So how did the copywriter/art director teams at ad agencies come up with these brilliantly creative ideas.
Do they think differently?
Do their brains operate in a different fashion?
Are they right brain?
They are whole brain. They use both the right and left hemispheres of their brain. (If they only exercised the right side, it would grow stronger and they would always walk with their head tilted to the right.)
The difference is not in the use of the hemispheres of the brain, but in the use of the networks.
Neuroscience using technology that peers inside the brain as it is engaged in creative activity has found that during the creative process, the neuron network is different than those who think more methodologically, more logically.
Before I put you to sleep with esoteric neuroscience, I will move on to explore how the creative process operates, through which creativity comes to life in all fields of artistic endeavors, as well as in science, industry, and business.
The underlying aspect of the creative network is intuition. Creatives intuitively approach problems differently than non-creatives. Their thinking process flows differently.
The logical thinker operates with the thought that there is one solution to a problem: convergent thinking. The creative mind intuitively operates with the maxim that there are many solutions – not only many solutions, but many right solutions. Subconsciously, he explores those many options, uncovering even more options as he does so. His mind is working through the problem on a far broader landscape.
Logical thinkers work best within the confined landscape of known rules and systems, which are roadmaps that enable them to hone in on the problem. Creative minds operate in the unknown; hence, anything and everything can be a source for the ultimate solution. They are divergent thinkers who think outside-the-box.
The thrill of creativity is leaping off into the unknown. University tests have shown that creative thinkers work best in an environment of clutter, even chaos. They instinctively know that in that fog, that murkiness, that chaos, there is a solution waiting to be found. Their minds are always seeking to take the chaos and shape and form it into something coherent. The definition of creativity, after all, is creating something new.
(It was that great German humorist Albert Einstein who, along with his discovery of E mc2, asked, “If a cluttered desk speaks of a cluttered mind, what does an empty desk speak of?”)
As Edward de Bono, author of Lateral Thinking and a world recognized preeminent authority on creativity and the brain, said: “Creativity involves provocation, exploration and risk-taking. Creativity involves ‘thought experiments.’ You cannot tell in advance how the experiment is going to turn out. But you want to be able to carry out the experiment.”
Though willfully operating in a world of fog and chaos, creative thinkers are no less disciplined than logical thinkers. The complete definition of creativity is creating something new and useful. Whether in the arts, science, medicine or industry, the creative goal is to create something that has a useful purpose in life, be it an ad, a painting, a technology, a medicine.
Another critical differentiation: logical thinkers create barriers against distractions. In a business meeting, they are all business. In a creative meeting, the discussion interweaves myriad unrelated topics along with the project. Creatives welcome distractions with open arms. Distractions engage their minds in thinking along different pathways. Different pathways spur different associations that may ultimately lead to the solution.
Research has identified the fuel that sparks the creative neurons to travel many pathways: curiosity.
Curiosity is the synonym for creativity. Creatives are innately curious about pretty much everything.
“The creative person wants to be a know-it-all. He wants to know about all kinds of things – ancient history, nineteenth century mathematics, current manufacturing techniques, cotton futures. Because he never knows when these ideas might come together to form a new idea. It may happen six minutes later, or six months, or six years. But he has faith that it will happen. Carl Ally, Advertising Hall of Fame copywriter and founder of Ally/Gargano agency who created the “When it Absolutely, Positively Has to Be There Overnight” campaign that launched FedEx, amongst other advertising successes.
“Curiosity about life in all its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.” Bill Bernbach, Advertising Hall of Fame founder of global DDB Advertising Agency Advertising Hall of Fame, and founder of the Creative Revolution that launched modern advertising.
“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” Walt Disney
“Creative people are curious, flexible and independent with a tremendous spirit and love of play.” Henri Matisse, French Post-Impressionism painter, whose paintings hang in the most prestigious modern art museums in the world.
“I have no particular talent. I am just insatiably curious.” Albert Einstein
(As an aside, it was Einstein’s insatiable curiosity that led to his discovery of the Theory of Relativity. At the age of 16, he asked himself: “If a car in space is traveling at the speed of light, will its beams precede it”? He pursued that question for decades until he arrived at E mc2.)
