At SXSW this past March, I attended the “Funny People Can Make You Buy Dumb Things” panel featuring Andy Currie, writer of Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man In The World” campaign. I distinctly remember two bits from Currie: That he watches a lot of TV, which drives his creativity. And one of his particular book suggestions: A Technique for Producing Ideas (1942), a concise, 31-page guide by James W. Young, who wrote it for an advertising class he was teaching at the University of Chicago.
The book reinforced my previous research into creativity. If I could sum it up in a few of sentences it’s this:
Creativity is a process of taking existing knowledge and making new combinations — basically seeing relationships and connections. You gather your food — chew on this knowledge for a time, letting your subconscious mind work it over. Then you digest, waiting for the eureka! moment, which will most likely appear on a walk, in the shower (when you least expect it). Then you critique.
I routinely used this exact process years ago while editing Inside Out, our weekly entertainment guide for The Roanoke Times / roanoke.com.
My food — or raw knowledge — were simple calendar events. As I learned of a festival or concert or whatever, I would add the event to my big Google calendar. By seeing this calendar a month at a time, I could see connections and patterns — which would usually spark cover story ideas. I had time to work these ideas over in my subconscious mind — and could anticipate what readers might be curious about from week to week, month to month. Ideas would flourish.
Here are a few more truths worth quoting from author James W. Young, specifically about lifelong learning and curiosity:
“Every really good creative person in advertising whom I have every known has always had two noticeable characteristics:
First, there was no subject under the sun in which he could not easily get interested, from, say, Egyptian burial customs to Modern Art. Every facet of life had fascination for him.
Second, he was an extensive browser in all sorts of fields of information. For it is with the advertising man as with the cow: no browsing, no milk.” (p. 16)
[T]he principle of constantly expanding your experience, both personally and vicariously, does matter tremendously in any idea-producing job. Make no mistake about it.” (p. 31)