A Marketer’s Guide to Being Creative

Plenty of productivity gurus talk about the importance of unplugging. In a world where we’re bombarded by a constant stream of emails, tweets, and news feeds, sometimes disconnecting is the best way to stay focused and be productive. But what about creativity?

busy_papersLast year, Jay Fields of Lifehacker posed the question: “Is Productivity Killing Your Creativity?“. The answer is yes. Productivity gurus are so focused on packing every moment — reading white papers on trains, listening to audiobooks in the shower, watching a documentary while cooking – that we never get time to think.

The real creativity killer in the 21st century is that we are never bored.

Henry David Thoreau once said that “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” We look at things every day. We walk by people with our headphones plugged in, we drive by scenic overviews, we bring a good book to the park. But we don’t see anything anymore. We no longer simply observe our surroundings. And it’s that observation that fuels creativity.

But you don’t need to go soul searching to get inspiration. You might just need to stop planning every second of your day. Annie Murphy Paul at Time highlights recent studies that prove the benefits of being groggy:

In a study published in the journal Thinking and Reasoning last year, researchers Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks reported that imaginative insights are most likely to come to us when we’re groggy and unfocused. The mental processes that inhibit distracting or irrelevant thoughts are at their weakest in these moments, allowing unexpected and sometimes inspired connections to be made. Sleepy people’s “more diffuse attentional focus,” they write, leads them to “widen their search through their knowledge network. This widening leads to an increase in creative problem solving.” By not giving yourself time to tune in to your meandering mind, you’re missing out on the surprising solutions it may offer.

Not all sensory stimulation is the same, studies show the sounds and sights of nature are actually good for your brain.

So turn off your phone, go camping, experience nature, but don’t bring a book. Boredom lets your mind wander and, for those in the creativity business, that’s a beautiful thing.

Jump in the Deep End

“Everything is in everything.” That’s what French philosopher Joseph Jacotot realized after his classroom full of Flemish-speaking students learned to speak French with absolutely no instruction. You see, Jacotot knew no Flemish. And his students knew no French. So the pioneering pedagogue found a copy of a popular book that contained both a French and Flemish translation and told his students via translator to “figure it out.”

It worked. After they studied both translations diligently, Jacotot asked his Flemish students to formulate their thoughts on the book in French. To Jacotot’s great surprise, they did.

Jacotot became a proponent of panecastism, the philosophy that “everything is in everything.” According to Jacotot, one page of text contains everything you need to learn a new language – its alphabet, its syntax, its vocabulary. Jacotot theorized that any art could be learned by carefully observing all of the component parts of a masterpiece.

But what does this mean for us marketing folks?

Learn something you never imagined learning. Or reach far beyond your expertise. Immerse yourself in something that you know nothing about. Not only are you capable of learning, but the process of learning and the new knowledge you will acquire can inform and improve your creative process. It’s far less radical than it sounds, how many great writers have learned by reading great books?

As Bruce Nussbaum notes, “creativity is mostly about two things — connecting different bodies of knowledge in new ways and seeing patterns where none existed before.”

It’s not every day that we think about learning how to learn, but it’s a skill we can easily forget as we become experts in our field. Let go and learn something new on your own.