Sunday, June 30, 2013

Commercial Creativity: Intuition, Intellect, and How It All Works



Over all the years now that I've been entering into "The Creative Process" as a means of earning a living, I've had plenty of chances to consider the hows and whys of it all. All my crazy experiences – from drawing portraits of thoroughbreds as a teenager, to providing illustrations and designs for hundreds of media outlets, to creating animations for advertising and network television – have led me to some slightly esoteric, but I believe pretty accurate conclusions that I'd like to share with you, that I hope will help you understand your own relationship to the creative process.

Out of all the creative solutions I've stumbled across in my day, this one thing has become pretty clear to me:  The most meaningful, powerful, and effective ideas aren't the result of brain power, or an ability to collaborate effectively. They don't come from rounding up a bunch of options and cutting out everything but the best, like some media idea wrangler. They aren't built from the raw materials of project criteria and market goals; forced, fabricated, fashioned, hashed-out or in any way massaged or mentally manipulated into being. Don't get me wrong, a lot of typically (and many regrettably) useful solutions are. 

No, the most focused, most profoundly effective ideas simply arise from a mysterious, and rather magical (but very reliable) source. Since they are not the result of any willful intellectual process, more often than not they are essentially dreamt up – the product of a kind of personal, immediately shareable vision.

The more you've taken part in this process, the more likely it is that you can identify with the mysterious leap that I'm trying to describe. So where does that clear, nearly perfect idea come from? That idea you only could have dreamt of finding and never induced through brain power alone? This query does evoke a little mysticism and magic, as I believe it should. In an effort to locate it's source, let's try to put the whole curious process into a greater, even more "scientific" context for a minute, starting at the very beginning:

We are all sitting on a tiny planet in a tiny solar system in a tiny galaxy in the vast, unimaginable infinity of "outer space." Infinite numbers of stars, planets, galaxies, and probably universes too are constantly being created, coming into being, atrophying, and disappearing within a scale of existence that can only be described as timelessly eternal, and more to our point, beyond imagination. Somewhere within that overwhelming picture, we can begin to form a sense of The Creative Force – the essential field of everything becoming.

In Quantum Physics, the principles of non-locality and entanglement describe just such an active, invisible field in which everything is connected; an aquifer of innate intelligence at a sub-atomic level, in the realm of an equally infinite "inner space." That might all seem overly magical and unlikely to boot, except for the fact that the functions of our modern technology very reliably depend on those, and other crazy realities revealed by our most advanced means of calculation and observation.  

On a more personal physiological level, medical science continuously defines and redefines the character of our brains, our thinking organs, in a sense as an organic collector and conduit of different, extra-ordinarily elaborate capacities, driven by basic instincts, and fed from a vast well of conscious and unconscious intelligence that originates from without, and within.

 On the left side of our brain we have our serial processor, constantly taking inventory, comparing and categorizing, scheduling, ordering, and manipulating; experiencing the demands of time and impending necessity. On the right side, we have our parallel processor, experiencing the holistic moment, the connection of everything to everything; the empathic bridge from the sensory to the eternal.
   
And beneath it all, on any scale and in every function, the power of creation flows along like a mighty river, animating, enlivening, and ener-gizing everything from the greatest cosmological process to the smallest personal decision. Naturally, it isn't a river that we can personally command in any way, it's one we may be briefly swept away by, or, for our purposes, one we may only hope to temporarily channel. And how do we go about that? How do we tap into all of that intuitive, archetypal intelligence? How can we reliably access our own artistic common sense? 

It's no surprise that in the world of commercial creativity, over-thinking a problem usually is the problem, so recognizing the difference between an intuitively inspired solution that arises from that mysterious source, and the willful, intellectual one that we think into existence is critical. Is it that the first thing that comes to mind is the best solution, as it so often appears to be – a nascent, preemptive stroke of brilliance? The best evidence in my experience (before collaborative comparisons are made), is that that first inspired thought that simply arises usually is the best solution. The challenge is then either to quickly bring it to fruition, or to protect and preserve it throughout the process of development.

