The Creative Process

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What do you think of when you think of creative people?

Slackers? The people in the office who often wear jeans, but rarely wear socks? The ones bouncing the rubber balls off of the walls or the ones with the desks that are littered with action figures and video game stickers? How is it fair that these people get to play all day, while the rest of us have to deal with the hard work of number crunching or calling on clients and sitting in meetings? It’s amazing how much our world has changed. Granted, we don’t want creative accounting, but then again, we kind of do (in the purest sense of the words and not in the perverted ways that caused an Enron). It seems like creativity and commerce are now one. The most impressive companies are the creative ones. The most inspirational companies are the creative ones. The companies that we’re banking on in the future are the creative ones.

How are we supposed to get any work done if we leave it up to the creatives?

There’s a dirty little secret of the creative class (that few really know and understand): creative work takes a massive amount of time, energy and practice. The most affective creative people don’t spend their days wandering around bumming smokes and drinking cappuccinos. The most affective creative people spend their days in the long, hard throes of their craft. This was one of the main themes that stands up and demands attention from the book, Spark – How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein. And, in reading this amazing book on how creative people work (and, by the way, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie at the TED conference, so look for that conversation in an upcoming episode of Six Pixels of Separation), you start to see a very similar pattern from creative success to creative success: a ton of work in the "office."

From circular to linear.

For years, I would describe the creative process as being either circular or squiggly. It wasn’t linear (like going to work from nine to five and taking lunch at noon). I used to embrace the saying, "creativity does not keep office hours," because who knows when inspiration may strike? And that kind of thinking was my downfall. There is no doubt that inspiration can happen anywhere (shower, middle of the night, on a subway ride, etc…), but turning that inspiration into something functional (be it a book, performance, presentation or Blog post) is a process. And, for many of the most creative people that I know, that process is actually quite linear. Meaning: they have rituals, a place they prefer to work, a way to deconstruct the inspiration to turn it into something tangible, a set time to make it happen. It’s a topic that Steven Pressfield talks about so passionately in the book, The War Of Art (more on that here: SPOS #251 – Do The Work With Steven Pressfield). The most creative people are the ones who apply a blue-collar work ethic to their assignments. They wake up, eat their breakfast, take a shower and get to to work. The different between the creative class and everyone else is that the majority of the creative class also love what they do (which makes it both easier to do and enables them to work at it for hours, days, weeks and months on end).

We could learn a lot from the creative process.

If you’re interested in how the worlds of creativity and commerce collide, you may be interested in attending C2-MTL (full disclosure: they are a client of Twist Image).


  1. Great topic here! Are you familiar with Ferran Adria, the uber popular chef from Spain (of elBulli fame)? Perhaps the most innovative person in the food world, his creative execution is absolutely astonishing. I’ve read several books about him and am always surprised to see how systematic he is with his creativity process. It’s not a “came on a whim” type of thing – creativity and the act of “being creative” can indeed fit into an actual process.

  2. I’ll let Chuck Close echo my sentiments:
    “The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.”
    ? Chuck Close

  3. Have the discipline to take notes and write down or record your ideas whenever they come to you without excuses and when it’s time to get to work you’ll always have creativity a page turn away. This is what I tell young people getting into the creative world. I also tell them putting things off till the last minute/deadline doesn’t create the creativity that they think 9to5 keeps from them it actually is just forcing them to embrace the discipline they lack. Creativity does not favour the still it favors the one in motion.

  4. The minute the pen starts moving or the fingers start typing, ideas come. I’ve often written very long articles for magazines by starting with a blank page and seeing where the words take me. It’s nice to hear that this is cross-disciplinary.

  5. Inspiration finds me working used to say Picasso.
    Yes, thanks Mitch for dispelling the myth of the diletante creative waiting for the ‘big idea’.
    Creativity requires a lot more discipline, hard work than boring work.
    It also requires smart work, knowing when to quit and taking breaks, resourcing our minds and keeping our bodies in good working order.

  6. I spent 17 years as an account management guy working at large agencies. In that environment, the Creative Directors put their folks through the wringer before the work goes out the door. Great creative talent has a short memory – like a closing relief pitcher in baseball.

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