Keep Creativity Flowing: Making Space for Slow, Big Ideas

Beth Monaghan 

I recently came across a video posted by Jesus Diaz, an editor with Gizmodo, that offered “29 Ways to Stay Creative (and Be Happier).” My favorites: try free writing, listen to new music, allow yourself to make mistakes, count your blessings and read from a page in the dictionary.

Taking time for these things can sometimes feel like a luxury, but as Brenda Ueland wrote in her 1938 book If You Want to Write, “…the imagination needs moodling—long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering. These people who are always briskly doing something and as busy as waltzing mice, they have little, sharp staccato ideas, such as: ‘I see where I can make an annual cut of $3.47 in my meat budget.’ But they have no slow, big ideas.”

As a PR professional, I frequently find myself briskly doing something. Scrolling through my 15 Tweetdeck columns, cranking out a blog post before others get into the office and my meetings begin, checking e-mail while I’m waiting for my sandwich at lunch or squeezing in one last conference call on my drive home—this is the substance of many days. 

And we live in a world that places value on "busyness." It’s a powerful validator for eager entry-level employees and top CEOs alike. This isn’t going away. When I meet teenagers who send thousands of text messages per month, I see the future of multitasking taking hold. A part of me embraces this because I operate at my most effective when I am busy. So I must be important, right?

That does not have to come at the cost of creativity, which is requisite for any kind of innovation, including even the smallest operational changes that can have enormous impacts. We need to create the space (physical or mental) from which the ideas that roil along the edges can sprout. I’ve never had a great idea while staring at my e-mail.

Following is a summary of few approaches to fostering creativity that have inspired me, including two others that are working for us here at InkHouse:

  • Encourage differing points of view. Netflix has one of the most interesting company values statements I’ve seen. It is based on “Responsibility and Freedom,” and inspired some of our own InkHouse values. Netflix’s value statement has four tenets:

  1. You re-conceptualize issues to discover practical solutions to hard problems

  2. You challenge prevailing assumptions when warranted, and suggest better approaches

  3. You create new ideas that prove useful

  4. You keep us nimble by minimizing complexity and finding time to simplify

A big component of Netflix’s culture is rooted in finding ways to entrench creativity into the day-to-day jobs of its employees. And who can argue with a company that now has the same number of U.S. subscribers as Comcast and reported a jump in worldwide revenue by 47% to $719 million last quarter?

Here are some tips for staying creative in your fast-paced work life:

  • Stay open to experiences, approaches and ideas. My brother-in-law is an IP attorney for pharmaceutical companies. When I was in New York with him recently, I was talking about creativity and noted that PR people must maintain a steadfast discipline in our to-do lists. I surmised that the best scientists he works with must be extremely detail oriented and disciplined in their work. His answer surprised me. He said that while they are disciplined, the best scientists are the most creative—the ones who look at a process in a new way.
  • Create your own mental space. As Ueland pointed out, we need to make space for our minds to wander away from the minutiae that comprise much of our lives. Dani Shapiro, one of my favorite authors, recently talked about the tight link between meditation and writing. She described the important connection between the mental practice of being present and its benefits to the writing process, which draws from that similar place of mindful focus. She was talking about creative writing of course, and meditation is not for everyone. Simply sitting quietly and drinking my tea for 10 minutes before I leave for the office, or stepping outside to pick up lunch away from my iPhone often gives me brief moments of distance that allow an unprompted and unfiltered idea to leap through the chaos.
  • Let people collaborate. When we looked for office space a few years ago, InkHouse cofounder and principal Meg O'Leary and I wanted a workplace where collaboration could thrive, so we focused on an open layout. If you come to our space today, you will find people standing up and asking for a collective opinion about a campaign, a pitch, a bylined article, a new company name, etc. This impromptu brainstorming has birthed some of our most successful campaigns.
  • Enable focus. We initially offered work-from-home Fridays because we wanted to provide a flexible work environment. Over the years, we’ve found that Fridays have become important opportunities for us and our employees to focus on strategy and writing away from the hustle of conference calls and meetings.

Beth Monaghan is a principal and co-founder of InkHouse Media + Marketing, a PR and social media agency based in Waltham, Mass. You can email her at [email protected], and find her on Twitter @bamonaghan

2 responses to “Keep Creativity Flowing: Making Space for Slow, Big Ideas

  1. Fantastic article. I tweeted, I linked in, I shared on FB and made a note that it’s for anyone who needs to think – oh…that’s everyone! :-)

    Ironically, I was initially reading this so briskly I was nearly scanning…until I came across your brilliant description of what I was doing right then.

    “These people who are always briskly doing something and as busy as waltzing mice, they have little, sharp staccato ideas…”

    Not wanting to have “little, sharp staccato ideas” I forced myself to slooow down and take in your ideas.

    Beautifully written and a worthy idea for additional contemplation. I’ll come back to it when I have more time. :-)

  2. I really enjoyed this, as a soon to be entry level employee somewhere, I will graduate in the Spring and this is something I should have posted where ever I land to keep things open and new!

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