Archives For Creativity

Asking the right questions can help you solve business problems and enhance your creativity. Today, ponder exaggeration.


Film. Expensive, bulky equipment. Waiting days for your pictures to get developed. When I took  photos and sold camera equipment in a photography store in the 1980’s, the stuff required to see your family Thanksgiving photos was a lot different. In hindsight, it was lousy.

Many a customer would pay for their photos, take a quick look at them, and frown a great big frown, having gotten only a few good shots out of each roll. Errors could result in a bunch of abstract shots of your lens cap, or your kid’s surprise photoessay with 24 blurry shots of a dog’s nose, costing about $13 in film and processing. Some folks got pissed. Some cried. I learned the amazing emotional power that comes with people’s personal photos.

Then technology changed everything. First, one hour processing rocking the photo business, and our expectations as consumers. Then “Grandma cameras” popped onto the scene. Grandma cameras were what we called the first point-and-shoot, automatic everything cameras that were so easy to use, even Grandma could do it. The day the Grandma cameras went on sale, the old bulky SLRs started to fade away, and the masses were given more creative license.

A couple of decades later, photography has (thankfully) evolved into the simple, less expensive, more creative, awesome thing that it is today. The evolution and democratization of picture taking gave birth to new businesses and industries, and many photo-related companies failed to evolve, and died.

In 1981, the ability to improve your image ended the second the shutter opened. Today, it’s not just taking the photo, it’s how you manipulate it after you take, be it on a laptop, iPad or iPhone. The results you can get in 2 minutes today used to take much more time, more money. Creativity was almost exclusively in the hands of professionals.

Would Facebook be worth $42 billion (oops, I mean $50 million) today if it didn’t have photos? No way. The easy, cheap photography tools and processes in 2011 have democratize creativity. You can thank your Grandma.

Was Thomas Edison a wildly creative person who became good at business, or was he a wildly good businessman who happened to be creative? Both. He wouldn’t have been who he was without his tremendous strengths in creativity and in business. I’d nominate him to be the poster boy for excellence in creativity and business.

His maxim: imagination plus entrepreneurship equals innovation, and innovation equals competitive advantage. To him, creativity and business go seamlessly together.

Times have sure changed since he toiled away at the light bulb, but over 100 years later, that maxim is still true.

In 2010, Harvard Business School’s Entrepreneurial Management Unit said the ability to respond quickly to changing market conditions demands high levels of creativity. So here’s one of our most renowned business think-tanks saying we need lots of creativity in business. Huh. A very Edisonian notion.

What about the future? IBM conducted a survey recently, and found that CEOs identify creativity as the most important leadership competency for the successful enterprise of the future.

So, gentle business reader, how and when and where will you dial up your creativity?

Jack London said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

Mr. London was not talking about a 9-iron. He was talking about passion.

Take 100 people. How many of them chase inspiration with a club? How many are relentless, and possessed by a pursuit? I’d guess 10, tops. Most folks don’t seem wired to chase. But maybe they’re just not motivated.

The million dollar question – what motivates you to chase? The “eureka” moment? Accolades? Fame? Money? Personal satisfaction? The greater good? Answer that question, and understand what motivates you to chase, and you’re half way there.

Now stew on that one, and go get a club.

Les Paul, Gordon Ranney, Gregg Rullman, Biff Blumfumgagnge and Steve Miller playing in 2004 at the Les Paul Lifetime Achievement Award presentation in Madison.

I’m excited about my pal Biff coming into the office on the 25th to talk to KW2 staff about creativity and ideas. He’s an inspiring fella.

In 1986, Biff and I were in ComedySportz, an improv comedy group. He was also in a band called The Gomers. He asked me to join the band that year, and outside of the Watertown Junior High and High School bands, it’s the only band I’ve ever been in. These days The Gomers play 8 to 10 times a month, and I join them once or twice.

Biffy is one of the most creative people I’ve ever met. He’s like Madison’s Les Paul: a ridiculously talented instrumentalist (violin, bass, mandolin, guitar), great singer, studio whiz, and builder of his own musical gear.

The Gomers, circa 1987. Biff is in the back row, center. The Bifftar that he made is the guitar on the far left.

The Gomers on clown night at the Club de Wash, circa 1988. Biff is on the far right.

In the early days of the band, Biff had the idea to integrate themes into all The Gomers shows. Themes included bacteria, meat & toys, Elvis, and clown night, seen above. They’ve performed as Kiss. Here’s The Gomers Wikipedia info.

These days, he’s a recording instructor at Madison Media Institute. At night, he’s a Gomer, and frequent/occasional member of Madison’s renowned Reptile Palace Orchestra, Natty Nation, and the internationally-known Zombeatles. He’s toured as guitar tech and performed with legendary guitarists Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew.

Should be a cool conversation.

What happens when you bring more creativity to the workplace? We’re in the process of finding out. We believe the answer is: very good things.

We’ve begun having discussions with folks whose careers are all about creativity, trying to learn from them how we can bring more creativity and ideas into our jobs as advertisers and communicators.

On Wednesday we met with Rod Clark, the editor and publisher of Rosebud Magazine. Rod’s job is to sift through piles of fiction submissions to create a thrice-annual offering of short stories and poetry from little known authors to Norman Mailer, John Updike, and Ray Bradbury. Rosebud is one of the top fiction magazines in the country.

Here are some of Rod’s thoughts on creativity and ideas.

Seesaws are creatively powerful. There is power in opposites and contrasts. Contrast is energy.

Shut up and listen to the product. Rod doesn’t choose stories that appeal to him, but appeal to the magazine. After 16 years of Rosebud, the magazine knows what it wants and needs. So get out of your own way, and make choices based on what’s right for the product.

A great idea is: bigger than you; smarter than you; has fact and feeling; it glows; it shows that maybe you haven’t invented something, but you’ve discovered something.

A couple of extra dandy quotes:

“By the time you figure out what people want, they want something else.”

“Young people often want to be writers more than they want to write.”

Thanks Rod, for a great discussion. And stay tuned for more creativity at work.

Damn, that’s dandy. More here and here.

A wonderful exploration by Renaud Hallee.

Honda makes various machines that have motors and wheels.

Wieden + Kennedy London makes their ads that run in England. I’ve thought for a few years now that Honda/WKL creates some of the smartest and best executed advertising in the world.

Buckle up and enjoy. These ads are quite creative and fun.

This ad is great, because the line that Garrison Keillor says at the end nails Honda’s business strategy, AND the ad’s messaging strategy, AND the ad’s creative strategy, which is no small feat.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a brilliant advert for a Honda Civic.

I speak to a lot of college students, and love showing this ad. It uses hate to sell goodness, which is rather ingenious, dontcha think? From Honda’s site: “Nagahiro’s (Honda’s chief engine designer) passionate dislike for all that is bad about diesel engines was the motivation he needed to develop a new kind of Honda diesel.” So it plays off of a big creative insight: Nagahiro’s hatred for his own diesel engines would make for a great ad.  I defy you to watch this, and NOT want to whistle the music. It’s infectious.

This one is a hoot and a panic and a stitch, and it works it’s butt off at creatively selling Honda.

And this ad. It’s called “Cog”, and it’ll blow your mind and leave mind sauce all over your walls. It’s one of my favorites ever. It took 7 months and 606 takes to make. (I think there is an edit when the tires travel uphill.) I’ve seen a bazillion ads in my day, but every damn time I see this one it feels like the first time.