I hate people who say, “I wish I was creative.”

Yes, hate.

I know it’s a strong word, but it frustrates me so much that people don’t think they can be creative in any way, shape, or form. Creativity is within us all. It’s about discovering the “why” and telling a story.

Simon Sinek gave an excellent TedTalk, and wrote a book, about the “Golden Circle”. His mantra of “Start With Why,” has become my rallying call about how we (coworkers and clients) should look at becoming more creative. The rest of this article is dedicated to principles or the “what’s” and “how’s” of being more creative. I can’t express enough why it’s so important to start with “why” when working on any project for yourself or your company.

Once you have defined your “why,” the 8 Principles of Creativity, that I have coined, can help arm yourself with knowledge, know-how, and a framework to change your mindset from, “I’m not creative,” to, “Let’s do this!” (I kind of have a thing for cheesy slogans).

The “What” - Principles of Creativity:

1. Creativity Loves Constraints

While attending film school as a student, my classmates and I constantly had to come up with original story ideas and new, original film work. I had such a hard time nailing down any solid ideas. One day, feeling frustrated and uncreative, I went to my film professor and expressed my feelings of inadequacy to him. He shared with me this principle that “creativity loves constraints” by sharing a TedTalk by the artist Phil Hansen entitled, “Embrace the Shake.” His perspective about how having constraints on our creativity can actually allow us to be more creative blew my mind! Watch the talk and then think about your own situation. What constraints do you have in your work, family, health, or elsewhere that you should embrace? A few that come to my mind that are related to working at an agency are:

  • Time limits
  • Budgets
  • Scope
  • Market
  • Client confidence

2. Creativity Takes Time

If you don’t know Jerry Seinfeld then we can’t be friends. He has been a long time hero of mine as well as a recipient of my high school graduation and wedding announcements (no response, but Jerry any day you want to get coffee in a car, I’m there ;).) His ability to be creative has withstood the tests of time. This quick video from the New York Times on how much time he devoted to creating one joke about Pop Tarts truly illustrates the principle that creativity takes time.

jon and his mom

After I showed this video to my Mum, she said, “That pop tart would have expired by the time he finished the joke.”

Setting up a place and workflow, where we can have time to think, is of paramount importance. This concept alone deserves a book. Thank goodness for Greg McKeown and his book, “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.” It will help you find the time you are missing. For those too lazy to read the book, here’s a quick question to help you find more time:

  • With any task, ask yourself, “Is this activity essential to my job or life,” if it isn’t, cut it out and switch to something that is essential to your life.

3. Creativity Is A Thief

Steal Like An Artist,” by Austin Kleon, introduces the concept that everyone steals, borrows, and remixes ideas from each other, and there's an appropriate way and an inappropriate way to go about stealing like an artist.

good theft vs bad theft

Steve Jobs said this, taking from Pablo Picasso, “good artists copy; great artists steal.”

4. Creativity Is Individual

I believe everyone is unique in terms of creativity. Not only f how they express their creativity, but in how they come up with creative ideas. Each person is unique and their ideas come to them in very unique ways. A solid run, alone in my thoughts, while listening to movie soundtracks does the trick for me.

christopher nolan?

Christopher Nolan, who I admire greatly, said this about the conception and execution of his film, Inception, “I don’t think I would have been able to develop this with someone else. I needed to at least get the first practical draft done on my own and then bring the studio into the process.” So spend some time asking yourself these questions, it’s worth the time, I promise:

  • Why do you feel creative
  • When do you feel creative
  • Where do you feel creative
  • What makes you feel creative
  • Who makes you feel creative
  • How do you feel creative

5. Creativity Is A Group Effort

ed catmull

I attended last year’s Inbound marketing conference in Boston and Ed Catmull, the founder of Pixar, said this in his keynote address, “All our ideas suck at first.” I loved his candor as he went on to explain the ideation process Pixar takes to create incredible films which they call the “Brain Trust.”

conference room meeting

Basically, all titles and roles are removed as everyone gathers in one room to hear directors pitch ideas, stories, and art. Then, everyone gets to poke holes, ask questions, and get group input. The Brain Trust is all about transparency, candor, trust, without any personal attacks. The overall goal to make the core idea of the project better. We often employ creative brainstorms at 97th Floor and these tend to be my favorite moments here. Individual ideas are reinforced and refined by the group.

6. Creativity Takes Consistency

jerry seinfeld

Along with time, Jerry Seinfeld has a beautiful, yet simple, concept that really helps build consistency in any creative endeavor. He says “don’t break the chain.” In which, he has a big calendar that he hangs in his office, and each day he spends at least 15 minutes writing. After completing the 15 minutes he is then allowed to mark a giant red X on the calendar. Over time, the number of X’s grow. The goal is not break the chain of X’s. It’s so simple, yet so effective. After reading this, go to Amazon and buy a calendar and build your own chain.

7. Creativity Is Bold

stephen king

Stephen King frightens me. His ideas, writing, and movies haunt me to this day. Because of that fear, I respect the mush out of him. King says, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” What a mantra! Take a look at what you think you consistently do well. Kill it and think of a new way to do things. It’s a fun activity and a great process for rethinking and redoing the way you work and think.

the joker

To echo those sentiments, and build upon what Christopher Nolan said, this about being bold. “There’s always a chance you might not have another show. Don’t hold back. Destroy the Batmobile and burn the money each time you are on the air.”

8. Creativity Starts With One Step

This blog post started weeks ago with jet-lagged me, opening a note on my phone at 1 a.m., compiling a brain dump where I was googling, outlining, determining the “why,” “what,” and “how.”

wwii soldier

After that first step, it’s more about doing “just one more.” Those are the words of Desmond Doss who showed great courage-and I would say creativity-in the Battle of Okinawa during WWII-where he saved 75 men and became the only conscientious objector (carried no weapons in battle) to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions in World War II.

Creativity is within us all. It’s about discovering the “why” and telling that story. I hope this helps inspire you to be creative in new ways not, at least you got some good Jerry Seinfeld jokes.