Creativity: Not Your Typical Loaf of Bread

As Rodney Dangerfield would say, “I don’t get no respect.” Creativity is like that, as are, for the most part, the artisans and thinkers who practice it everyday.

Creativity is not a commodity, like a loaf of bread or a carton of milk. Those items are commodities.

But what if that bread was a special blend of pumpkin, barley, cranberry and wheat? It would still be a loaf of bread but the process of blending different ingredients to make the loaf atypical (and still tasty) is creative. A lot more than just adding ingredients goes into making this special bread loaf. The baker has to know what he or she is doing, what may work and what may not. It’s a process, and a creative one.

Do they teach that in culinary school?

Thanks to iStockPhoto

Thanks to iStockPhoto

The art of creativity is a disruption to the normal way of thinking. As a society, we need to be more disruptive, more open to solving problems while exploring opportunities. In being creative, one doesn’t accept the status quo; one wants to change and improve upon it.

This frightens some folks. They don’t like change, and don’t have a great deal of respect for those who do. They don’t understand the creative mind or the process. They merely view it as a commodity.

How do we change that? Maybe we don’t. We can educate and explain, and that will help, but we need to do that with the right audience – folks who are at least open to dialogue, are curious. They may even ask “Well, instead of pumpkin and cranberry, what about pineapple and mango blending with the barley and wheat?”

Hmmmm, a showing of respect for the process?

Who knows, if they’re really daring, they may consider introducing a new line of baked breads. Heaven forbid that the consumers get another choice!

This creative thinking is a disruption to the status quo. This won’t set well with those who don’t want the status quo changed.

Respect for those of us who do? Forget it!

Yet, creative ideas for the most part have flourished over the years. Along with this, various media have caused a different type of playing field to be formed with creativity serving up some new and different rules.

Creative options equal what-ifs. Commodities don’t care about what-ifs.

Creativity lends itself to storytelling. Commodities don’t (I suppose they can but it would be rather challenging). Creativity allows for storytelling to be transformed into Web, mobile, social, broadcast, print, wherever.  There’s a disruption in the creative process, and the art of storytelling is leading the way.

You can’t do that with a commodity. Long live creativity. Long live disruption.



13 Ways to Handle Fear When It Attacks Creativity

We’ve all been there. We’re never quite sure what do to but we feel like we’ve gotta do something. NOW.

But we can’t. We can’t think other than in scattered ways. Incomplete. Disjointed. Frustration sets in. We feel stymied because our creativity has stopped flowing for whatever the reason.

Uh-oh, what’s that. A strange sound. It’s him! Fear comes a’knockin.

Thanks to iStockPhoto

Thanks to iStockPhoto

Fear, as in being afraid (what if the client hates my ideas), being scared (what if I can’t come up with any ideas), feeling intimidated (there’s always someone lurking in the shadows with better ideas).

Fear is also what you get when you sense F.E.A.R. – Failure to Execute Achievable Results – with the key word here being  “achievable.” The results need to be just that and not unattainable.


The three F” words: Fear, Failure, Fun

Up to now, we’ve referenced two of the three “F” words, fear and failure. The third one we don’t experience nearly enough. That would be fun.

As long as you have fear of failure, you’ll never have any fun!

Dealing with failure is easier than dealing with fear; not that dealing with failure is ever easy. It’s not. It’s embarrassing, even humiliating at times. But failure tends to be short­ lived, relatively speaking.

Society and corporate culture-wise, we talk much more about weaving failure into our systems, our processes. Sometimes it’s all talk and not nearly enough practice. Many successful and innovative companies build and accept failure as a natural way of doing business. More companies should but probably will not. They don’t seem to understand that in order to achieve success, failure is part of the journey.

Fear, on the other hand, can torment, destroy, self-inflict. It can absolutely kill creativity.

You’re angry (about a shortened, possibly unrealistic new deadline), depressed, distraught (you do not want to fail to execute anything). You may even be mystified as to why this happened to you.

