You don't come up with ideas, you notice them.

Why creativity is more 'being' than 'doing'.

Recently, after a presentation at Copy School, I was asked a question I’ve been prompted a few times before. (And given that, I figured I’d try to answer it again here.)

“How do you find the time to do be creative/ do so many things/come up with side projects?”, or something to that effect. Followed by a query as to whether I set aside a certain amount of time every day. I understand the nature of the question but it’s almost considering creativity as a chore, like folding laundry or filing taxes. Or at best, a hobby of sorts.

It’s a difficult question to answer, because the answer is ‘I don’t’. There is never enough ‘time’. Ask almost anyone ‘how they are’ and they will tell you ‘tired’ and ‘busy’. I’m not much different. I have a full time job helping run an indie agency. I’m married with two girls, 6 and 8. We have a kelpie and two cats. My day to day life is a fucking roller coaster inside a tornado. This morning, one kid decided they weren’t going to school anymore, the other had a meltdown over not being able to find her unicorn underpants, and the dog got so wound up by the ensuing chaos it vomited on the rug. This is what we call, ‘Tuesday’.

So the answer I’m going to give is a really annoying one that some of you will read and think ‘yeah, great, so you just ‘be creative’? How is that supposed to help?’ But much like the title of Rick Rubin’s book, ‘The Creative Act : A way of being’, that kinda is the answer.

Because while practices such as writing, drawing, design, painting, are obviously practicable skills to channel creativity through, ‘creativity’ itself is something more transient. Creativity is not so much a ‘function’, or an ‘activity’, or, perhaps ironically, a measurable ‘code’ in a timesheet, but a way of being in the world.

Creativity involves letting things in, not just pushing them out.

“There is no such thing as a new idea. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope.” - Mark Twain

To shorten this quote, “You don’t come up with ideas, you notice them.”

Lena Dunham Apologises came at a time when I’d noticed a few funny bots built on cultural insights, and in the process of learning how to code one myself, read an article about Lena Dunham saying something stupid again and had the thought that she could do with an apology writer. So why don’t I program one.

Do Not Visit Victoria materialised during the COVID lockdowns, when TV, radio & digital news sites were plastered with stories of regional towns fearing Melburnians breaking lockdown would spread the virus. My good friend and creative partner at the time, Guillermo Carvajal, happened to be also designing some postcards at the time. So we stuck the thoughts together.

Needs More Boom was born of a desire to further understand AI, and in the process stumbled across some code written by Jenny Nicholson. I started playing with writing my own, yet without a clear destination, until I came across some people arguing on the internet over what did and didn’t constitute ‘real cinema’.

Faceboobs only exists due to Isabel Evans and Ana Pareja Calvo being clever and open enough to see around the problem. In the end, their personal insight and lived experience was far more critical than anything written in the agency brief or provided by the client. The state they were in allowed them to see an obstacle as an opportunity.

All of the above required more so a way of ‘being’, than ‘doing’. (The doing bit obviously comes later, but it’s not the genesis of the idea.)

I would sooner credit these ideas to navigating the world with an acute openness to possibility, a perpetual curiousness, a want to understand why things are the way they are and whether they ought to be, and a desire to feel something and make others do the same, than I would to some kind of templatable process or identifiable science.

There might be serendipity at the end of all of these ideas, but they all begin with an accumulated bank of curious exploration and sustained awareness. Something that doesn’t come from being tight, systematic, and rigid, more so loose, free, and open to a nod from the universe. From not trying to define the hell out of everything, and just experiencing it instead.

For a time now, and especially so following the advent of AI, the left brain has tried to understand what the right brain does by jamming it into a spreadsheet and furiously analysing it. But in the process of strip mining ‘the creative process’ in search of some kind of exploitable resource, vital human elements like emotion, insight, wonder, and inspired subconscious collisions of abstraction have become the waste run off of the exercise, when those are the only bits that are truly precious.

Commercially, what we do is undoubtedly a combination of art and science. But where science traditionally deals in absolutes, when dealing with creativity - it often fails to allow enough space for the profound. And while microscopes are certainly useful, spend too long staring into one and you’re likely to miss the big obvious idea walking right past you.

In the end, you can read all the books, do all the courses, attend all the seminars and workshops, trawl through the studies and research papers, implement all the templates and systems you like, but I doubt they’ll help much if you aren’t paying attention to the actual places that ideas appear.

Which is likely everywhere but the powerpoint or PDF.

Close it.

Watch your kid pretend she’s Bingo and the dog’s Bluey in the backyard for a while. Overhear a ridiculous conversation at the cafe. Play the 12 reels your wife sent you in bed last night.

Be open. Be aware. Be curious. Be a kid again. The answers will come if you let them in.


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