How do creatives get inspired?

Walk the dog. Stare at YouTube videos. Take drugs. What do creatives, who are expected to produce genius under pressure from ever more demanding clients, do to get inspired?

We asked a bunch of them how they find their spark.

Graham Fink, chief creative officer, Ogilvy & Mather China

Graham Fink

It has always been my belief that creative people should not sit at their desk and stare at a computer. They should be out hunting for ideas.

When you sit at a desk you cannot think of great ideas. In fact the harder you work the worse it gets. Creative block.

Funny that when you stop thinking and go off for a walk, or ride your bike, take a shower or feed your ferret….BANG an idea comes into your head. Watching Youku or surfing the net is fine as a springboard, but you have to remember that the idea you are watching has already been done.

My favourite trick is to do exactly the opposite to what you need. If the client wants his car in the ad, then take the car out of the ad. If the brief is for shots of lots of people drinking beer at a party, change it to lots of aliens drinking petrol at a party.

If the account handler asks for happy, smiling, loving people in the TV spot, change it to miserable, crying, angry people in the TV spot. In other words….. do what is completely wrong.

As crazy as this sounds, it often breaks you out of conventional thinking and leads you to fresh areas. You can then always bend it back round at the end to make it work. Mind you, a lot of people will think you are mad. But that is why we work in the CREATIVE DEPARTMENT.

Primus Nair, group creative director, BBDO Singapore

Primus NairThere is nothing more inspiring for me than 10.30pm. It’s that near perfect window when the house is quiet, and the internet has given me all that it possibly can (including some that it probably shouldn’t have). It’s hard to explain but, at 10.30pm, there is just this sense that the whole world is holding its breath in anticipation of a really good idea.

Ravinder Siwach, executive creative director, McCann New Delhi

Ravinder SiwachI quite like the Neil French method. He says he would read the brief and pour himself a nice, expensive glass of wine somewhere in his office. While the lesser copywriters struggled to think laterally, still fully in their senses, after having his glassful, he would have what he calls – a little ‘lie-me-down’. After a nice little nap, he would proceed to write.

Mark Bamfield, executive creative director, Bates CHI & Partners Vietnam

Mark BamfieldYou might know the story of how two Saatchi’s London creatives cracked a brief for Aussie beer brand Castlemaine some years ago.

They spent a week trying to come up with an idea, but just couldn’t get anywhere. So they went into a bar in a dodgy part of London and got drunk. As they stumbled out, they saw a XXX sign outside strip club and bang, it came to them. ‘Australians wouldn’t give a XXXX for anything else’, one of the most memorable lines in UK advertising.

So perhaps the answer is to get drunk and head for the red light district…

Ali Shabaz, chief creative officer, Grey Group Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand

Ali ShabazHow I get inspiration? I first try to create some quiet space to think. Which works very well for exactly give minutes when I’m home, before my kids scream, while either playing a video game or having a fight. At this point I decide to join in if it’s a game.

Playing a video game or an imaginary one with my seven year old has an amazing power on my imagination. I think it fires certain dormant neurons in my brain. After which when I attack the brief the solution appears magically. Most of the time it’s a good one. Occasionally though it feels like it was thought up by a seven year old.

Ajay Bakhshi, executive creative director, M&C Saatchi Malaysia

Ajay BakhshiIf I’m well and truly stuck for an idea, I dive straight for my iPod. Music is really the most inspiring form of art. And musicians are creative people like us, after all.

Or are they?

David Bowie took 10 years to release his latest album, and no-one from traffic popped her head into his cubicle, glared ferociously and asked when she could send the work to the client. I can go about 10 minutes before that happens to me.

Better still, in a song there’s nowhere you can put a logo (that would make it a giant radio commercial, I suppose), hence no logo to make bigger. Then I remember that I’m really just a paid hack rather than an artist, and get on with my hackery. Because eight minutes from now, traffic will be after me.

Ian Brown, president and ECD, Riverorchid Vietnam
Ian BrownIt’s important to get the creative team out of the agency and away from the distractions. When you’re working in an open plan office it’s especially important to have a space where you can focus and let the imagination off the leash.
I am constantly amazed what an uninterrupted hour or two can generate. I often take my team down the road to a local night club. The owner lets us use the smoky booth seats during the day when the place is deserted. It’s adjacent to a massage emporium. Quite amazing what we come up with there. And amazing who comes out of there!

Munhoe Tung, creative director, Isobar Hong Kong

Munhoe TungMy inspiration comes from having lots of sleep, eight to nine hours a night. Because when I sleep, I dream about ideas, my mind is fresh and sharp the next day. I make better decisions and I’m more productive.

I also love talking to all kinds of people, old or as young as 10 sometimes. From different backgrounds, countries and occupations. I want to hear their thoughts and insights. I want to understand what’s in their minds and what their needs are. What keeps them moving forward and their desires in life. From there I can produce more relevant ideas and predict trends for various target audiences.

Jet De La Cruz, associate creative director, DDB Vietnam

I run to clear my head, on the streets of Saigon where I live. I also build Gundan models to focus and clear the mind. Once clear, I read about anything from general knowledge to astronomy to cooking.

Sheldon G Pierre, creative director, Ambrosia Communications, Singapore

Sheldon G PierreI find most of my inspiration comes when I leave my desk. So you always have to be open to it. It’s not like other jobs where you switch off when you leave the office.

Technology has been brilliant in bringing us closer to ideas and issues from all over the world in real time but, we shouldn’t forget to disconnect and just be in the moment. I like to get out, travel (when possible), meet new people (always possible) – they can give you a fresh perspective on the world. You can always discover new ways of interpreting very ordinary, everyday things.