Ever receive a phone call late on a Friday from an upset client telling you that new and much better creative needs to be on his desk by first thing Monday morning . . . or else (he doesn’t have to say “or else;” the intimidation suffices)? And nothing you can say will alter how he’s feeling at that point in time.

Hell’s bells, you didn’t have plans for the weekend anyway, didja?!

How do you deal with fear when it attacks creativity, especially when on a deadline (realistic or not)?

13 ways, in no special order, to handle fear when it comes a’callin:

–Walk away – change your surroundings, get into another room or leave for a bit

–Talk it out – if possible, share what’s going on with a colleague, friend or spouse

–Write it down – capture what you now know or understand needs to be done within the new timeline

–Pray – this may be first on some lists and as you’ll see, it’s on mine more than once

–Focus – look at your project from another perspective and focus on different portions of it, thus making it more manageable and doable

–Pray some more – you can never do this one too many times (but you still have to do the work)

–Get more focused – set  realistic parameters that allow you to work on specific aspects of the project without getting overwhelmed

–Think positively Amen! Repeat this step as often as needed

–Remember past good results – remind yourself that you’ve done this before; that’s why they hired you in the first place

–Acknowledge worry and anxiety – this one is tricky because you need to face what’s happening to you, acknowledge it, then move on

–Get to work – actually doing the work can be therapy in itself and when the thoughts start flowing, creativity will thrive

–Don’t give in to what-ifs – try to avoid thinking too much about that over which you have no control or you simply don’t yet know; this is wasted energy

–Pray for the others – I actually mean the clients (or whoever is giving you grief) who are putting you through this; remember, they may not know (or care) what they do

Fear is hardly ever dealt with, but is dished out way too easily and usually without a care. That’s unfortunate since fear is a dangerous and deadly poison to the creative mind and process.

Now, you may have your own way of dealing with fear. Whatever works! We can’t stop it from happening but we need to try our damndest from letting it totally shut us down.

I have fun when I’m head over heels in the creative process, and I try and remember that when fear comes a’knockin.

Come to think of it, I guess I could also change the locks!




Innovation: There’s Apple, Samsung and the Rest of Us

We hear it probably more than we should. Is it becoming an overused word or has it attained that status yet?

Yes, I believe “innovation” is an overused word. And, it’s applied by folks, some of whom should know better, who think every creative endeavor is innovative.

I wish that were the case. It’s not.

OK, reality check time.

According to Wikipedia, “innovation” is the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs. This is accomplished through more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are readily available to markets, governments and society. The term innovation can be defined as something original and, as a consequence, new that “breaks into” the market or society.

So, the next time you change that blue logo to green and make it larger (along with a change of font, of course), you’re not being innovative. It may still be questionable as to how creative you’re actually being.

Of course, innovation goes far beyond a logo or font change. Today’s innovative spheres are super competitive. Just look at the escalating war between Apple and Samsung.

In a recent article by the Associated Press in the Houston Chronicle, the two are back in court this week, accusing each other of stealing ideas and features on their smartphones. Litigation could lead to more expensive devices for the consumer and slow the overall pace of mobile innovation.

The Chronicle article cites Rutgers Law School professor Michael Carrier as saying, “What’s even more worrisome for the effect on innovation is the impact on small innovators. Apple and Samsung can afford this litigation. The next upstart cannot.”

Apple and Samsung are in a league of their own. They share that “super league” with the Googles, Amazons and Microsofts.

For the rest of us on this planet, how should we approach innovation? What should our mindset be?

Well, according to a creative team leader at Google, one should only start looking to innovate when:

– one has totally nailed every best practice and has tapped out on what that can deliver,
– one has an insight to justify an innovative approach.

Otherwise, he says, what one ends up making is gimmickry, inevitably destined for the digital landfill.

One thing is for certain:  We cannot stop innovating, thinking differently, and, yes, counting our failures (they will come, ya know).

So, what’s your take? 

Agree? – Disagree? – Thoughts? – Comments?


29 Ways to Stay Creative

Being creative is fun. It’s also a challenge.

Staying creative can drive ya nuts!

