Everybody professes to admire it. Most want to acquire it. Some even know it when they see it. In the marketing world, it’s normally a subject of interest to everyone. It’s creativity. And, it’s essential for marketing success in today’s environment where the average is the norm and mediocrity is in vast supply. I took the subject to a panel of “experts.” I wanted to know how one learns to think creatively, to develop creative output and, most importantly, how to achieve it in a real, day-to-day working environment. I’ve had experience with all three Atlanta-based panelists and consider each to have that special creative bent that makes them think differently and deliver a viewpoint that is inevitably cut from the herd. Joey Reiman is founder and chief idea officer of BrightHouse, the world’s first ideation corporation and author of the soon to be published “Thinking for a Living: Creating Ideas that Revitalize Your Business, Career and Life.” Charlie Farley is chief creative officer at the prominent pr and event marketing firm of Cohn & Wolfe. Jamie Turner is president and chief executive of Turner & Turner Communications, an up-and-coming ad agency with a decidedly creative viewpoint. Why is it hard to be creative? Reasons abound. When judged at 39,000 feet, most businesses today operate under short-term pressure, namely the need to reduce costs and deliver increased quarterly earnings. As a result, ceo’s are increasingly becoming tacticians rather than the strategists and theoreticians they were once expected to be. Mix in the influences of homogenization and globalization, as well as the normal neuroses that prevail in the average corporate environment, and it’s no wonder that creativity is non-existent at worst or stifled at best. What is it and how do we get it? It takes many forms originality, uniqueness, among them. It’s normally the progeny of risk taking, mistake and an unrequited love for the atypical and the special. More often, it seems so simple and so obvious when viewed in retrospect. Common themes emerged from the discussion: ? Give it time. Creative ideas require time to incubate and marinate. So, don’t rush the process. That’s hard for most companies to allow since they see it as “rest” time that could otherwise be put to better use making money. Need proof? How about the correlation between tight production deadlines and the miserable quality of the average television sitcom. Reiman got it right when he said, “There should be room for daydreaming time.” ? Get a new perspective. The best creativity comes when you empathize with your audience. You’ve got to see it through the targets’ eyes. You have to inherit their skin. That’s the optimal frame of mind for creative perspective to percolate. ? Eradicate the negative. Weed out levels of approval. Avoid language that suppresses creativity words like ‘no!’, ‘faster’, ‘it stinks’, ‘will it work?’ And there are never any bad ideas in the creative development process. As Farley advises, “Don’t evaluate until you edit.” And, always look for quantity of options. Better still, develop a process for generating overkill. You can never have too many new ideas. ? Out with the linear. The best creativity comes from a non-linear thought process. It’s OK to jump around, to be intuitive, to go with a hunch. Some of the best new ideas never passed the ‘rational’ test. ? It starts at the top. The ceo or leader must believe it, say it and reward it. For most organizations that will require a major cultural transmogrification. The organization must be told that change is possible, that rules can be broken, that the statement “that’s not the way we do it here,” is no longer relevant or acceptable. All of the above is best achieved by a CEO who leads by example. ? Live life. Personal experimentation and exposure is vital for the would-be creative mind. Do as much as possible. Read, travel, eat out, cook a gourmet meal, see a movie, try gardening, learn to play the guitar. You get the drift. Find time to get away to get outside so that you can look in. Says Turner, “The big, visionary ideas come when people get away from the daily tornado of the office environment.” And, don’t forget to develop self-confidence in your own ideas. The world will try to convince you that yours are not as good as theirs. Great innovators always brim with confidence and belief in their thoughts and ideas. ? Get the right people. Be willing to hire a different breed including the weird, the misfits, the nonconformists. But always hire people with brains. Again from Turner, “Smart people are like creative volcanoes; they can’t stop the ideas from erupting out of their heads.” And, be willing to put trust in young people. They have great ideas, but most experienced managers don’t have the wisdom to see if the ideas will work. ? True rewards. It’s always the ultimate test of whether or not you really believe in encouraging creativity. You should always reward when risk taking succeeds. Even more importantly, you should reward risks that fail. That’s where the best lessons are learned. Certain environments have nailed the creativity thing. Young, innovative, high-tech companies are making it happen by the hour. Imagine the high to be experienced from working in the more creative regions of the Disney organization. Wouldn’t you love to know what they put in the water cooler in the “Seinfeld” writer’s breakroom? I thought Reiman’s comment said it best, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” Alf Nucifora is an Atlanta-based marketing consultant.