It was a frigid winter night in Minneapolis. Scratch that. It was tundra-cold, and it was 2am. My art director partner, Charbel Nasser, and I were huddled in a bland cubicle on the 26th floor, seven or eight cups of coffee into the night, banging our heads against the wall in hopes of somehow, some way, coming up with the greatest advertising concept the world had ever known.
The Creative Dilemma
Feet kicked up on my desk, bloodshot eyes fixed on a bank of fluorescent bulbs (if anything kills creativity, it’s fluorescent bulbs, but that’s another subject altogether), we were prepared to see the sun come up if we had to…but hope was fading fast.
Suddenly, something hit me. “What about…” I muttered. Charbel’s head popped up like a rabid gopher. He stared at me so intensely, I almost forgot the idea. “What if…” His eyebrow raised as if to say, “Do not disappoint me, you jackass.”
“Oh never mind,” I sighed, slumping back in my chair. The look on Charbel’s face transformed from hopeful anticipation to resentful frustration. In fact, at that moment I think he hated me worse than all his ex-girlfriends combined.
“What the ****!” he yelled. “What the hell wrong is with you?!? Don’t do that! Say it! LET IT SUCK!”
Those three final words hung in the air for quite some time. Their impact was intensified by the fact that Charbel was from Beirut, and had one of those accents that make even the most serious statements sound curiously amusing.
“If you don’t say it, how do you know it’s not good?” he ranted. “And even if it’s not good, how do you know it won’t make me think of something else, and tomorrow we’re on the cover of Ad Age, stupid! Let it suck!” At that point, we both burst into a laughing fit so epic, I not only got a great ab workout…I actually did forget the idea. No, really. Zoom, zip, bam…gone.
I wish I could say that we ended up with a world-beater concept that night. We didn’t. But I learned a priceless lesson…one that I hope everyone can benefit from. Before you can make something awesome, you have to put yourself out there. You have to let it suck.
As my fellow Director Adam Pierno mentioned in a conversation just this morning, there is no formula for great creative. That said, there’s one thing that will always prevent you from achieving greatness: your own limitations. Yes, the client will set limits. Sure, your coworkers might ask you to follow some guidelines. Yeah yeah budgets, timelines, etc etc etc…we all know the drill. But the biggest constraint to good creative? It’s in your own head.
Next time you brainstorm, let it suck. When an idea pops in your head, it might seem downright ridiculous at first. It may make no strategic sense whatsoever. The mere mention of it may cause the entire room to burst into a fit of raucous laughter.
Say it anyway.
It just may be the best idea you ever had, or it might be total garbage. Either way, there’s a better-than-average chance that what you say will spring something loose in someone else’s crazy brain, and you’re off to the races.
Concepting is a process that requires a total lack of ego. You will never accomplish anything if you’re constantly afraid of being judged. On the flip side of that coin, don’t be the judge. Let the sucky ideas of your fellow brainstormers run free. You never know what truly great ideas they might inspire.