Let’s face it, we’ve all seen lists of various ways to improve on our creativity. There is no all-encompassing list, and, no doubt, if we shared our lists with one another, there would be overlap.

I recently came across this video in a post by Kevin Allen on Ragan’s PR Daily and couldn’t help but smile and chuckle a few times because of their take on compiling the list, not so much the elements on the list (they’re all valid and we should take them to heart).

The video link below is from Japanese design firm To-Fu. It highlights 29 techniques designed to get the creative juices flowing. I’ve had good success with some of these techniques.

However, #4, Getting Away from the Computer,

#10 Be Open,

and #21 Break the Rules . . . we probably don’t do enough.

Enjoy! It’s a little different.



Bob de Leon: RIP

I’ll tell ya right now, this is not my typical blog post. Yet, it’s one I feel compelled to write and share. I wish, though, I didn’t have to do so.

The Houston Creative Community lost a good and talented designer and thinker last week in Bob de Leon. I lost a good friend.

Bob de LeoonHe was way too young to leave us, but, then, we didn’t have much to say about the departure date. Thank God he did not suffer or linger. As I understand it, from attending his memorial service yesterday, he was home alone, quietly sitting in a chair. Then, his time came and he was escorted up that VIP Staircase.

I’ve known Bob for bunches of years – we shared several in-depth phone conversations, chased that little white ball around the golf course a few times, and generally pushed each other to do better when it came time to deliver creative that would make a difference. He was, and probably still is, quite passionate about the world of advertising and creativity’s role in it. He also had little patience for those who didn’t share his beliefs (clients).

It was to this end that he joined with me and others in getting Only in Houston (OiH) on the right path in its formative years. Born out of the American Advertising Federation Houston, OiH’s guiding light was, and still is to a large degree, to promote the talent and creativity here in Houston, Texas, in a way so compelling that clients would not need to look (or spend) elsewhere for top notch creative for their advertising and marketing needs. Yeah, we were all pretty passionate about that.

But Bob conveyed his passion in a quiet, somewhat subdued manner. He was not the “rah-rah cheerleader” type. He didn’t need to be. Once you were in a conversation with him, his passion would sink into your inner depths, whether you believed him or not. He was a gentle persuader. And he always had the data to back it up.

His approach brings to mind the old ad slogan: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen”. We need more people like Bob in our profession!

Throughout his career, he maintained the respect of his clients and peers. He was thorough in his approach to solving the problem and very detailed oriented when developing the designs that would accompany his thoughts. He wasn’t just into “pretty pictures;” they had to serve a purpose. That’s a mark of a seasoned designer, a creative thinker.

Though I never flew with him, Bob was an avid flyer of sailplanes (gliders, those without engines) and loved participating in competitions across the country. He was also very dedicated (again, the passion) to his work with prison ministries and had been serving in this capacity for several years.

Quoting from a poem written by an American aviator and poet, John Gillespie Magee, Jr., that was read at the service yesterday, this sounds like something Bob would have had on display in his cockpit (I don’t know that he didn’t):

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue,

I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.

Where never lark, or ever eagle flew –

And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

I think that happened last week when he was taken home. Bob, we miss you. Peaceful travels, my friend.


Behance vs SoundCloud: One Listens, One Doesn’t

The average user of software can easily get mired in technical problems. When one finds an understanding and knowledgeable person in tech support, one feels major relief. Especially when the problem gets fixed.

However, when we come across an issue that’s perplexing even to tech support, our frustration heightens; patience goes poof.

I recently encountered this when trying to embed an audio file from SoundCloud onto my Behance ProSite portfolio gallery. It actually sounds more difficult than it was. I had successfully performed this feat and enjoyed the fruits of my labor while listening to my audio file in both FireFox and Chrome browsers. However, Safari wasn’t wanting to play along. Being on a Mac, this simply won’t do.

Behance logo

After messaging tech support at Behance several times (very good and insightful folks over there), they were finally able to re-create the error message I kept getting, and contacted SoundCloud on my behalf for input. Eventually, SoundCloud responded that I should go into the “advanced” section of Safari Preferences and un-check a particular box, which may have even been checked by default.