I think creative inspiration comes from being able to view the world around you in a new way. That’s why I love good comedians because they are always able to find a new angle, and tell a hundred jokes about the same situation.

It’s also important to learn new things. If you’re a writer, try painting; if you’re a designer, try dancing; if you write code, try writing poetry. Challenge yourself to do things that you don’t normally do, it stimulates your brain in different ways and then ideas begin popping up out of nowhere.

Firman Halim, executive creative director, Lowe Indonesia

I feel the best way to get inspired is first understand the objective. Then forget all about it. Let it goes into the subconcious. Next, experience/ see/ read random stuff that absolutely has nothing to do with the project. Usually that’s where sparks starts. When unrelated things connect.

Ezra Foo, creative director, Havas Worldwide, Malaysia

Ezra FoodThere are probably a hundred things that I do to get inspired, but here are some of the most common.

When there is time…
1. Get out of the office with my phone and tablet.
2. Find a cafe with free wifi and a smoking corner.
3. Order coffee and start puffing away.
4. Google and YouTube for puns and memes (in my view the best ideas/stories often start as a joke)
5. When tired, start window shopping online.
6. Then wait for a couple of thought starters to come to mind.

When stuck in the office…
1. Play solitaire on my mobile at a furious speed. The aim is get your brain, literally fired up.
2. Make coffee and head to the smoking corner.
3. Talk to myself.

Lennart Schaberg, creative director, Red Brand Builders, Vietnam

Lennart SchabergInspiration, to me, is an accumulation of seemingly unimportant stuff that will, at one point, make sense in a different light. To get inspired, you need to always be curious of what is happening around you, no matter how unimportant that might seem at the time.

Oh, and running around the house naked sometimes helps…

Cre Zhou, senior art director, Formul8, Singapore

Inspiration is not something that just pops into the mind. As a designer, I visualise scenarios. When I see something, be it online, books, magazine or in person, I can draw inspiration from it, in different ways. From random conversations between strangers, to the facial expressions of the people passing beside me, inspiration is not something that can only be taken from artistic objects or performances. What we do on a day-to-day basis also affects how we execute our designs.

Instilled with the belief that sharing is caring, I encourage the brainstorming of ideas between the team, from writers to designers and even the servicing team, minute comments and suggestions can help to bring a design concept to a new level – not always, but it does help at times to have things seen from a fresh perspective.

Lately, eureka moments occur while spacing out in a taxi on the way to work. Inspiration is everywhere, in everything, from everyone.

Songha-Lee, art director, Cheil Worldwide, Korea

I originally started running for health reasons, but it turned out that it helps me mentally too. After running about 10km, the more physically tired I am, the more fresh my brain gets. Plus, when you participate in a huge marathon, you get to see lots of other crazy runners (for example people in chicken costumes), which I also find inspiring.

Nikki Stones and Jenny Man, design leaders, Fluid, Hong Kong
Rarely in a designer’s day do we get half an hour to day dream so finding time to do just that becomes part of your to-do list!

Luckily the world throws us lots of inspiration naturally on a daily basis … getting ideas for something comes from observation and letting your mind wander in to places unknown. Inspiration, I find comes from the moments of randomness in life and looking at things from other peoples perspective.

Our visual library in our head evolves as we grow older – and our source of inspirations come to us in a variety of ways – constantly looking around, constantly evaluating what we see and whose meet.
Pause for moment and doing something non project / work related when we feel overwhelmed and projects list become crazy doing a little bit of everything in the day – multi tasking –  taps on multiple things at the same time, letting the idea cross paths.

Of course we are also inspired by others work, the colours of a sky one evening, the typography on an old piece of packaging, the relationships of those around us.. Books, magazines, watching b+w movies, baking, paintings, galleries, looking up instead of forward.

Travel is a very rich source of inspiration, cultures and places, peoples rituals and memories…
Life is the reference book, we just have to make sure we don’t forget to absorb it in our busy days and look up from our iPhones.

Eric Cruz, executive creative director, Leo Burnett Malaysia

Eric CruzThe thing I always do to get inspired is to go for a walk and get lost. During my 10 years in Tokyo and two years in London, it was great to walk into undiscovered and unknown paths to discover new things.

I find that the more you “get lost” the more you discover things about yourself, about how much there is to see and about how much there is that you don’t know. It’s a good parallel to creativity. You have one problem to solve, and if you simply approach it one way, i.e. take the same route to work everyday, you will never discover other angles into the same problem.

The road less travelled always brings you further.

Shan Tiago, senior art director, Formul8, Singapore

I get my inspiration from my surroundings, places I have been to, from whatever that catches my attention and these observations are stored in my mind like frames.

When on a project these stored/gathered observations act as the base of my ideas. Mostly I start by thinking about the impossible and laugh at how I will be able to express it visually and sell it in!

While I do look into work done by others to know trends in the industry, I usually go my own way and explore before falling into a more commercially viable option mostly because of time and an understanding of market conditions. I get inspired by the movies I watch, NatGeo, thoughts about the future of mankind (I have kids), living in space, a prairie and a lake, animals, automotive designs, random shapes – these all act as inspiration for me. Inspiration is infinite as with imagination it won’t stop but takes different forms, shapes and directions…

Stan Lim, creative director, Isobar Singapore

Stan LimWhen you consider that we often have to create for people from all walks of life, empathy becomes a powerful tool for creative inspiration. So I dream a lot. I get lost in strange new places without a backup plan. Imagine myself as a different person from a different time.

I try to find humour in awkward situations and to find isolation in a crowd. Anything that gives me a unique experience and perspective. This way i just might have a fighting chance at coming up with convincing ideas for people from halfway across the globe, who have lived twice as long as me.And of course, if all else fails I turn to coffee and Google.


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