Making Space for Creativity

Jun 09, 2011 Beth Monaghan

Brenda Ueland published the book If You Want to Write in 1938 and in it she wrote, “…the imagination needs moodling—long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering. These people who are always briskly doing something and as busy as waltzing mice, they have little, sharp staccato ideas, such as: ‘I see where I can make an annual cut of $3.47 in my meat budget.’ But they have no slow, big ideas.”

I frequently find myself “briskly doing something.” Scrolling through my 15 Tweetdeck columns, cranking out a blog post before others get into the office and my meetings begin, checking email while I’m waiting for my sandwich at lunch, or squeezing in one last conference call on my drive home – this is the substance of many days. I do PR after all.

And we live in a world that places value on busyness. It’s a powerful validator for eager entry-level employees and top CEOs alike. This isn’t going away. When I meet teenagers who send thousands of text messages per month, I see the future of multitasking taking hold. A part of me embraces this because I operate at my most effective when I am busy. So I must be important, right?

That does not have to come at the cost of creativity, which is requisite for any kind of innovation, including even the smallest operational changes that can have enormous impacts. We need to create the space (physical or mental) from which the ideas that roil along the edges can sprout. I’ve never had a great idea while staring at my email.

Following is a short list of some approaches to fostering creativity that have inspired me, including a few others that are working for us here at InkHouse:


  • Encourage differing points of view. Netflix has one of the most interesting company values statements I’ve seen. It is based on “Responsibility and Freedom,” and inspired some of our own InkHouse values. Here is Netflix’s value statement on innovation:

  • Stay open to experiences, approaches and ideas. My brother-in-law is an IP attorney for pharmaceutical companies. I have yet to find an experience that he has not appreciated in a fundamental way, and as a result, I frequently seek out his perspective in times of difficult decisions. When I was in New York with him earlier this week, I was talking about creativity and noted that PR people must maintain a steadfast discipline in our to do lists. I surmised that the best scientists he works with must be extremely detail oriented and disciplined in their work. His answer surprised me. He said that while they are disciplined, the best scientists are the most creative – the ones who look at a process in a new way.
  • Let people collaborate. When we looked for office space a few years ago, Meg and I wanted a workplace where collaboration could thrive, so we focused on an open layout. If you come to our space at the Watch Factory today, you will find people standing up and asking for a collective opinion about a campaign, a pitch, a bylined article, a new company name, etc. This impromptu brainstorming has birthed some of our most successful campaigns.
  • Enable focus. We initially offered work from home Fridays because we wanted to provide a flexible work environment. Over the years, we’ve found that Fridays have become important opportunities for us and our employees to focus on strategy and writing away from the hustle of conference calls and meetings.
  • Create your own mental space. As Ueland pointed out, we need to make space for our minds to wander away from the day-to-day details that comprise much of our lives. Dani Shapiro, one of my favorite authors, recently talked about the tight link between meditation and writing. She described the important connection between the mental practice of being present and its benefits to the writing process, which draws from that similar place of mindful focus. She was talking about creative writing of course, and meditation is not for everyone. Simply sitting quietly and drinking my tea for 10 minutes before I leave for the office, or stepping outside to pick up lunch away from my iPhone often give me brief moments of distance that allow an unprompted and unfiltered idea to jolt through the chaos.

Ueland’s “slow, big ideas” are the substance of our clients’ innovations that inspire us to do what we do. We’re always looking for creative ideas to improve our work at InkHouse, so please add your thoughts to the conversation.

Topics: Public Relations, Twitter, Writing, PR
Beth Monaghan

Since the early days working around her kitchen table, Beth has grown Inkhouse into one of the top independent PR agencies in the country. She’s been named a Top Woman in PR by PR News, a Top 25 Innovator by PRovoke, and an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist. Beth designed Inkhouse’s signature Storytelling Workshop to mirror the literary hero’s journey and to unearth the emotional connections that bind an audience to a brand or idea. She also uses narratives to build Inkhouse’s culture, most recently through two books of employee essays, “Hindsight 2020” and “Aren’t We Lucky?”

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