“There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; … two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.” —Stephen King
“Every time we become aware of a thought, as opposed to being lost in a thought, we experience that opening of the mind.” —Joseph Goldstein
I’ve developed a bad habit lately. Apparently, I’ve taken to eating with my mouth open. Which is to say, I’ve been smacking. This, for everyone but the smacker, is an inarguably disgusting sound, somewhere between fingernails on a chalkboard and a cat coughing up a hairball. Trust me, that tender sirloin might taste like manna from heaven, but the sound of your molars masticating the hell out of it is akin to the guy in 17B barfing up his Cinnabon.
Fortunately, my wife has been kind enough to assist me with this. She calls it mindful eating. Pretty simple, actually. Instead of yapping all through dinner about who knows what, you simply focus on eating. Keep your mouth closed. Take small bites. Chew slowly. Feel the food on your tongue. She insists that if I can succeed at this, I won’t embarrass myself when, one day, we’re invited to dinner at the White House.
In other words, be conscious. Be in the moment. Be mindful.
This is amazing advice, not just for dinner guests at the White House but also for advertising creatives. Why is this? Because big advertising ideas, the ones that explode all over you and drench you with their awesomeness, are almost always born of an insight that no one saw coming—no one but you. Because, like Stephen King says, you recognized it when it showed up.
Easier said than done, of course.
The world is a noisy place. Putin. Proud Boys. COVID-19. Wordle. Oat milk. Tiger. Meta. 2024. Brady. Don’t Say Gay. Lasso. The Slap. The Multiverse. Kviv. AI. AR. VR. TikTok. Rowling. Exoplanets. YouTube. Plastic. Polar bears. Fortnite. Black Lives Matter. Disney. Netflix. Ariana. Banksy. Crypto. Idris. Tornadoes. NFTs. Black holes. Drones. Algorithms. Wormholes. Chick-fil-A. Neo. Cake Pops. Kanye. Harry and Megan. Gummies. Musk. Drones. Fauci. Baby Yoda. Formula E. The idea to end all ideas could be camped out somewhere in there and you’d never even know it. Tragic, in itself. Even more so if someone more observant than you snags it first, plucks it out of the ether and turns it into gold.
If only you had a way to tune out the noise. If only your creative radar were more tuned in to ideas roaming out there in the wild. If only you were more conceptually mindful.
Before you trade your every worldly possession for an orange robe, a shaved head and some Tibetan singing bowls, relax. As it turns out, conceptual mindfulness is easier to learn than, say, sirloin-steak mindfulness. And while I’m no Deepak Chopra, I’ve found a technique that works pretty well for me. I’m not so great at sitting still with the aforementioned singing bells gonging every 30 seconds in my AirPods, so I’ve gotten into what’s called a walking meditation.
Here’s how it goes.
First, find yourself someplace where you know there’s going to be a ton of distractions coming at you from every corner. An all-out assault on the senses: Sound. Sight. Smell. All of it. If you’re in a city, you’re in luck. All those cars and jackhammers and tourists asking for directions. Not peaceful like a wheat field in South Dakota or a beach on the far side of Maui, but ideal for learning how to tune out creative noise.
As you start walking, pay attention to what you hear. The obvious sounds, but the distant ones, too. A plane somewhere at 40,000 feet. A dog barking six streets over. Birds. A couple arguing. Pick one of them and focus on it. The rest of it, just let it float by—there, but not there. Keep walking. What does the ground beneath your feet feel like? Squishy? Smooth? Rocky? Slippery? Feel it. Then, smell the air. Same thing as sounds. Pick a smell and focus. And not something easy, like bacon. The smell has to be more like wet moss or gravel or distant smoke. On the rest of the walk, do the same thing with touch and taste. You get the idea.
Like I said, I’m no mindfulness guru. My wife still has to raise my consciousness on the smacking thing. But I can pretty much promise you that if you work at shutting out the noise, you’ll be a lot better prepared to hear that elusive, brilliant hummingbird in the tornado. ca