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5 Not-So-Obvious Ways You Can Overcome a Creative Block

4 min read

I'm Jeremy Carson, and this is everything I wish I knew about the advertising and creative industry when I got started. And everything I'm discovering as a Creative Director today.
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Ever see the documentary, "Art & Copy"? Came out a few years back, but it's a look at the advertising industry, specifically from a creative point of view. One of my favorite quotes comes from there:

"The frightening and most difficult thing about being what somebody calls a creative person is that you have absolutely no idea where any of your thoughts come from, really. And especially, you don’t have any idea about where they’re gonna come from tomorrow." – Hal Riney

It's the nature of being a creative. Coming up with ideas isn't formulaic. It's not driven by a specific process. It's unpredictable.

The best and worst thing about being creative is you have no idea where your creativity comes from.

But what happens when that unpredictability leads to nothing? Some call it hitting the wall. Others call it a block. Either way, something's in your way.

A lot of people give you basic tips: go for a walk, visit a museum, blah blah blah. Ironically, those are the most uncreative ways get creative.

Be Creative When Cracking Creative Blocks

Here are some creative ways to break through that creative block.

#1 - Sell a Potato

Here's another movie reference: The Wolf of Wall Street. Remember when Leonardo DiCaprio told his friend to sell him a pencil? Well, do that, with a potato.

Chances are, you're overthinking it. To get to a simple insight (go here to see why you need one), get rid of all the excess. Don't worry about the demographics, the business goal, the deeper meaning. Simplify it. Why would you need this?

Plus, you need to break your pattern. Taking something simple (like a potato) that has so much potential (french fries, hash browns, vodka), and applying your creativity to it could jumpstart your juices.

#2 - Unsell It

Think about the opposite of what you should do. You're supposed to be convincing people to love or buy your product. But what if you didn't? What if you had to come up with an anti-ad?

Fllipping your perspective on your campaign could lead to a different way of thinking about it. One that gets you out of the same rut you're stuck in.

#3 - Write the Press Release

This is often called the CP+B Method (Crispin, Porter, and Bogusky). They write their briefs, keeping in mind whatever they want people to say about the campaign after it runs. Think about it:

"Apple Claims It Will Save Us From Monotony" (1984)
"Nike Shows Us That Sport Is For Everyone" (Find Your Greatness - Jogger)
"Spotify Celebrates All the Weird Songs We Listen To" (Thanks 2016, It's Been Weird)

Considering what you want the outcome of your campaign to be can help reverse engineer it into a great idea.

#4 - Exhaust the Obvious

When I was in design school, our professor had us design a logo by coming up with 50 different logos. Then 50 more. Then 50 more. Then 50 more. By the end, we had to really push to figure out how to make a different mark. I had to resort to taking a feather, dipping it in ink, and then just dropping it on the page a few times. That was the one I used.

There's a joke: What can you sit on, sleep on, and brush your teeth with? The answer: a chair, a bed, a toothbrush. Sometimes we ignore the obvious answers. But then keep answering that question: the floor, your back, your finger. Your ass, a decision, friction.

Creative blocks aren't usually completely blocked. You just don't think you have a good idea. So, get all the obvious ones out of the way. Push past them and you might find something completely unexpected.

#5 - Look Elsewhere

The classic move of advertisers is to look at Lürzer's Archive or the Cannes Lions winners for inspiration. But the problem with that is it's an echo chamber.

Break out of the norm. Find places that have nothing to do with advertising, yet still solve problems. That's the important part. Art for art's sake, like those in a museum, rarely try to accomplish anything than look incredible or make a statement.

One of my favorites to visit is Creative Applications, a site that features amazing works that combine technology and art in ways that search for answers or provide them. A bunch of times, the work there has inspired an ad for me, in a way that looking at some award winning commercial or print ad that never ran could never do.

Blocks Aren't Permanent

It's terrifying and sometimes depressing, when that thing that you lean on so often, that part of you that defines who you are, doesn't deliver: your creativity.

Don't let it get to you. You're a creative, not a machine. Creativity is unpredictable, but it never disappears. You just need to find a way to spark it, to fire a neuron that creates a connection in your brain between two synapses that suddenly forms an idea.

Good luck, and break that block!

Thanks for reading!

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