There doesn't seem to be a perfect situation or location for allowing the intuitive to surface, it comes from a set of inner conditions – not outer ones, and so it travels with you through your life, from job to job, and place to place. The only way to encourage it is to try to recreate the circumstances that have best allowed that creative flow in the past, like placing a radio in the window sill where it can receive the strongest signal. Working in familiar, comfortable surroundings and relationships, at the right time of day, or with your preferred partner, privacy, music, or cup of tea. 

Focused time is absolutely essential – you simply can't be multi-tasking and expect any clear connection to take place. Texting, I.M.ing, web-surfing, watching YouTube, making reservations, in short, worrying about anything else simply won't do it. Even our least encumbered mental processes already create plenty of obstacles without adding to them. You need clear space, free of mental interference to clearly receive intuitive inspiration. This is true whether you are formulating the most complex concept, or writing or drawing a single line well.

Probably the most effective means for encouraging and allowing your intuitive connection comes through meditation, which shares two very important goals with creative endeavor, namely: 1. The observation and discernment of the quality and necessity of our thoughts; and 2. The opening of the most direct connection possible with the mysterious wellspring of all creation (so you may listen to your client, and listen to the universe). Either meditating as a practice, or folding elements of meditative practice into your creative process will open your channel for receiving specific answers like nothing else. Setting aside the demands of serial (left brain) thinking, and connecting with your (right brain) intuitive source becomes less of an applied second nature, and simply a more natural way to begin the process.

Asking the universe for help is a pretty direct way to start things off too – after all, everything has come from that divine source anyway, and so realistically, any source that's responsible for the entire universe shouldn't have much trouble helping with our little songs or or sayings, buildings, pictures, or any other of our ephemeral, creative projects.  

Because of the undeniably profound nature of that source, it's actually easy for anyone to recognize a truly inspired idea – the clear, intuitive solution just has a special presence. It sings, in a way that strikes a deeper note. There's a magic to the moment that it comes into being, and everyone that witnesses it can recognize it, and could embrace it imme-diately, and hold on to it – if they could only keep their mind out of the way. This is not always the easiest thing to do, since a lot of people think such things need to be thought up. 

The obstacles to intuitive inspiration in a commercial setting are usually personal and institutional, coming about as a result of company directions, project associations, egos, and personal pathologies. Quick, direct, intuitive solutions often simply are not part of a business strategy. It's (usually mistakenly) believed that only something more willfully fashioned will do. Or too, some bosses or coworkers may refuse to recognize an intuitive inspiration that isn't their own. It's appearance can challenge the egoic thinking that typically requires (subconsciously or not) some degree of self enhancement, complication, or false sense of control. It's tricky politics, keeping a great idea alive.

When forces push back against an inspiration, you may need to take up the issue and defend it (though it will usually do that for itself), but you should never fight over it. Easy come, easy go. The creative source is constantly showing it's own way. Entering into a collaborative give-and-take may be the most fluid path to a reasonable (though perhaps less inspired) solution...and fluidity is a good metaphor for the over-arching inspiration empowering the creative process. It's like going downstream, being carried on a secure and powerful current and allowing solutions to simply arise. A dissolving of one's self into the intuitive is necessary for an inspired idea to take it's proper shape.

On the teamwork side of the equation, when you suddenly see someone else channeling an intuitively inspired solution – get out of their way and let 'em go; or better yet, help them bring it into reality as well as you possibly can. That kind of constructive yielding enforces the power of the perfect idea. Allowing and encouraging intuitive inspiration will always leads to the best solution you'll ever get, and the highest quality results are often impossible without serious ego deflation taking place by one participant or another.

