Forage widely

Gather raw material

The first step of the 5-step creative process is to forage, or stuff your brain with information and inspiration.

Forage widely

The right stuff The better the information and inspiration you gather, the more creative the result. Image by Evie Shaffer

The better the information and inspiration, the more creative the result.

1. To be interesting, be interested.

So get out there and learn something.

“Every really good creative person … has always had two noticeable characteristics,” writes James Webb Young, the pre-Mad Men-era ad executive who invented the 5-step creative process and put it down in a book called A Technique for Producing Ideas.

“For it is with the advertising man as with the cow: no browsing, no milk.”
— James Webb Young, author of A Technique for Producing Ideas

“First, there was no subject under the sun in which he could not easily get interested — from, say, Egyptian burial customs to modern art. Every facet of life had fascination for him.

“Second, he was an extensive browser in all sorts of fields of information. For it is with the advertising man as with the cow: no browsing, no milk.”

2. Don’t skip this step.

Maybe you hate research. Do it anyway.

“Gathering raw material … is such a terrible chore that we are constantly trying to dodge it,” Young wrote. “Instead of working systematically at the job of gathering raw material we sit around hoping for inspiration to strike us.”

That’s not the creative process. That’s procrastination.

3. Get out of your own backyard.

The further afield you seek inspiration, the bigger your ideas will be.

Avoid “creative incest.” “As with actual incest, the product of creative incest just keeps getting dumber and dumber and dumber with each generation.”
— Dan Kennedy, author of “No B.S.” marketing books

Beware the “but-that’s-not-like-our-project/company/style/industry/specialty” reflex. If you’re only willing to steal ideas from communications that are just like yours — say, the websites of Iowa insurance companies that specialize in agricultural coverage — your ideas will be as limited as your foraging.

Marketing guru Dan Kennedy calls that approach “creative incest.”

“As with actual incest,” he says, “the product of creative incest just keeps getting dumber and dumber and dumber with each generation.”

Forage widely.

“Creativity is an import-export game,” writes Ronald S. Burt, a sociologist with the University of Chicago. “It is not a creation game.”

And the better material you import, the more creative your idea will be.

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