients to buy. Virtually no client is ever persuaded to buy on the strength of one visit by a sales-person. Unfortunately, these same salespeople do not realize that we must go through the same process to present the client to our listeners in a way that will be favorable, i.e. to produce results!

Will a clever piece of copy really make a difference for a client? There is no research to prove it, but we all know it will. It's a personal thing. Each person is motivated by different visions and attitudes. If the opposite were true, every-thing from artwork to architecture would look the same. But, there is one basic principle I believe in: it's better to suggest than to command. It's better to invite than to insist, and it's always better to make someone laugh than to merely talk at them, because humor allows everyone to relax and become more open to suggestion -- the "flowers and a smile" bit.

So, the next time someone wants to know why you're screwing off, tell them you're contributing to the improvement of the quality of life!