But it's a problem too that capitulation and compromise of an intuitively inspired idea will often knock a project right off it's foundations. It can destroy a client's (or teammate's) faith in your direction, and energize a painfully unconscious cycle of unnecessary reconceptualization and endless revision. In the clear light of intuitive intelligence, only an original vision will serve as the catalyst for the best resolution of the creative problem it addresses. There really is no such thing as "re-visions" when one of these idea vacuums suddenly forms. A reverse Pandora effect allows egos to take license and pathological intellect to rush in. Almost instantly, the path to any solution becomes longer, more complicated and less rewarding. Unless some principle was badly missed to begin with, the original vision is still what carries the solution in the most effective way.

One sad sensation I've witnessed repeated over and over through my career has been the sense of loss at someone having had an intuitively creative solution compromised and abandoned. The knowledge that for awhile it was there, and then egos and personalities prevented it from ever seeing the light of day. But the really great thing about working intuitively in collaborative efforts is that even if an inspiration is compromised, there is plenty more where that came form. In commercial efforts, as well as in all of life, the source of creative inspiration is infinitely abundant, adaptable, and forgiving. If you continue to allow it to arise, it will continue to show the way to a fresh and newly energizing solution.

The easiest way to direct your effectiveness is also the same in commercial creativity as in the rest of life:  If it seems that you're rowing upstream, you're going the wrong direction. But sometimes (lots of times, in fact) in the world of commercial creativity, we're being paid to help our employers execute a design for rowing upstream. Then, if at all possible, it's good to demonstrate the ease of accomplishment available through a more intuitive process, and encourage an attitude of humility and generosity that might win minds over, and help clear the muddy waters. Otherwise, either you paddle against the current as cheerfully as possible, or quit. What is really important to you?

Realizing that we are not completely in charge of the mostly uncontrollable collision involved in any creative production can help a lot too. It's by the grace of the Creative Gods, so to speak, that we're provided the opportunity to play a part in bringing something special to light as a means of making a living – that alone can provide enough of a purpose for a journeyman artist. We can simply show up, do our best, and leave the results to our Creative Gods (so to speak).

This leads to the bigger picture that recognizing and developing our creative, intuitive channel can give us, as we find the source of our best ideas is (not coincidentally) also the best source of our moral and ethical direction. When we start consciously opening our contact to that creative source, our consciousness naturally expands, and we find ourselves in touch with more and more of that wonderful "common sense," and the ease and direction it can bring into our lives. Commercial projects and activities that were formally sought out, acceptable, or supposedly necessary become more difficult to live with, as our channel directs us away from commercial ambition and towards serving our deeper needs.

...And deep is where those sweetest creative solutions live, and so they touch a deep and satisfying note within everyone. They unify and energize the entirety of a project, as well as the attitudes of it's participants – and it's at this deeper level that they carry the most commercial effectiveness: at that profound level of branding and brand association. Intrinsically, we all know what serves our real needs in the best, most commonly beneficial way, and so we identify with, and want to (even subconsciously) associate our selves to those inner essential shared values.

Gratitude, generosity of spirit, humility, and joyful participation work so well in every aspect of Life, that naturally they'll help in the largely inconsequential problems that the world of commercial creativity presents; after all, in the end, none of it is of any particular importance whatsoever, except for how we go about it, and whether or not we can bring that shared, intuitive understanding to life through what we're doing. The need to open yourself up, get out of inspirations way, have a conversation, and follow the flow.

At last, at the risk of seeming arbitrary and subjective (oh what the hell, I'm going to anyway...), I'll resort to an example that's specific to my commercial animation industry, just for the sake of making a point. Here it is: 

Would you rather hang around with Geico Auto Insurance's petulant, EastEnd salamander, or their unconscious screaming pig; or would you prefer spending the day with Charmin Toilet Paper's silent, cozy, big blue bear? Which character and direction suggests a solid, intuitively inspired creation, the quality of their product, and a sensation of shared benevolent purpose and meaning? ...There's your brand. 

I'm not sure what you think, or better yet, feel about it...but it makes me wonder – just where do big blue bears come from, anyways? 


The book: How to Survive Life (and Death), A Guide To Happiness In This World and Beyond is now available everywhere, but ask for it it at your local bookstore!