A while back, a guest writer on AdAge, Lauren Warner, took some heat for an essay she wrote about the briefing process. Among other things, she claimed one should address “creatives on your shop’s team like they’re in kindergarten.”
Others may have been offended, but the story made me smile.
I recall an evening spent at my children’s school, meeting their teachers, discussing the upcoming year. During this visit, I became aware of how “creative” so much of my daughters’ curriculum really was.
Colette’s science teacher explained how “experimenting and taking chances” shapes her powers of intuition. Lily’s drama teacher rhapsodized about “connecting to the inner fantastic.” She used the word “connecting” over and over again. “At this age,” she said, “the creative gene is ready to explode!”
I couldn’t help but think of all the “connecting” strategies I’ve puzzled over as a copywriter and creative director. “Connecting people” is the default strategy for all telecommunications, personal technology, and, frankly, just about everything people use in their waking lives.
Connecting folks is Coca Cola’s über-strategy — “I’d like to buy the world a coke.”
Even more interesting was this business about creativity “exploding.”
I believe the teacher was saying that our creative muse is born in these opening years of life. That stimulated and nurtured, we begin to understand and respect our intuitions. Kindergarten is a creative department. Experimenting with ideas on the stage, colors on paper, sounds in music class… That’s what I do!
Or that’s what I prefer doing. Much of my day, however, is spent lawyering on behalf of ideas. Defending them. Subjecting them to all manner of worries and concerns, making them more appropriate, more coherent, more on strategy. It’s inevitable. It’s my job. But it’s also like killing the butterfly in order to appreciate it.
The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to stay “connected” to my “inner child.” The best creative people do not grow out of it when they grow up.
We remain inquisitive like children. Lovers of fun. You see it in our bicycles in the hallway. Our dubious wardrobes. Our playlists. Our silly photos online.
Alas, you also see it in meetings, where we become pouting and defensive, wilting under criticism, frustrated by the grown-ups ruining our fun. I know we can be insufferable. Imposing MBA logic in Romper Room is bound to create problems.
But our muses shouldn’t be stymied: the ability to ideate, to find that “inner fantastic” is necessarily petulant. What’s regrettable is marketing’s obsession with guaranteeing results … or else!
Research. Testing. Groups. I say Bleh! There are no guarantees. Never were. Never will be. Intuition, if cultivated and nurtured, is the most important tool the creative department has. The old saw is wrong. Ideas are not our “babies.” That job belongs to us.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A copywriter by trade, Steffan is perhaps best known for his provocative and iconic work on Altoids, The Curiously Strong Mints. Early into his long tenure at Leo Burnett, Steffan co-wrote “Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile,” which (for better or worse) became a part of the lexicon.
Steffan currently provides creative leadership at Jumbo Shrimp, a San Francisco boutique responsible for elevating the creative product across a broad range of B2B and technology clients.
A one-time recipient of Crain’s prestigious “40 under 40,” Steffan is immersed in new media. His popular blog, Gods of Advertising was recently ranked top 20 by Business Insider.
He’s the recipient of advertising’s most prestigious awards, including numerous One Show Pencils, the Kelly Award for best print campaign in North America, and gold and silver Lions from Cannes.
Steffan has written three novels, all of which are available via online booksellers. His horror screenplay, Belzec: The Made Undead won Best Horror Screenplay at Action on Film, Chicago’s Horror Fest and several other festivals.