The Torrance Test is like the IQ test, but for creativity. New research on the Torrance creativity scores by researchers at the University of William and Mary show that U.S. Torrance creativity scores have been dropping steadily since the ‘90s. (The decade not the age.)
One of the main reasons for our decrease in creativity is that we are no longer doing one of the most important things you need to do to think creatively. It is not creating Shrinky Dinks, wearing acid wash jeans, or rocking a mullet.
We no longer simply sit and think.
We don’t allow ourselves to be quiet and un-entertained. Today, we have cured ourselves of boring moments with our arsenal of digital devices, televisions, and computers. As long as you have electrical power you have something to do to fill your empty time.
But the ubiquitous digitization of our planet has a devastating effect on our creativity. It is like the burning of the South American rainforests. Or the melting of the polar ice caps. Except what we are losing isn’t trees or ice. It is our creative thinking and innovation.
So how do we solve this?
We need to be bored.
We need to stop entertaining ourselves at all times.
We need to turn our digitals off regularly.
We need to lie quietly in bed at the start and end of the day.
We need to turn our idea generators on and let them run uninterrupted for long stretches.
We need to reprogram ourselves to use these incredible digital machines as tools for creativity rather than time killers, entertainment crutches, and boredom erasers.
Creativity Tip: While you are waiting you should be creating.
Employers need to adjust expectations too. If you expect your employees to respond to emails, calls, texts and slacks quickly, you are programming them to check their digitals often. And that leads to the type of check-in habit that eliminates room to think. Instead, we should slow down our response expectations. And put a premium on regular stretches of total focus on creation, problem-solving, and strategic thinking.
The longer you spend thinking the closer you get to great ideas. Make sure you spend the time you need to get all the way there. Long, uninterrupted stretches of thinking are where the gold is. So go there. Get yours. You’ll find your quiet time pays off in many valuable ways.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
If you want to develop as a creative thinker you have to color outside the lines. I don’t mean the way a young kid does when they have no sense of how to stop themselves when they get to a delineating line on a piece of paper.
What I mean is that creative thinking can not and should not be contained. To improve your creative thinking don’t simply create when and where you are told to create. Don’t create only when a teacher gives you a creative project. Don’t create only when a boss says they want you to help develop a new idea for the summer picnic (which was a fun event we used to have pre-covid, or what I am now calling PC).
As a creative thinker, you should create all the time, because you can’t help thinking, creating and making stuff. And we should all see ourselves as creative thinkers.
Since the initial covid lockdown back in March, I have written over 80 blog posts. I started an illustrated cartoon series called Kirky. I have written the manuscript for a book, which I am deep into the second draft of right now. I am working on bringing a new brand to life in my spare time with my son Magnus and friend Dan Koel. And I have been using Moleskin notebooks the way most people use mousetraps to catch my ideas and make sure they don’t get away.
I always ask people interviewing for creative jobs what they do creatively in their spare time. This isn’t just a curiosity. It helps me tell if you are a true creative thinker who can’t help but develop ideas and bring them to life. Or if you are someone who wants a fun job. But if they tell me they like to make furniture and lampshades out of human remains I know not to hire them. #SorryNotSorryEdGein
One of the women who freelances for The Weaponry (whom I hope to hire full time) is regularly sharing her extracurricular creative projects on social media. I love that. It shows me that she is really a creative thinker at her core. Those kinds of thinkers don’t have to be spurred into action. They can’t stop the thinking and the valuable actions that follow even if they wanted to. Those are the most valuable thinkers to have on your team. And they can’t be replaced by an app or a monkey, or automated by a machine. #JobSecurity
My great friend Betty Garrot, who lived across the street from me in Atlanta, is a Pediatrician by day. But Mrs. Dr. Garrot as we call her at our house, because her husband Crain is an Oncologist, paints a lot. Her home is full of beautiful paintings she has created of scenes she has witnessed around the world. But she paints so much that I expect she has a secret self-storage space stuffed full of paintings that she doesn’t have wall space for in her home. Betty is an amazing painter. But she rarely paints for money. Because it removes the joy of creating. Which is why she does it.
However, I have recognized that some people simply don’t know that they can think and act creatively when they aren’t asked to. They don’t realize that they can create their own assignments and deliver their own ideas.
