We’ve all been hearing a lot about our immune systems. If you’ve got a good one, you’ve got a much better shot at staying healthy. If you don’t, you’re vulnerable. And if we’ve learned anything from these last several months, it’s the terrible consequences of being vulnerable.
But if you’re in advertising, there’s another immune system you need to think about. The fact is, in times like these, creativity can take a beating. And the time we’re in now is unprecedented. Not just in what it’s done to us as a society, but potentially to our ability to maintain our creative selves.
Creative resilience is critical now. If you’ve been working from home—and by the time you read this, many of you still will be—it’s all you can handle working off your kitchen table. And if you have kids home from school, I can’t begin to imagine the pressure that puts on anyone, let alone someone trying to nail a killer idea. Even worse, maybe you’ve lost your job. Not exactly conducive to being your best creative self.
But here’s what I know.
This horrific time we’re experiencing, it will pass. Things will get back to normal. Changed maybe, but normal. And when they do, you’ll go back to the office. You’ll go back to the leftover muffins and bagels in the coffee room. All your colleagues who right now are just tiny squares on your Zoom screen, they’ll be flesh and blood again. All this will come to pass. And when it does, the last place you’ll want to be is in a weakened creative state.
So, what can you do to keep that from happening?
If you’re John Doyle, it’s all about exploring. “I keep finding ways to see how much the creative faculties I’ve accrued through life can not only compel me to explore, but to discover and potentially flourish in ways I would never have known if I didn’t take the journey, or I didn’t find myself in a unique circumstance.” Lately, John has been exploring the rocks along the shore near his house. In them, he sees something akin to ancient cave paintings. A cormorant here. A sandpiper there. This is a time to open your eyes. See things you might never have seen before the virus came calling.
David Baldwin of Baldwin& in Raleigh says routine can keep you in the creative flow. “I’m treating every day as if I was going into the office. Get up at 6:00 a.m., work out, eat breakfast, make the bed, shower, head into the office. Only difference is, the office is upstairs. The worst thing I could do is treat ‘work from home’ as some kind of break; routine and schedule keep the pipes from freezing and keep me sharp.” As it turns out, legendary choreographer Twyla Tharp could not agree more. Tharp wakes up at exactly 5:30 a.m. every morning. She works out. She takes a cab to the studio. The same ritual every day. “It’s vital to establish some rituals—automatic but decisive patterns of behavior—at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way,” she writes in her book The Creative Habit.
The problem with working from home is that home is smack dab in the middle of your comfort zone. Nice to have on a Sunday morning, when you’re eating pancakes and doing a crossword puzzle. Not so much when you’re searching for brilliance. Truth to tell, creativity and comfort are the Felix and Oscar of advertising. Creativity isn’t that. Creativity is worlds colliding. It’s disruption. Serendipitous collisions. Working from home means creating your own collisions. Listen to music you normally wouldn’t listen to. Jazz not your thing? Great. Play some Miles Davis. You hate subtitles? Watch something French or Italian or Japanese.
Finally, maybe we could use this time to get back in touch with what creativity in advertising used to be. If you can, get your hands on some old award annuals. Maybe you’ll find the art direction is dated. Maybe it’ll feel out of touch with the world as you know it. (Hey, you kids, get off my lawn!) But seriously. The ideas, they will illuminate you. And for many of us, we need that illumination. Badly. Sit with them. Listen to them. Let them wash over you. Pray that their lessons stay with you.
I know you’ve heard it a million times. Things are going to get better. And they will. In the meantime, while you’re doing everything you can to take care of yourself physically, don’t forget to take care of yourself creatively. ca