We’ve all heard it before – ‘just think outside the box’.
It seems obvious… thinking freely and outside the norm is what creativity is all about right? But what does that even mean, and more importantly, how is it achieved?
That question isn’t as simply answered as you might’ve hoped, especially considering you’re reading a blog on creativity.
That’s because our perception of what creativity is and how we view originality, is ultimately built from our past experiences, what we see as ‘original’ or ‘new’, might not feel so new to others. In essence, every cliché we know was probably a fairly original idea to begin with.
Originality itself is often touted as a stroke of genius, plucked out of thin air, when in reality, even the most creative individuals use inspiration and borrow from pieces of work they look up to.
Take Quentin Tarantino for example, known as one of the most innovative film directors of all time, he pays homage to his favourite movies, twisting and refining the original ideas into something new. Then the man who created Nike was inspired by the Greek goddess of the same name – Nike (meaning: ‘the Goddess of victory’), using her wing as inspiration for the famous swoosh logo. Even David Bowie, regarded as one of the most influential musicians of his generation, said “the only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from”.
That’s not to say plagiarism is right or the same as creativity, what Bowie meant is it’s okay to use your inspiration to your advantage. Instead of copying and pasting a whole idea, you can take tiny parts of a multitude of influences, then use them to create something that is your own.
But what’s this got to do with PR? Because most PRs certainly wouldn’t consider themselves the Bowie’s or Tarantino’s of the world.
The principle remains the same, as PRs we should embrace influence. That doesn’t mean to jump on the bandwagon of every current trend, but instead, to search for influence in what resonates with us and sparks something.
So, whether you have an ideation coming up, or just need to freshen up your creativity, here are some tips to start creating better ideas for both traditional and digital PR:
If you have a brief or some direction, write whatever words or thoughts come to mind based on that and don’t feel discouraged if it doesn’t feel relevant yet, it can link up later. Just get some words onto paper in accordance with your brief, an idea or with a theme in mind, and see if anything connects.
Don’t be afraid to think big and bold, it can be good to have a balance of safer and bolder ideas. The more ideas available, the easier it will be to narrow them down and decide on the best ones.
Keep an eye out for campaigns, articles/news, random ideas, talking points, literally anything that resonates with you or what you’re working on.
Be mindful of times when something evokes a feeling of ‘that’s a good idea’, ‘I wish I did that’ or something along those lines. Whether it’s from an article, a conversation, a thought or an issue that needs solving, keep track of these by storing them in an easily accessible place, such as, notes on your phone, on paper or in a word document.
You can refer back whenever you feel a little uninspired and see if there are any ideas you’re able to pluck out. Try adding your own twists, ask yourself why something evoked such an emotion and how it could be improved. You can link multiple ideas together too, some might stick and some might not and that’s fine.
Look into the landscape related to your brand or the kinds of campaigns you work on by checking the news, industry trends, previous campaigns you like and so on.
Be open to how things are interrelated, see if anything you notice or read links to something else – even if they typically wouldn’t be associated. Dig for information and ask yourself questions, you can use Google (or someone) to help answer them. If something feels somewhat relevant, look into it further, you’d be surprised at how looking a bit deeper will reveal even better ideas or help you understand if it’s something to discard.
Openly talk about ideas with teammates or close friends – bouncing ideas back and forth can help expand them – you can even use AI tools like Chat GPT to bounce ideas off to help expand them too.
Creativity often comes easier at times when you have a clear, relaxed mind, the shower is a common example. When there’s pressure to be creative, don’t follow that pressure.
Try removing yourself from the situation for a few minutes, whether that’s mentally and/or physically, you can do this by considering your breath for a moment, going on a walk or focusing your attention on a song you enjoy, just make sure it’s something that brings you calmness.
Once your mind is clearer, return and practice mind dumping again, if you feel like you’re lacking creativity, try checking the news landscape, your inspiration bank or another place that might evoke something. Googling phrases you feel are relevant is a good starting point if you’re feeling lost. The key is to keep calm even when under pressure, stress is not usually good for creativity.
Ideas can come from anywhere, not just figuratively either. From the obvious news articles, other campaigns and random thoughts to a single word, phrase or anything in your line of sight, such as, nature, people or objects. They can also come from sounds, like conversations and natural noise, or art, in the form of music, movies or paintings too.
Many innovative ideas come from something that requires a solution, so be open to finding ideas from your surroundings, feelings and overall experiences. For instance, scientists came up with the idea of a submarine by studying whales, Alexander Bell invented the telephone through working with deaf students and his fascination with speech, and the first ever PR campaign came from the observation that women didn’t smoke, labelling cigarettes as ‘torches of freedom’ to suffragettes.
So be open to your surroundings and how it can influence you and how observance to the things you mightn’t usually consider can enhance creativity.
On a final note, inspiration is all around us and is there to be embraced, create what is important to you and the rest will follow. Sign up to the NORTH Newsletter for more inspiration on creativity, or take a look at our guide on creativity in content marketing.