I’m not an average user when it comes to certain software. However, even I wouldn’t have known to go playing around in anything “advanced” unless I knew what I was supposed to do. The average user sure as heck wouldn’t even think about this. And it’s not our responsibility to do so!

SoundCloud logo

SoundCloud, in this instance, knew there was a problem. This embed issue had even been brought to their attention by other Safari users, according to what the Behance tech support told me. Yet, SoundCloud didn’t even post an alert or notice on their site to let users of the Safari browser know there’s a problem and here’s a possible fix.

They should have been more proactive, especially since they already had feedback. Like some other software companies, they chose not to do so. Way to treat your customers, SoundCloud!

As consumers, we have a choice of with whom we will play or with whose services and products we will use. It’s unfortunate that some companies seem to be focused on what they deem are more pressing consumer issues (some may be) like new and improved features; yet these firms may be ignoring a basic flaw in their product or service which would undermine whatever other goodwill they may be gaining. They either just don’t get it or they don’t want to get it.

Tech problems are not created equal; neither is tech support. Let the “buyer” beware, even if it is a free service.

Do You Consider Yourself Unreasonable?

Quoting George Bernard Shaw: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him. The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

In our society, we more often than not equate one’s unreasonableness with stubbornness or we see that person in a negative light (maybe because he/she doesn’t agree with our stance).

Think about what Shaw is saying. With what do you equate progress?

As for me, the next time someone calls me “unreasonable,” I think I’ll thank him or her.

What do you think, world?

Wake Up Stupid and Stay That Way

Some of us may sense that we have no problem doing this; it comes naturally.

But there is a more serious aspect to this cute little title. It goes to one’s frame of mind.

Be open to anything today, any day. Don’t have preconceived notions about what’s going to happen.

I know – that’s easier said than done.

Listen more than you talk. For some of us, this really is a problem.

Observe and absorb.

Ask questions. Get clarity.

Ask more questions. Refine. Reflect. Reshape.

Now, see what you can discover.

Apple’s New Spaceship Campus: Innovation being rewritten

If you haven’t seen or read about Apple’s proposed new campus in Cupertino, CA, this “sneak peek” via Wired magazine will give you something to contemplate. Recently Cupertino city officials gave the go-ahead on development of this new campus.

This blog is partially about innovation and all things creative. When I read this article and looked over the sketches of the soon-to-be “Apple Campus 2,” I began to think of new versions of how that iWord could be applied.

Quoting from Wired, “At this point, there’s a good chance you’ve seen pictures of Apple’s proposed new headquarters — a 2.8-million-square-foot spaceship parked in a verdant man-made forest in the northeast corner of Cupertino. Since the first dozen or so renderings trickled out in 2011, however, we haven’t gotten a much better sense of what all the new campus will entail or what it will be like to work there.

“Until now.

“Apple may be known for its secrecy, but buried in Cupertino’s municipal archive is a wealth of detail on the project — including more than 20 previously unseen renderings of the new campus.

Sketch of Apple's new HQ

Image: City of Cupertino

“Seen for the first time is the space port-like entrance to the development’s subterranean parking lot, a cavernous cafeteria that spills into the grassy landscape beyond, and the glass pavilion that will serve as the entrance to Apple’s new underground auditorium — a secure lair where press will gather for future product launches.

“In short, these documents give us the most complete picture of Apple’s new home yet, a campus that Steve Jobs himself thought had a shot at being ‘the best office building in the world.'”

Progress would suggest that more buildings will be developed across the country with the same environmental and creative foresight the folks at Apple are showing with this design.

Architects and designers should never feel constrained about introducing new elements into the work place. Yes, money will always play a significant role, but isn’t it more important to develop an environment that is not only welcoming to Mother Nature, but inspiring to employees (and stockholders).

As you’re nodding “yes,” and you should be, keep in mind that society needs to do more of this. It’s not always about the bottom line.

Now, here’s a peek at the forthcoming mothership. Enjoy!