In my opinion, everyone has creativity in their job description, not just artists and professional marketers. You may run human resources and be looking for new ways to energize employees, or you run a call center and you’re always figuring out how to retain the staff, give customers a great experience and cut costs simultaneously. It’s not only true that creativity is important to everyone (even at the lowest level, people want to feel they make a difference), but getting to be creative makes life and work more fun.
With my role, I’m expected to be creative most of the time. Sure there are mundane aspects of running a marketing department (managing people, budgets, projects), and I’ve often said marketing is more science than art, but if I am not sparking new ideas, that’s not good. Yes, my team also has a ton of great ideas — they are rock stars — but I was hired for my vision and leadership. Since life can get hectic, I have developed a process to foster my personal creativity — it’s like a workout plan with a disciplined diet.
“Creative fitness,” at least for me, means finding inspiration, and having the discipline to capture it so it’s not a pretty butterfly passing by. Every now and then a great idea comes to me while sleeping (or not sleeping, I should say) or in the shower, and in both situations I run for a notepad to jot things down. Most of the time, creativity comes from a more thoughtful process, and there’s real work involved.
Here’s my personal set of best practices:
- Blocking time to think. The older and wiser I have become, and the more I am exposed to great leaders, the more clear it is to me that we all need time to think. My favorite time is early in the morning, before my colleagues are awake and bothering me. I read, I write, I surf the web — just be, and let the juices flow.
- Writing ideas down as they come to me, without judgment. I keep several notes pages on my iPad with topics like “the customer,” “the industry,” “breakthrough ideas,” or “blog concepts.” If I have one of those moments where a light bulb goes off, I capture it. Most of the notes are rambles, but I find awesome ideas there, too. I’ve even been known to leave myself voicemails if my revelation occurs while driving.
- Collecting other people’s ideas. Just today I found an idea from a man’s clothing retailer that I will use in my financial services marketing. I’ve taken pictures with my phone when I see something that grabs me during a walk through town. I like to read about other interesting companies and learn from what they have done.
- Finding a muse. I happen to have an incredibly creative boss and we are able to fuel each other and co-create. But it doesn’t have to be one muse — why not have a stable of muses? I just find that a two-person team can come up with a lot more creativity than the traditional larger group brainstorming.
- Going solo to frame my thoughts. I think best in PowerPoint. Forcing myself to build logic around my creative concept — examining why it’s important, what we need to do, how we’ll do it, and what results to expect — is critical. Sometimes I throw away the idea pretty fast, other times it just keeps getting better and better.
Once I’ve developed a new idea with a series of muses, it’s time to take it to a larger group to kick the tires and take a vote. In a role like mine, I may have had a dozen ideas before one makes it to the decision table, because the truth is not every light bulb moment means you are Thomas Edison. I need lots of good ideas to find great ones, and they need to come from me, my team and others in the organization. For that reason, treating your creativity like a fitness program that requires care, feeding, exercise and discipline makes perfect sense. Here’s to your health.
Gail Graham is Chief Marketing Officer at United Capital, an innovative and fast-growing national wealth counseling firm with a unique approach to the market. Having earned awards in retail investor and adviser marketing,Gail is driving United Capital’s brand development, marketing and lead generation across all channels. Follow her on Twitter: @GailGrahamUC.
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