Consider the plight of the poor creative.
There you are, all full of piss and vinegar, ready to connect dots that have never been connected, eager to conjure things that have never been conjured, ideas caroming around in that magnificent mind of yours like atoms gone insane, when boom. There it is.
The wall. The box. Whatever you want to call it. However you want to think of it. The reality of creativity is far from the freewheeling thing we’d like it to be. Very far. The cold reality is that every great idea that ever was, is or ever will be is the result of the human imagination being forced to work around limitations.
You might have heard of a TV show called MacGyver. MacGyver was a kind of troubleshooter who worked for a sketchy organization called the Phoenix Foundation. Every week, MacGyver would find himself in some kind of impossible situation. Trapped at the bottom of an old mine shaft. A nuclear bomb counting down. Something.
What’s cool is that MacGyver always came up with some kind of creative solution to escape whatever mess he was in using nothing but whatever odds and ends he could scrape together. A beer can, a paper clip and a wad of gum. A pocketknife, a shoelace and a cereal box. It didn’t matter how big the obstacle was. MacGyver found a creative way around it by playing the hand he was dealt.
Let’s pretend MacGyver had been about a guy who works in the creative department of an advertising agency. Like any creative, MacGyver is pummeled by a hailstorm of constraints every day. Do this but not that. Don’t use humor. Do something with a celebrity. Don’t shoot in black and white. Don’t do that saturated color thing. Keep the logo on screen the whole 30 seconds. The copy is too short. The copy is too long.
Here’s what I don’t think would have happened: I don’t think MacGyver would have wasted a nanosecond griping about his reality. I don’t think you would have heard him commiserating in the break room about how great a business advertising would be if it weren’t for those damn clients. I don’t think he would have cried in his beer or thrown in his towel or whatever it is that most of us do when we feel like we’re in a very tight pair of creative handcuffs.
Instead, here’s what would have happened: MacGyver would have seen those handcuffs as opportunities. He would have found a way to use each and every one of those constraints as a doorway to something amazing. Just like he found a way to defuse a thermonuclear bomb with a paper clip, he would have found a way to defuse the whole client/focus group/evil-destroyer-of-dreams mine field with the advertising equivalent of a stick of chewing gum.
Steve Simpson and Tracy Wong know all about creative constraints. Way back in the predawn of civilization, there was a casual dining brand called Chevys. Its big thing was that it made its food fresh every day. Its other big thing was that it had a budget the size of a jalapeño. For a lot of us, even today, this would have been Mission Impossible on steroids. Simpson and Wong didn’t see it that way. Instead, they grabbed a video camera, got up every day at the crack of dawn and went out into the streets of San Francisco, where they would ask real people if they were aware that Chevys made its food fresh every day. After getting some surprisingly funny answers, they would rush back to the office and edit the film so the finished spots could air that same night on TV. Brilliant.
Now it’s your turn. Pick a game. Any game. Let’s say it’s chess. Go ahead and play just like you normally would. Then try this: Take away your two knights, and play again. You’ll probably get killed at first. But try it a few times, and you start to think around the missing knights. Great. Now try taking away your bishops. Harder, right? But not impossible by any means once you retrain your mind to accept your limitations.
You have two choices as a creative. You can spend your career mired down in what could have been if only... or you can roll with reality and channel your inner MacGyver. What’s it going to be? ca