So here is your reminder to create. Write, paint, photograph, draw, bake, cook, brew, garden, dance, make music, design, develop a business idea, host, decorate, or whatever you like to do to tap into and express your own ideas. Do it even if no one asks you to. Even if no one is watching. Even if you are not getting paid. Even if you are not great at it at first. Because it is great for your brain and your mental health.
When I visited Iceland several years ago I met a man named Sven (of course), who told me that Icelanders embrace the short and dark days of winter to engage in their creative activities. Now that we are to our short days and long nights in the Northern Hemisphere, I encourage you to do as the Icelanders do. And make the darkest days of the year the brightest days for thinking and creating.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
When I was young I always loved editorial cartoons. They were like my favorite people, both funny and smart. I loved the very simple package they came in, which was usually just a frame or 2. But they packed a sharp commentary into a simple piece of intellectually humorous art. I felt like my brain was wired to enjoy those cartoons. The same way it is wired to enjoy chocolate milk, Zucker Brothers movies and videos of people falling down.
For many years I have thought about creating my own cartoon. I have had no shortage of ideas. It is time that I have been lacking. Then COVID-19 showed up on my doorstep, like Ed McMahon with a van, a bouquet of balloons and a mandate for us all to stay home. The lockdown caused by the corona cooties has enabled me to finally spend time exploring this passion project. #silverlining
On Friday I reached out to my great friend Dan Koel about the cartoon project. He was excited to explore it together. DK was my original art director partner at the ad agency Cramer Krasselt, where I first started my advertising career. Dan and I worked together for 10 years. And we have partnered on many side projects ever since, including the Adam & Sleeve t-shirt brand. Dan will drive the look for the project.
Dan and I have committed to making 66 Kirky Cartoons. Why 66? because behavioral research shows that by the time you have done something 66 times it becomes a habit. You are highly likely to perform a task automatically after that. So this will be an interesting creative experiment. As well as an experiment in human behavior.
When I wrote down the name The Weaponry as I was looking for a name for my advertising and idea agency, I instantly knew I had the name I was looking for. The same thing happened when I wrote down Kirky for this project. The name sound like a mix of kookie and quirky. Which are two of my favorite things.
But there is another reason for the name. Dan and I had a great friend named Kirk ‘Kirky’ McDonald. Spending time with Kirk was always a bright spot in the day. Kirk passed away in 2017 at the age of 43, after battling brain cancer for 2 decades. Now, Dan and I hope we can make Kirky a bright spot in the day for everyone who reads it.
Exploring like Dora
Below is an exploration Dan and I did for a March Madness idea. It seemed like we should get this one out while it is still March. We looked at this a few different ways.
Please help us with our research by letting us know which one you prefer: A, B, or C. This project will evolve and improve with your feedback. It take a village to raise an editorial cartoon. And we’ll take all the help we can get.
If you have a passion project you have always wanted to do, do it now. We all have a little additional time in our schedules. Take advantage of it. As Kirky taught me and Dan, life is short. Take advantage of the time you have. And make someone smile if you can.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
A year and a half ago I had a very big lunch in a very small town. Johnson Creek, Wisconsin has a population of just 2,738. But Johnson Creek sits halfway between Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin. Which is why I met Anne Norman there for lunch at Hiway Harry’s. Conceptually and architecturally, the restaurant lies halfway between a Rain Forest Cafe and a Frank Loyd Wright-inspired supper club. Which is a very unique space to occupy.
Anne Norman had just recently been named Chief Marketing Officer of the University of Wisconsin Credit Union. She arrived at the credit union after crushing it for such great brands as Culver’s restaurants and American Family Insurance. Our mutual friend Sue Northey told us that we needed to meet each other, and helped arrange the Hiway Harry’s adventure.
When we met, Anne was looking for an agency to help her make the UW Credit Union marketing as great as the UWCU member experience. And members looooove the UW Credit Union. I know. I became a member my third day on campus as a student at The University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Anne and I had a great conversation. We found that we were totally aligned on our approach to strategy, creativity and process. We laughed a lot. And we left Hiway Harry’s excited to work together. #suewasright
Making It Happen
My advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, quickly got to work on repositioning and rebranding the UW Credit Union. Then, on February 14th, 2019 we revealed the new look and the new work at the UWCU’s leadership conference at the beautiful, Frank Loyd Wright designed Monona Terrace Conference Center, in Madison. I wrote about the experience in A fresh new look for one of the most loved brands in Wisconsin.
