Making Stuff Up

FCW cartoonist John Klossner shares his tips for creativity and innovation.

Some of the most innovative work I have done is in describing what I do.

As a professional cartoonist, I suppose I could be considered to have some insight into innovation and creativity. (My family, after experiencing yet another combination of pasta and chicken when I'm in charge of dinner, might disagree.) I spend my waking hours trying (that's a key word) to think of ways to tell a joke or illustrate a humorous point uniquely, with varying results. Some would argue that I have found a veneer of an excuse for sitting in a coffee shop and staring into space all day, but I've found people to pay me to do this, so the ruse works for now. (Or, as I like to point out when asked if I make a living cartooning, it depends on your definition of living.)

I always find it a bit ironic when people discuss creativity and innovation, as if there is a "Creativity for Dummies" title. (Oops, I'd better go check to see if there is. No. There isn't.) If there was one proven way to be creative, it wouldn't be creative, right? Since creativity and innovation run a fine line between what is expected and what isn't, it seems wrong to have a checklist for creativity. (Should we put "don't have a checklist" on our checklist for creativity?)

The truth is, creativity and innovation come from trust -- trust in yourself and the processes you use, and trust in those you're working with. A workplace where employees are looking over their shoulders is a place that won't foster much creativity. (Take this from a man who works alone all day.)

Taking my 25-plus years' experience as a jumping off point, here are some observations about creativity:

(Before I start, I would like to take a tangent about the "cloud computing" metaphor, since the cloud is one of the technology innovations du jour. A cloud is not something I would ever think about storing anything in. Clouds have no foundations. They are moist. Every time I have ever been "in" a cloud, I could not see anything. Why would I store something in a place that is wet and has no floor? This reminds me of my problems with the Peter Pan (http://www.peterpanbus.com) bus company name - do you want to use a transportation company that is named after the eternal boy, who kidnaps children and takes them to "Never Never Land?" I didn't think so.)

  • There is a basketball term, in reference to coaching, called "rolling out the balls." It is usually used in a pejorative sense to mean a coach or manager who isn't teaching and is merely letting his or her players play all day. I have always thought this could be seen as a creative process also - many discoveries come in unregulated environs, and it's up to management to recognize what is and what isn't useful to their needs. How do you "roll out the balls" in an agency setting? Have an office "recess" each day from 2-4 PM? "Play" procurement? The problem with "rolling out the balls" is that you may have to suffer through days of sloppy play and multiple failures to discover one thing that works. Most managers don't have the time or the budget to sit through this, leaving employees to be innovative on their own.
  • People who really think outside the box don't say "think outside the box."
  • I have rarely been innovative on deadline. I have been safe.
  • There is a huge difference between being creative and looking creative. Some of the most creative people I know dress like pharmacists.
  • There are more creative pharmacists than you think.
  • Don't confuse a good idea with a well-presented idea. I remember, in college art classes, resenting a particular person who didn't come up with strong concepts but spoke well when presenting them and, therefore, did well in the class. This rankled those of us who did our speaking through our drawings and had no language left for the presentation. Heck, if we wanted to be public speakers we would have majored in it. Since then I have learned why, as a general rule, PR people make more money than cartoonists.
  • On a related note, just because someone isn't using the same language as you doesn't mean they're not creative. Unless it's pig latin.
  • Some of the most innovative acts occur on behalf of procrastinating.
  • Personalized license plates make me think that there are hordes of creative folks roaming the streets, yearning to break free.
  • I have often found creative ideas by paying attention to something that I dislike, and trying to learn about it. This hasn't always been easy, as in the cases of Vin Diesel (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0004874/) movies and John Tesh's unique mash-up of almost every musical and dance genre known to western culture. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9so2wcOiv40)
  • There's a difference between being creative and being creative for a living. Again, this depends on your definition of living.

NEXT STORY: Ink Tank

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