(Un)Common Traits of Creative People
by Dean Rieck
So you want to be creative. Guess what? You already are. We are all creative to some degree. You. Me. Your accountant. Your hairdresser. The kid who bags your groceries. Everyone.
Creativity isn't something you're born with. It's not some mysterious aura that hovers around wild-haired writers and artists. And it has nothing to do with how smart you are. In fact, research has shown that once you get beyond an I.Q. of about 120 (which is fairly average), intelligence and creativity are not correlated. So you could be a genius and display little creativity. Or you could be perfectly average in intelligence and wield amazing creative powers.
Creativity is really just a matter of how you approach things. It's how you act or react to new circumstances. Your proclivity to look at things in a different way. To question. Experiment. In other words, creativity is not what you are as much as what you do. It's a learned behavior and therefore can be controlled and improved.
Think of creativity like a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it gets. To increase your creativity, you simply need to act in creative ways and do what other creative people do.
Not surprisingly, people recognized as creative tend to share common traits. They act in ways that are actually quite uncommon for most people. Creative people ...
- Have the COURAGE to try new things and risk failure. Can you imagine the first time someone suggested toll-free numbers? Insane! Have people call for FREE? Every big breakthrough starts as a harebrained idea. This doesn't mean you should constantly go off the deep end, just that you should balance your corporate portfolio of solutions with an investment in the new and untried. Over time, the risk is usually worth the reward.
- Use INTUITION as well as logic to make decisions and produce ideas. A company showed me a direct mail package that spread its products over four separate order forms. Many customers had to fill out all four forms to make a purchase, so you'd think people simply wouldn't put in the effort. But testing proved it worked better than the typical one-page, one-sided form, which shows you can't always figure people out. And, therefore, you can't always rely on logic. You have to listen to your gut, too. It follows its own logic.
- Like to PLAY, since humor and fun are the ultimate creative act. Which is to say you just have to lighten up. Yeah, I know we all have goals, and quotas, and deadlines, but it's not life and death. When you enjoy yourself, your brain is able to produce more and better ideas. One of those ideas may be just what you're looking for.
- Are EXPRESSIVE and willing to share what they feel and think, to be themselves. Direct marketing can too often degenerate into cold 47-reasons-to-respond pitches. But people are emotional creatures and respond better to feeling than logic. If you allow yourself to be emotional, you will be able to tap into the emotional lives of your prospects. How do you feel about that?
- Can FIND ORDER in confusion; can discover hidden meaning in information. Analysis and research are key tools for the creative person. Information is to the brain what food is to the stomach. So-called "writer's block" or creative burnout almost always results from a lack of fresh information.
- Are MOTIVATED BY A TASK rather than by external rewards. You must like the challenge of generating response. Beating a control. Raising funds. Producing sales leads. If you're just in it for the money, you're not going to be a fountain of new ideas.
- Have a need to FIND SOLUTIONS to challenging problems. The smartest people in the business won't have a solution to every problem. If they claim to, they've stopped thinking or they're trying to sell you their seminar. The very best are those whose eyes light up at a question they can't answer. Because that's the opportunity to learn something new and do something great.
- Will CHALLENGE ASSUMPTIONS and ask hard questions to discover what is real. The rules aren't really rules, only rules of thumb. If you want to wield true creative power, you will take everything everyone says about anything with a grain of salt. (That includes all of us gurus who just love to don our pointy wizard hats and pontificate on the secrets of the direct response universe.) If you don't know something from personal knowledge or experience, you don't know it at all. Don't rely on faith. Get proof.
- Can MAKE CONNECTIONS between old ideas to produce new insights. Combine the cover of a magazine and a double postcard, and you have an all new type of mailer that is giving a lift to many magazine subscription promotions today. Sometimes the best solutions are simply two old ideas jammed together.
- Will PUSH THE ENVELOPE in order to expand the boundaries of what is possible. There was a time when no one thought you could sell on TV. Or radio. Or on the Internet. Instead of dividing the world into the possible and impossible, it's better to merely divide it into the tried and the untried. What haven't YOU tried yet?
- Are willing to TEST new ideas and compete with others based on results. Isn't that what direct response advertising is all about? Testing? Results? You see, creativity is at the very heart of boosting profits!
These are certainly uncommon traits for most people in business today. But they're not particularly difficult. Watch how the creative people you know solve problems and deal with projects. You may choose one particularly creative person you admire and, when faced with a problem, ask yourself, "What would so-and-so do in this situation?" Over time, you'll find yourself becoming more and more creative and, most likely, more and more successful.
But it's not just what you do that makes you creative. It's also what you don't do. So in the next session, we'll look at some of the things that may be stifling your creativity.
Copyright © 1999 Dean Rieck. All Rights Reserved.
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