Exactly 1 year and 1 day later, Anne and our teams were back at the Monona Terrace in Madison for the local Addy Awards. To be clear, I am not an advertising awards person. I prefer to avoid the conflict of interests between creating work to drive results for your clients and creating ads to win awards. I also prefer to avoid dressing up altogether.
But in this case, Anne Norman knew the work we created was really good. Our key performance indicators (KPIs) told us the campaign was working as anticipated for UW Credit Union. So Anne wanted to see how the creative stacked up against other work at the Addy Awards.
We entered a few billboards and a couple of radio spots in the awards show. Soon I was notified that we had won 5 awards. We were also strongly encouraged to attend the show. And to bring Anne Norman, her trusty sidekick Justine Kessler, and their husbands Devlin and Mike. So we did.
We knew which entries had won something. But we didn’t know what they had won. Kind of like when the Dad from A Christmas Story receives his fragile crate. Except when we busted our crate open we didn’t find a leg lamp.
The first entry to win an award was a radio commercial called Cool Mom. It won gold. Which apparently is good. It’s a cute spot that was fun to make. And always fun to hear on the radio.
The winning radio commercial
But wait! There’s more!
We also entered the 3 billboards above with the additional billboard below in an outdoor campaign entry called ‘Hello Milwaukee!’ It won a Judge’s Choice Award. Which meant that one of the 3 judges felt that this was the best thing in the entire show.
Here’s what Judge Carl (no relation to Judge Judy) had to say about our campaign. (My apologies if he is actually Judge Karl.)
I appreciate the fact that The Weaponry and UW Credit Union won these awards. But we didn’t need an awards show to know the work was good. We know that the ads work. They grab attention. They make people giggle. They are remembered. And they have helped the UW Credit Union quickly drive a XX% increase in awareness in Milwaukee. Which nailed our goal. (I put XX because I didn’t ask for permission to share the actual number. But notice that there are 2 Xs and not just one! Go UWCU!)
Roll The Credits!
Thanks to our Weapons Kristyn Lilley who designed the UW Credit Union brand look. And to Kevin Kayse, the writer who helped bring these adds to life. Thanks to Simon Harper for writing a great brief with a British accent. And thanks to Anne Norman for meeting me at Hiway Harry’s. For hiring The Weaponry. And for both demanding and approving great creative work.
Awards are nice. But they should never drive the work. In advertising the only thing that really matters is whether or not the work helps your clients grow. But if the work drives growth, like it has for the UW Credit Union, the awards are a nice cherry on top. Thank you to everyone at UW Credit Union for allowing us to join your team. We look forward to great things ahead!
I am a professional creative thinker. My job is to come up with ideas, and then bring those ideas to life. Which sounds easy, and fun. Which it is. But there is one major obstacle that often stands in the way of professional creatives: clients. You see, clients also have ideas. And their ideas are sometimes different than yours. And sometimes your clients’ ideas are good. Like, really good.
The Creative Conundrum
So what are you supposed to do when clients go all rogue on you and have their own ideas and opinions? After all, we are hired to be the idea people, right? Aren’t the clients supposed to listen to us? To trust us and our superior ideation abilities?
Learning From Experience
I have faced this issue a million brazilian fo-fillion times in my career. I have had to contend with client-generated ideas from the time I was a young copywriter until I opened The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I launched in 2016. With over 20 years of thinkering experience under my belt, I have found that there are 3 ways you can handle the client-creative idea clash.
The 3 Alternatives
1. Give Up. You don’t have to stand up for your ideas. In fact, agencies often surrender immediately when a client proclaims their own idea. Or asks for a change. Or sneezes. This is because there are a lot of people who don’t believe in their ideas enough to stand up for them.
I hate this. It devalues the original creative idea. Which should have been presented for a very good reason. (You did have a very good reason didn’t you?) By simply surrendering to your client’s idea you are suddenly just a production person on behalf of your client. Don’t be that guy. And don’t be that gal.
2. Don’t Budge. This is the option I encourage most professional creatives to choose. Stand your ground. Believe unwaveringly in your idea. Fall on your sword. In fact, I’ll throw you on your sword if you like.
The reason I want you to embrace this idea so strongly is because it is a fast way to lose clients. And I would love to slip in and pick up your clients as you are getting thrown out a second story window.