How does curiosity fuel creativity? The human mind has more data storage than the super-computer that got the Rover to Mars. Scientists calculate that the supercomputer has only 18% data storage compared to the human mind. Humans store every experience that made an impression on them. It is buried deep in their mind. How many times has something popped into your mind from 5, 10, 20 years ago, even from your childhood? Something you have not thought about for years and years. Where did it come from? It has always been there – just unused and gathering dust in the recess of your mind.
The obvious question: Why are these impressionable experiences not always popping up in your mind? The answer: Because humans could not function if overloaded with random thoughts. So, the brain operates on what in advertising is called “top of mind awareness” – the brain brings to the surface the data that we use most often, are most familiar with, and interact with frequently. The other data is in storage.
Which explains why Coca Cola, perhaps the best-known brand in the world, spends over $4 billion annually in advertising. If practically every human knows the brand, why spend billions? The answer: Top of mind awareness is continuously being reinforced with advertising. If Coca Cola pulled back its advertising, allowing their competition to gain top of mind awareness, Coca Cola will be thought of as frequently as you think of Royal Cola.
Curiosity is continuously feeding the mind with images, information, and facts, some of immediate consequence, some of no immediate consequence – “ancient history, nineteenth century mathematics, current manufacturing techniques, cotton futures.” All of which are stored and are the source for creative ideas.
This is how the creative mind operates.
The creative mind starts with a problem, a project, an idea, or even a thought, and then it searches for anything relevant in the data storage of the mind. It follows no path. Instead, it caroms off one piece of data to another, continuously searching for relevancy. Eventually, it connects with something relevant. It may or may not provide the full solution. If not, it searches more, adding bits and pieces, until that solution appears.
It may not happen immediately. The ideas may incubate in the mind over days, weeks, even longer, but then arrives that moment Steve Jobs so aptly described:
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they did not really do it. They just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”
We call it that “eureka moment.” It appears to be spontaneous, but it is built on the days, weeks, months, even years of the individual mentally wrestling with the project. Newton did not suddenly discover gravity because an apple fell on his head; he had been struggling with the concept for years. (I have had things fall on my head, and I did not think about gravity… If I had a shotgun handy, there would be one less pigeon.)
There are several versions as to how the Nike “Just Do It” slogan came about. I discussed this with a former executive at Nike; I could not say with certainty that this is how it occurred. But irrespective, it is a superb example of the creative mind at work.
“Just Do It” came about through a convicted murderer, Gary Gilmore. He received the death penalty and justice was meted out. What does this have to do with Nike?
Dan Wieden, co-founder of Weiden+Kennedy Advertising, was working on the Nike account, struggling to find a theme line. He was toying with ideas, when the name Gary Gilmore came to mind. Not, as he said later, because he spent time thinking about murderers. But over lunch, someone had mentioned the author Norman Mailer, who had written a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about Gary Gilmore. So, following the free flow of his thinking, Norman Mailer popped into Dan Wieden’s mind…and then Gary Gilmore.
And then Dan Weiden thought about the last words that Gary Gilmore said before his execution: “Let’s do it.”
Weiden saw the power and strength in that phrase. Short, concise – let us not waste time, let us not fool around, let us not play around – let’s do it.
Weiden felt that it was not as strong as it could be, and after playing with it consciously and subconsciously over time, he came up with: “Just Do It.”
Follow Dan Weiden’s free-flowing thought process. Curious. Going down paths not related to the project. Going outside the box.
When Norman Mailer popped into his mind, had Dan Weiden thought purely logically and linearly, he would have dismissed the thought. Not relevant to the project at hand. Having a creative, curious mind, he wanted to see where it would lead him. It led him to Gary Gilmore. Again, he could have dismissed that thought. After all, who thinks about convicted murders? And how could it ever have bearing on his Nike client? Again, the creative mind is curious about where threads of thought will lead. Often, they lead to a dead end. But sometimes they lead to the light at the end of the tunnel.
Weiden continued along this path of thinking and remembered Gilmore’s “Let’s Do It.”
Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman explains, “Thinking outside the box” may more accurately be understood as “Drawing from different boxes.”
As Dr. Edward de Bono points out in Lateral Thinking: “There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.”
Einstein summed it up: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Yes, creatives do think differently.