In order to apply for my Master's Degree in Art Direction & Creative Thinking in Advertising, I had to present myself most creatively in four minutes. Four minutes is both an extremely short amount of time as well as far too long. When you're twenty-two years old and not truly confident, it is a challenge. "What could I say? What is being creative? What does it really mean?".
Several of the other applicants’ presentations stay with me to this day: one recorded a call with his ex and asked her to present his personality, one sang a song, one recorded himself asking himself questions. Are these examples creativity? Is there even a correct answer?
And you, how would you introduce yourself most creatively?
According to the dictionary, creativity is "The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations." So essentially pushing your limits to the fullest.
This school was creative in itself. It was located in an old church that was later converted into an art school. Every student looked more different than the next. There were twenty thousand applicants and 40 selected students admitted to the program.
One day, I took a life-changing class.
One curious day, our already quirky professor came up on stage wearing pink pants with pictures of yellow bananas scattered all over them and a white t-shirt with his face on it. He was a successful trader who stopped working in advertising because he "...made enough money to please his Jewish mother and could finally do what [he] really love[s]."
He started moving around the ‘classroom’ (quotations because, again, we took classes in a church), running sporadically, and said: "Kids, today I'm gonna help you become a superhuman. I'm gonna teach you how to have four hundred ideas in one minute." We were excited, scared, and in disbelief. We, young students struggling to get one good idea after three hours of brainstorming, were about to learn how to have 400 in one minute. How could it be possible?
Warm up your brain.
Because creativity doesn't apply only to advertising, marketing, and communication, here are some tricks to let your brain flow:
- Most people stop at their first ideas and don't apply equal focus to every moment of deliberate, divergent thinking: meaning, we usually stop at our first idea because we feel if it was the first, it's the right one. However, this is not the case. The first idea, rather than being the best one, can be the foundation of a bigger concept. You must continue to grow your ideas rather than get stuck on the first one.
- Every minute is equally essential. Time doesn't have a value.
- Push yourself through the barrier; go further, don't stop, propel yourself through the pain. Being creative is like an intense sport for your brain: you don't stop and quit when it gets difficult. It can be painful and tough, but it's precisely in these moments that things start getting intriguing.
- The best ideas happen in the shower, bed, bathroom, etc. Notice a theme? Your leisure time is when your brain is the most creative. Your brain can truly function when it's relaxed, not stressed, or pressured. Find the environment to recreate this state of mind and let the flow of information come to you.
- Preparation is vital. You must know your subject by heart. Target? Audience? What's the product about? The tech behind it? Who is the founder? The more information you retain, the more elements you'll have to get creative.
If everything has a process, then creativity has a process.
We were enthusiastic about this new knowledge and thrilled to know how we could create so many ideas. So here’s how the class went:
Creativity = knowledge + problem + divergent thinking + collaboration.
If you remove one element in the equation, everything falls apart. Divergent thinking is an important aspect in itself, and we could define it as creativity, however, in reality, it is not. The collaboration between the multiple elements gives you endless possibilities. The part you mustn't forget is to accept the in finance of solutions without hesitation. With your brainstorming partner you should share every single thought you have. That's why you should work with someone you trust. To remove this filter and be as creative as possible.
The list of opposites.
Alfred Harmsworth created Daily Mail after having quite a disruptive thought: merging opposites. There was no balance between stupid tabloids and boring financial journals in the United Kingdom. When he noticed the hole for a news outlet that incorporated a balance of the two, Harmsworth decided to create one. It went on to become the most sold newspaper in the world! Sometimes, as advertisers or even entrepreneurs we are looking for a niche like a gold mine. We are waiting for an opening in the market when we could just create one. Link elements between them and let the magic happen.
Now, let's practice!
Your brain is a muscle, so it needs to be trained. The more you practice, the more efficient you'll get. Don't judge yourself or forfeit when it gets hard, because it's only the beginning. You don't run a marathon without practice.
Start with this: Take a sheet of paper, a timer and a pen. You have one minute to name every superpower you can think of.
Was it difficult? Did you get stuck? Do you have a headache? Need a nap? It doesn't matter how many superpowers you wrote, how realistic they are, or how interesting or silly your answers are. You’re just training. You're working on your brain's neuroplasticity. With practice, you'll get more efficient and you'll unlock parts of your creativity that you never imagined could exist.
Can we all be creative?
We think that being creative means being a talented designer or smart strategist, a free brain without limitations, etc. But instead, it’s almost like being a mathematician with a strong logic, stuck to the ground with their eyes wide open. We all have exclusive access to our brain, memory, knowledge, references and culture. The mix of all our backgrounds and experiences makes for a gold mine of new ideas. Being creative is not the ultimate goal. Being free is. Free to think differently and express our opinion. Free to remain open to new possibilities and allow the opportunities to come to us.
So here’s how I presented myself creatively in four minutes:
I'm passionate about photography and I was practicing it a lot at the time. I developed my favorite pictures in 3D with Photoshop, bought as many 3D glasses as I could and distributed them to the audience. I started my pitch with "welcome to my world." I talked about the role of advertising in our society and how it could have a huge positive impact. That, as advertisers, we had a responsibility to be creative and inspire people. (If only I’d known that while I was sweating on this stage in front of many people, that one day, I would have created my own agency...).