3. Find A New, Better Option. If the client isn’t fully satisfied with your idea or execution it is because they still have a perceived unmet need. They are offering an idea that helps meet that need or concern. Sometimes their suggestion will be perfect. And a good creative should recognize this. But if the solution isn’t perfect, keep exploring. The greatest creative solution is the one that accommodates for the dreams and desires of both the client and agency. (Dreams and Desires is also the title of the trashy romance novel I’m now inspired to write.)
Pushing for that perfect third option has 5 positive benefits.
1. It demonstrates that you want what is best for the project. And not just what the client requested.
2.It shows you are not simply married to your own idea. (Which also means no one gets to throw idea rice at your idea wedding.)
3. It certifies you as an avid problem solver. Clients love a partner who will push further to make everyone happy.
4.It strengthens your skills. It’s like adding more weight to the bar at the gym. Throw more challenges on the problem, add more constraints, and see if you can still Houdini out.
5.It reveals your work ethic. In the workplace your work ethic translates to character and trust and all manner of positive attributes.
Everyone loves a problem solver. This is true in business and in your personal life. But problem solving doesn’t mean giving up on your idea. And it doesn’t mean winning at all costs. It means finding a solution for every challenge. Always push for the win-win solution. Develop a reputation for helping everyone get to the best answer. It is the best way to get many more problems to solve.
If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
In 2015 my family and I spent Memorial Day weekend in Washington D.C. This is a must-do experience for all Americans. Spending Memorial Day at the famed Arlington National Cemetery, or exploring the war memorials, provides a profound perspective on this important American holiday. Because is shines a spotlight on the true cost of freedom. And there are more lives of American military personnel on the final invoice than you can fathom.
Ava’s Class Trip
My 13 year old daughter, Ava just returned from a 7th grade class trip to D.C. I wondered how much she would get out of this experience, because she had already been there twice with our family. When she got home I was eager to discuss her 4-day whirlwind tour, and hear about the new things she saw and learned. That’s when she shared an amazing story I hadn’t heard about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
One of the most challenging chapters in America’s military and political history was the Vietnam War. But the memorial honoring the fallen veterans of this war holds an important and inspiring story for us all.
The Young Designer
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was not designed by a world renowned architect, but by a young college student. Maya Ying Lin was a 21 year old senior at Yale when her memorial design was chosen. She was studying architecture. But didn’t yet have her undergraduate or overgraduate degrees. She didn’t have an apprenticeship with Mike Brady. She simply had a good idea.
There were two unique elements of her design. Most of the memorials in Washington are white. But Lin’s memorial is black. Which sets a very different, and more somber tone. The other unique feature of her design are the names. The Wall, as it is known, includes the names of all the veterans who fell during the war, in chronological order. Which means the wall tells the story of the Vietnam War, from beginning to end, in human lives.
Lin created her design and submitted it to the national design competition as a part of a college class. In her class at Yale the design only earned Lin a B. Yet in the national competition her design stood out above all others. Which means that despite her age, her lack of experience and the fact that she only got a B on the class project, she beat out 1,420 other designers. The best part of the story is that Lin’s college professor also submitted a design in the competition.
There is no age requirement, degree or title required to have a great idea. Never be afraid to share, submit or advocate for your own ideas. Remember that judges, teachers, coaches and bosses don’t always know best. Don’t let the gatekeepers, rule makers and final sayers diminish the inherent value in your great idea, creation or performance.
Thank you to all who served our great country. To those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom, we owe more than we could ever repay. But the Vietnam Veterans Memorial comes the closest. By etching the names of all 58,318 fallen during the war in polished black granite it ensures that each and every one of them will play a permanent role in our nation’s story of freedom. Even a college student can see that.
If you like shopping for furniture you should become an entrepreneur. Because one of the by-products of owning a growing business is you need to buy products like chairs and table for your team. The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, now owns 14 comfortable chairs, a couch, several tables, and one custom-made lamp. The lamp is probably considered lighting. But this is my blog and I’m calling it furniture.
The Coffee Table Quest
We quickly found options we liked for most of our office furniture needs. But there was one piece that we just couldn’t find in stores or online. We wanted a statement-making coffee table. In full disclosure, I don’t drink coffee. So I think of it as a chocolate milk table. But because the rest of the world knows these types of drink-stabilizing platforms as coffee tables, I will give in to peer pressure and act like I will enjoy coffee on them like everyone else.
