Keith Smith, MD at The Advertist has been exploring creativity. Along with our editor Ian Truscott, he has chatted with his network of agency legends and creatives to find out where they find the inspiration for their work and how creativity happens.


“The problem with Keith is that he sets himself very low standards which he consistently fails to meet.”

That was a quote from one of my school reports. I was one of the class dreamers. Lacking the ability to concentrate, distracting others with asinine antics, talking, looking out of the window, in fact doing anything but what I should have been doing.

My teachers all agreed on one thing. I was smart but… at what?

Turns out, in another life, I might have been destined for a life of creativity. I might have now been occupying a beanbag in a corner office on Madison Avenue, driving my VW Karmann Ghia to the city from some upstate log cabin, where I sat at weekends, being paid to look out of the window, producing killer advertising campaign concepts from thin air.

If you have the attention span of a gnat (as most creatives do) there are five main areas you can use to explore ways to channel your inner Dali at the end of this article, so feel free to skip to the final paragraph.

For those who can concentrate, I’ll explain the premise behind a brand new podcast episode Never Mind the Bullshit.

Creative people seem to have a way of charming their muses from the trees at will, because there is a common thread among creative types. They have the ability to tune out the noise of life, ignore distractions and let the cream float to the top – and I wanted to find out how they do it.

One of my own superpowers is persuasion so I managed to convince Rockstar CMO’s editor, Ian Truscott to help me get to the bottom of what makes creative people creative and boy, did we hit paydirt!

It all started with the idea of turning our investigations into a podcast about what drives the creative mind. Both Ian and myself, suffering from a mild case of imposter syndrome, figured that we’d visit the wellhead, the source, the creative minds, that are much further upstream than we are, so that we can shed light on what it takes to be one of life’s imagineers.

We interviewed a sample of geniuses from different aspects of the creative sphere, starting with, at the core of the piece, the three superbrains behind the publishing sensation of last Christmas How to Avoid Brand Bullshit – Martin Galton, Greg Jordan and Tim Hollins who together form an agile advertising industry creative supergroup called Beehive.

We asked them, simply: What does it take to be creative and to think creatively? What we got in return was an in-depth, multi-episode series looking into the world of creative thinking in film, writing, advertising, photography, art, music and marketing.

Each subject is reinforced by real-world examples, designed to inspire and incentivize the Rockstar CMO audience to share some of their favorite tips on the topics covered in the podcast.

Over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll be compiling the responses to create a spin-off podcast that hinges on the original and then adds to it with a richness that mere mortals like me can savor and contemplate in order to better understand the creative mind.

What’s your secret to creativity?

To give you a flavor of what kind of responses we’re looking for, take two recent subsequent interviews with a film and TV music composer – Andrew Barnabas (Barn) – www.bobandbarn.com – and a computer and digital graphic artist Jason Riley (Jason) – www.artificial-lens.com – , whose graphics are the awe-inspiring visuals preferred by the science and architecture channels.

Barn, who is currently applying the finishing touches to a TV show and a film, addressed how he gets inspired.

He explained that when he gets a film to deliver music for, he’s often presented with a temporary example (temp) to give him some pointers, which he then has to compose in the style of, which Barn classes as ‘borrowing’. Fortunately luck also played a part this time and because he’d previously worked with this director, he found his own work being played back to him. The director sent the rough edit with some temp music with a note that read “Have you got anything similar to this?”

Barn says, “On this particular film, [the director] he’s ‘temped’ it – about two thirds – with our music already on it, so I could happily rip off myself, no problem at all. He’d sent me my own track as a temp.”

Jason, whose visuals bring to life the theories and findings of the science community, needed to imagine what certain human living habitats might be like on the planet Mars as part of NASA’s Mars X-House 2 concepts.

For this, Jason needed to harness the power of context – the right creative to fit a situation – to meet the brief:

They started sending us information like Mars has 97 percent carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which means that you can’t breathe. It’s cold. The gravity is about a fifth of that of Earth’s. Landing would be a very sudden landing because the atmosphere is very thin and all sorts of other little chemical composition fact that we were learning from NASA that were really spinning our minds and we were saying things like ‘Ooh, we could do this!’, ‘Oooh a blue sunset, that would be interesting!’ There’s a lot to do with research which inspired us to do these images. And because of the research, that’s where we won.”

The power of juxtaposition is also a big player in the world of film and TV, and Barn says he often finds that juxtaposition needs time to mature. Normally film and TV directors prefer to play it safe with music the viewer might expect to hear but sometimes, once the project gets under way, suggestions can creep in and end up creating the difference between average and awesome. “Sometimes, in order to get the gig, generally you pretty much have to conform,” he says.

But Andrew comes from a background of computer game music composition, where boundaries were more flexible and this, he finds is very handy when it comes to reaching a younger TV audience. “One of the first projects we ever worked on was a film called ‘Green Street’ which was a football hooligan movie, set in London.” Andrew worked with the director on one particular fight scene where he envisioned the very bloody and gruesome action in slow motion, set to a classical music score. The result is a captivating slow-mo slug fest, set against sweeping opera music.

I highly recommend you listen to the podcast to get a full overview of the key principles to being creative but if, you’re the creative person who skipped straight to the last part, here are the subjects we explore in the show:

  1. The power of Juxtaposition
  2. Stealing ideas or creative appropriation
  3. Using context to be inventive
  4. Adapting your personal behavior to be creative
  5. Using luck

So please head on over to the podcast, give it a listen, have a giggle, and then tell us how you find inspiration and your particular method of summoning your own muse.

Get in touch

To let us know how you find your muse please get in touch with us here, find us on Twitter or LinkedIn. Or follow Keith at The Advertist.

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