What is the nature of creativity?
Where do the great ideas come from?
I don’t know, actually; I can only share with you my own process…
My own creative process is something that I didn’t actually even attempt to analyze for some time. That is probably largely due to the fact that I didn’t even realize that I had one. Nor did I work in an environment that embraced creativity. I was in Politics and Corporate Communications for many years until I was advised and encouraged by an insightful VP and mentor to “stay with me as long as you like, but I think you should go out and do this thing you are so good at doing!”
In San Francisco, I’d been being loaned by the phone company to City Hall for a succession of big, ceremonial productions at the behest of the late Steve Silver (creator of “Beach Blanket Babylon” – one of the longest-running theatrical productions in the world) as his assistant producer on these spectacles. Steve had discerned something in me that I’d never really thought about; a complexity of thought, a geometric sense of time and space, and the crucial absence of the Limitation of Possibility gene.
After several, successive periods of me being away from the office to work with Steve on a Fleet Week or a Royal Visit or the Super Bowl Ceremony, she (my above-mentioned mentor) took me to lunch and gifted me with the freedom to stay as long as I want, alongside the encouragement to follow my own path, “…success isn’t always found in the Boardroom…” was a truth to which I’d never been enlightened.
Previously, when essentially blindsided by my own inspiration, I would embrace and augment an idea once I’d noticed it; become excited by it and take it as far as I could, just to see what it might become. I’d never actually paid attention to when nor how the seeds of that inspiration may have been planted, how research and study was surreptitiously done by my subconscious, and how my brain worked to massage an idea before revealing it to my frontal lobes.
As this new career grew, my opportunity lay in helping others find and define their vision using my own creativity as a tool to make it real; keeping it aligned with a mission or goal, yet taking the germ of a vision to a place even the client may not have foreseen.
A fine line to walk; assessing how much of oneself to infuse or offer in creating experience. Ultimately, my enthusiasm and passion usually lead me to offer it all, tempering as I go, reining-in the ideas that are just too big or too out there rather than restraining myself, up-front, and offering only or simply what is expected.
There are plenty of Creators, though, who make fantastic livings by delivering what’s expected. There’s a decision for ya…and a conversation for another time.
I was fortunate to come up against a catalyzing experience – an epiphany of sorts – back in the ’90’s, that gave me the opportunity to truly appreciate and realize how my own creativity worked. I had been brought on as Creative Director for a landmark, national Industrial Theatre production company (that no longer exists, btw) based in NYC. Their pitch to me was that they’d experienced my work, seen what I can create, and wanted that as part of their arsenal.
One problem: the only people who were allowed client contact at first download were the SalesPeople.
So. The Account Reps’d go out on a call; meet the client, get their experience of the client’s vision and come back to the office. There, they’s sit in a conference room with me, gather around the table, tell me what [they thought] the client wanted and then sit back and wait for my wonderful, creative ideas on how to execute; as though creative concepts were akin to toothpaste one might simply squeeze out of a tube.
I lasted a month.
Lovely people; but that’s not how I work.
Since then, I have meticulously examined my process and learned to protect and nurture that process in order to deliver Experience well beyond expectation.
I’m not giving advice; I am, though, sharing what works for me, in no particular order…
Trust Oneself. Know that the answers, the concepts, the ideas will come. And relax. As I’ve posited in a previous post: keeping one’s eye on the goal, the experience wanted, the response envisioned…that is the most effective, reliable way to ensure success.
Not blindly, mind you. Listening remains a key component of creativity and creative collaboration.
Interview the Client. For me, there is nothing of greater value than the virtually subtextual information that can be gleaned through the first meeting with a client (if, indeed, the work is being done for a client). It is during that first encounter, when the right questions are asked, that the nuance is most clear, the personal motivations and inspirations behind whatever the Official Rationale may be shine through what might be a more formal conversation. This is where creative empathy and compassion become the rod and staff of the Creative; this is where subtext and inadvertent communication can be perceived by the sensitive Creative and woven into the process.
What the Creative perceives, the Creative creates.
Meet before musing. Meet the client before brainstorming with collaborators or partners. Enter that first meeting cold, sans preconception, with no virtual “box” or budget in mind and Learn. Listen.
Take what was learned in that first meeting and go experience the world with that as filter. For a day or ten, see things through this new, borrowed lens. Take things in, notice things differently. Just as the guy who’s recently bought a new car will suddenly notice every other car of the same model on the road where he hadn’t noticed, before; the sensitive Creative will receive impressions and data, visuals and experience in a slightly new and pivotally relevant way, after the First Meeting.
Offer the Brain for Collaboration. My practice, other than on the very rare occasion (hey, money talks!), is to never present concepts for sale. Rather, I present and offer myself and my body of work as my recommendation and market the opportunity to collaborate and create something compelling and resonant and of the client.
I do not sell concepts created in a vacuum of what might work. Rather; I guarantee that, working with me in partnership, the result will be something powerful and borne of the interaction: not something taken off a shelf, dusted off and sold.
But, that’s just me.
Know the venue, theatre or arena. There have been some spectacles I’ve created that have been initially inspired by the place in which they will manifest, be produced.
I once had the experience of conducting a live interview before an audience with Yves Pepin, the world-class creator of spectacle, founder of ECA2 in Paris and who, among a host of other once-in-a-lifetime spectacles, created the Eiffel Tower Millennium show.
At one point, I asked him where he found his inspiration. He said, in his eloquent, French-accented English, that he would go and sit in the space until the space spoke to him. Whether that was a desert where the venue or stadium may not yet have been built or a structure, already-standing; he would listen to the land or the architecture, awaiting inspiration.
To that, I stress the importance of being able to see and experience a given space before I write for it…if, in fact, the Experience is site-specific. For me, the enhancement to my creative process cannot be over-valued.
Share and Listen. When a piece, component or passage inspires me, I share it with trusted peers, friends, colleagues and watch their reactions closely; listen to their responses, hear their suggestions – even if I wasn’t asking for suggestions… Y’just never know…
So, I strive to always listen with an open mind; exploring the possibility that a given idea might augment or enhance the Experience…including the consideration of completely new directions, just to see what it might look or feel like, if only in my mind’s eye.
Listening can’t be over-valued.
Finally; Allow the Mix to Simmer. Don’t rush yourself. After all the input, all the sharing, all the collaboration; the real creative work is actually done as I’m looking the other way. I sort of place the whole thing on a mental back burner or shelf where I might just catch a whiff of it, now and then, as I turn my attention to other things. Perhaps another project, perhaps just a movie or just living life.
More times than not, at some wonderful point, the form and framework, the shape of the new concept or Experience will drop, virtually fully-formed, into my mind. This is always a thrilling, exciting moment for me (I’ve still got it!). With that, I then know to whom I will reach out to collaborate creatively, who can realize the technical or artistic visions, what the music needs to be, what sort of Production Team I need to build…
The project is nowhere near complete; but the blueprint is there; the idea is born, ready to be raised and realized.