Our office space is very square. The furniture in our casual seating area is very square too. So we needed a long table with a curvy figure to round out the room. A surfboard-shaped table would be perfect.
After we had sufficient feedback from our social networks we ordered our custom designed table. Then we waited.
After about a month, and some unfortunate weather delays in the epoxification process and FedEx’s delivering-during-a-snowstorm process, our new table showed up yesterday.
The next step is for you to stop by to enjoy a tour of our office and a beverage on the board. Make The Weaponry part of your next swing through Wisconsin. If you live in Milwaukee, stop by and let’s have some chocolate milk, coffee, tea, beer or a juice box in our newly completed board room. We’re expecting you.
*To follow the good the bad and the gnarly of my entrepreneurial adventure please consider subscribing to this blog.
There are some business secrets they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School. Like the fact that every great business needs a great sticker. The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, now has a great sticker. It comes from Sticker Robot. Which I think is where The Jetsons and R2-D2 get their sticker supplies.
Sticker Robot makes the best silkscreened stickers in the business. But if you want some for your business you should order them the same day you establish your legal business entity. Because they take a loooong time to produce. We ordered ours back in November. They finally arrived on January 16th.
A video on how Sticker Robot make their world-famous stickers.
The Modern Branding Iron.
The whole concept of branding originated from ranchers who branded their livestock with a hot iron to identify their little dogies. Today I find very few people who will let me sear them with a red-hot iron. So we use these 2.5 inch X 2.5 inch vinyl stickers instead. I have already placed one on my computer, my Yeti tumbler, my car and all three of my children.
Check out that backside… (It’s stickerlicious!)
But what I really love about them is their backside. Sticker Robot allows you to print a message or design on the back of the sticker. So we added some of our philosophy. And some of our philosophy about our philosophy. And we added a call to confusion. Which is like a call to action, if the action actually leads to more confusion, like our website does. Visit theweaponry.com to see what I mean.
Then we also added a note about the importance of proofreading. See the *note below? I’ll wait while you review.
Did you find the typo? Did you look carefully?
If you didn’t find the typo it is probably because there is no typo. We just thought it was a funny addition. And perhaps it would increase engagement. Who reads the back of a sticker two or three times? Well, if it’s a sticker from The Weaponry, and you feel challenged, maybe you will. Then, maybe you walk away with a story about how you spent 60 seconds looking for a typo that wasn’t really there.
This sticker sums up The Weaponry pretty well.
We believe in the power of a consistent brand look.
Red reflects our enthusiasm.
We believe the most powerful weapon on Earth is the human mind.
We believe that business is war.
We believe we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.
And we believe in finding fun ways to increase engagement.
If you would like a sticker just ask (I now carry them with me everywhere). Or leave a request in the comment section below. You can also stop by The Weaponry to pick one up (1661 N. Water Street In Milwaukee). If you are looking for a job, an internship, a chance to network or just a good excuse to come for a grand tour of The Weaponry’s World Headquarters, a sticker request is a good in. And we have a sticker with your name on it. Well, actually our name is on it. That was just a figure or speech.
*If you would like to stick around to learn more about The Weaponry and my entrepreneurial journey please subscribe to this blog. You may even find some real typos.
I don’t have any tattoos. I probably never will. But I do have an advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. And ever since we moved into our new office space I can understand the passion for tattoos. Because The Weaponry office now offers a blank canvas to adorn with meaningful words and images that are profound to us. I find myself giddy over the new ink we could apply to our empty spaces. Yet I don’t worry that my Mom and Dad will keel over dead, wondering where they went wrong as parents. #winwin
Our Latest Sign
Every time we personalize our new space it feels even more like The Weaponry. More like home. More like us. Yesterday was really fun for me because we had a new sign added to the wall behind my desk.
I love this statement. It is a constant reminder of the power of the human mind. It offers us the power to create anything. It can solve any problem. And it is the greatest resource any of us will ever possess.
Here is a time-lapse video of our new sign being applied.
If you find this statement as powerful as I do let me know. I would be happy to share an image you could use as a lock screen on your phone or a background image for your computer. Maybe we’ll even put it on a sticker, poster, button, t-shirt or temporary tattoo. But if you want to turn it into a permanent tattoo, not only will I send you the artwork, I may pay for it myself.
*If you want to see the other sign we installed yesterday consider subscribing to this blog. I’m sure there will be a post about that soon too.