How to do better creative work

One of the most inspiring books I’ve read this year has been How to do better creative work by Steve Harrison (Pearson, 2009), which I saw in the window of a specialist art book shop in Brick Lane, London. Steve spent 15 years as a creative director for top ad agencies and his book is aimed at primarily at those doing similar jobs, but I found his ideas rang very loud bells in relation to e-learning development. In fact I’d go so far as to say that anyone who runs an e-learning development company and who doesn’t give this book a read would be missing out on some fantastic insights into the creative process.

Not only did I learn how to design an ad that might work (pity, because I’d just created two ads which broke all these rules by not concentrating on problems and solutions and without a clear call to action), I also found out about the ‘massive passives’, i.e. the majority of internet users who do not engage in any form of online collaboration or networking, but who do an awful lot of consuming. I enjoyed taking the following quote and substituting training for marketing:

"In hard times, clients can’t afford to throw money at a marketing problem and agencies  can’t afford to do work that goes unnoticed. Those who never really knew what they were doing get found out – for, as the saying goes, when the tide goes out you get to know who has been swimming naked."

This one caught my attention:

"If you set out to win awards you won’t have a snowball in hell’s chance of doing something that works. And, of yes, you’ll be out of a job in six months."

Steve mocks the idea that brainstorming produces great creative ideas. Instead he quotes this process by James Webb Young:

  1. Gather as much raw information as possible.
  2. Chew it over and get your first ideas out of your system.
  3. Stop thinking about the subject and let your subconscious go to work.
  4. Be ready for the ideas to flow at any time.
  5. Shape and develop the idea for practical usefulness.

Oh and if you think that time pressure and ‘being pumped’ is going to work in your favour then think again:

"Time pressure stifles creativity because people can’t deeply engage with the problem. Creativity requires an incubation period."

I’ve run out of energy for typing in any more of these great quotes, so if you want more you’ll just have to buy the book. Not that many people actually will, because as Steve points out:

"It’s a sad fact, but if you read just one book a year during the course of your career, you’ll be among the top five per cent most learned people in the industry. Indeed, you could probably claim guru status."

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