Scott Monty - Strategic Communications & Leadership Advisor

Scott Monty - Strategic Communications & Leadership Advisor

When you're stuck for an idea, where do you go?

If you've ever watched Mad Men, you saw Don Draper, the consummate creative director, try to hammer out his ideas by taking a nap, or leaving his office to head to a matinee at a nearby theater.

Some people choose to listen to music. Others open a book. And yet others take a walk.

Whatever it is, we make those choices to break up the monotony or try to jolt our thinking.

In all of those moments, opportunities present themselves: opportunities to take in and appreciate the creative work of someone else. It might be something centuries old. Or it might be a creation from this morning.

When you reflect on something beautiful, something deep, something funny  you never know where it might lead.

As a professional, you needn't be consumed by your industry and your industry alone; you should be able to find inspiration everywhere.

Improvisation as Inspiration

I was recently reading a biography of Jean Shepherd (Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd). You may not know Shep, other than his crowning achievement to pop culture: the now-classic holiday film A Christmas Story was based on Shepherd's semi-autobiographical stories in his 1966 book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, with some elements from his 1971 book Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories.

For years, Shepherd had a radio show on WOR in New York, where he was on the air from 9:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. And during those four hours, all he did was tell stories. But he also liked jazz. And from his apartment in Greenwich Village, he had access to some of the best jazz bars in the city.

So what did Shep do? He found inspiration in the jazz he listened to. He used the improvisational style of music to hone his storytelling, so that soon, he was improvising on a topic in the booth. He became the jazz artist of the monologue.

It's that kind of cross-pollinating that leads to creative breakthroughs. Where polymaths use their knowledge of vastly different subjects to bring together the unusual or unexpected to produce results.

As you can imagine, it doesn't happen without the prerequisite inspiration. And you've got to want to seek out other sources to inspire you. What does that take?

Why, nothing less than curiosity.

"The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity." 
– Dorothy Parker [Tweet this quote]

If you're curious, you're constantly wondering "Why?" or "How?" or "What else?" You want to expand your sphere of knowledge, wide or deep. You want to understand the weak connections, the conditions in which an artist worked, the inner workings of the human mind.

Adam Bryant has interviewed 525 chief executives through his years writing the 'Corner Office' column in The New York Times. Over those 525 interviews, here's what he has learned about those CEOs:
"[T]hey share a habit of mind that is best described as 'applied curiosity.' They tend to question everything. They want to know how things work, and wonder how they can be made to work better. They're curious about people and their back stories."

And yet, at the same time, in Digiday's "Confessions" series, an advertising veteran noted that lack of intellectual curiosity and rigor around shiny object syndrome is ruining the ad industry.

Shiny object syndrome  or GMOOT ("Get me one of those!")  is the bane of any industry's existence. Chasing the latest trend and trying to capitalize on it, whether it's GDPR, virtual reality, chatbots, influencer marketing, the latest social network, CDP, DMP, CMS or whatever  without the prerequisite expertise in using or running a program on any of those.

Isn't it time that we took a step away from the desk, like Don Draper did? Maybe we can immerse ourselves in art, music, or literature that pierces the very heart of human nature  that evergreen and immutable part of ourselves that is consistent from generation to generation, from century to century.

It's one of the reasons you'll see the #pastprologue hashtag here and my social accounts (FacebookTwitter | Instagram). I'm sharing quotes and other content that identifies timeless wisdom from great figures of the past.

As Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest,

"What's past is prologue." 

If you're curious enough to spend time to dig into the past, you may find you have a whole course charted out for your future.

And who doesn't need more of that? Taking ourselves away from the digital distractions and looming pressures of life. A chance to be inspired. 

And perhaps to inspire others as well.

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