For some people, it happens early in the morning. For others, it takes a jog through the park. And for lots of people from Archimedes onwards, new ideas have a habit of turning up about a minute after they step into the bath – and about thirty seconds before the phone rings.
Perhaps that’s not surprising. It’s always easiest to be creative when we can free our mind from the distractions of daily life. If the day hasn’t begun, no one has started nagging us about the things we have to do. Jogging is often done alone – just you, the road and the sound of your mind. And bathtime is an opportunity to lean back, relax the muscles and clean the junk out of your head, leaving room for concepts you would never have thought of otherwise.
Despite what the creativity books tell us about the best ways to spark creativity, there are no general rules. Different environments generate different responses in different people. Meditation can leave some people refreshed and open to a new day; it can leave other people feeling silly and nursing sore knees. Traffic can drive some commuters to distraction; for others it’s an opportunity to be away from the family, turn on some light music and just think.
This isn’t a Time for New Ideas
But while discovering the right times to encourage creativity is something we all have to do alone, there are better times than others to use the results of that creativity.
Sure, it would be nice to be original, inventive and groundbreaking every time we produce a new piece of work, but in practice we neither need to nor should do. A client hiring a graphic designer to produce a website, for example, will expect his supplier to understand the current online trends and be able to reproduce them. He won’t want a carbon copy but he will want the sort of thing he can see in the designer’s portfolio altered to match his own needs. If the result is too different, it might be unfamiliar to customers who expect a retail site or an online portfolio to look a certain way.
A big difference also likely to be more expensive. Having a template to work from – whatever the job – means that it can be done faster, with fewer mistakes, less effort and for less money.
You might still need to add a dash of originality but there’s a big difference between remodeling and breaking the mold.
Sometimes though a client really will want to break new ground. She might have a completely new product that’s going to shake the industry – or more likely, the company will want to use a new approach to stand out in the marketplace in the same way that the iPod used design to dominate the market for music players. That’s one time when you do need not to just think outside the box, but to toss out the boxes and build your own. It’s also a time to charge extra.
Those sorts of jobs don’t come along too often but they do happen sometimes. More frequently, you’ll find yourself working as part of a team, and that’s another time when you want to be creative.
Impressing the Team
In part, that’s because you’ll want to make an impression. Teamwork is a chance to network, to show off your skills and win valuable references for the future. To do that, you’ll always need to be at your cutting-edge best. While you’ll still need to make sure that your suggestions are practical as well as original, if you can make it clear to the other team members that working with you is a valuable experience – one that will improve their portfolios as well as satisfy the client – you could find that it’s not long before you’re leading the team and creating the concept that’s on your mind rather than someone else’s.
Of course, it should go without saying that perhaps the most important time to be super-creative is when you’re displaying your own portfolio. That might sound obvious but in practice, for many people in creative industries, it can be a difficult choice. Portfolio sites like ifp3.com make it easy for photographers to show off their work but at the price of making their work look indistinguishable from that of other photographers; creating something new and high-impact, like Sacha Dean Biyan’s Eccentris site, demands a much higher investment – of both thought and money.
But perhaps the best time to pull out all the creative stops is when you want to have fun. There are few things more rewarding in any job than being able to sit back and say “I did that.” It’s a feeling that’s worth more than any pay check and brings more satisfaction than landing any contract.
In practice, when you’re working full-time, it’s not a feeling that you can have every day with every job. Even people in the most creative industries are selling their craft skills as well as their creative ideas. But if you can find a way to inject a little bit of your own originality into anything you do, the work will always going to be a lot more enjoyable.