Creative curiosity

Buried in all the books by advertising legends, there is one remarkably consistent insight: creative people have voracious appetites for information from diverse and eclectic fields.

John Hegarty writes in his book of advertising life-lessons, ‘Hegarty on Creativity‘.

“The truly great creative people I know are constantly working. Looking, thinking, watching. They are curious by nature, fascinated not just by their own interests and experiences but those of other people too. Everything they encounter is being absorbed, processed, and reformed, eventually to return in some new shape as an idea. I think of these people as transmitters – they absorb diverse, random messages, influences, and thoughts, then reinterpret and play them back to an audience in new and fresh ways.

Being fascinated, inquisitive, informed, and engaged is an all day, every day activity. It doesn’t have an on-off button. It doesn’t have a stopwatch attached. It is constant. A way of living and of being that never switches off. If you don’t want to live like that then don’t follow a creative profession.”

From James Webb Young‘s famous manual, ‘A Technique for Producing Ideas’:

“Every really good creative person in advertising whom I have ever known has always had two noticeable characteristics. 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.”

From Dave Trott‘s book Creative Mischief:

“Really creative people are fascinated by ‘new’ stuff.

But that doesn’t just mean the latest technology.

It means stuff that is new to them.

It might be 100 years old, but they’ve never seen before.

It might be an African sculpture, a Russian film, shocking piece of graffiti, agraphic one label, a strange chair.

The cleverness, for them, is finding something original and unusual.”
From Carl Alley, quoted in Creative Mischief:
“The creative person wants to be a know it all. He wants to know about all kinds of things: ancient history, 19th century mathematics, current manufacturing techniques, flower arranging, and hog futures. He never knows when these ideas might come together to form a new idea. It may happen in six minutes later, or six years down the road. But still creative person’s faith that it will happen.”
“Big ideas come from the unconscious. This is true in art, in science and in advertising. But your unconscious has to be well-informed, or your idea will be a relevant. Stuff your unconscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process. You can help this process by going for a long walk, or taking a hot bath, or drinking half a pint of claret. Suddenly, if the telephone line from your unconscious is open, a big idea wells up within you”

The experience of working with and observing many talented strategic thinkers (mostly, but not always, Account Planners), has led me to the conclusion that there is, in the best ones, a highly developed sense of curiosity. I hesitate to call it innate, since I believe it can be honed and sharpened as a skill, though I suspect the kernel must be there at the outset.

I think it’s fair to say that creative curiosity has become widely acknowledged as a fundamental requirement of a creative thinker.