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7 Ways To Boost Your Creativity

Legendary ad creative John Hegarty is known for saying "do interesting things and interesting things will happen to you," and he walks the talk. Here, he shares some insight on getting, and staying, more creative.

Who better to go to for career advice than Sir John Hegarty, the cofounder of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, and one of the world’s most awarded creatives? The man behind some of the best advertising of all time, including Levi’s "Launderette" and "Vorsprung Durch Technik" for Audi, is still enjoying an illustrious career that has spanned six decades. And he’s lived up to his oft-quoted aphorism, "do interesting things and interesting things will happen to you" and has applied his creativity well beyond the ad game. He is a bona fide vintner, producing what’s been described as "a generous and powerful wine, full of fruit and joy" from his winery in the Languedoc region of France. Here, Hegarty offers tips on amplifying your creativity, extending your career as a creative, and staying on top of your game.

Stay connected (and lose the headphones).

The working life span of a creative can be brutally short. While artists and musicians can repeat the same ideas, creatives need to continually come up with new material. One way to turn a 10-year career, into 20 or even 50 years, according to Hegarty, is to stay connected. "You have to stay riveted to what is going on around you," he says. "And stay positive. Cynicism is the death of creativity." Also, don’t be tempted to withdraw into your own world. "When I see people in the office walking around with headphones on, I tell them ‘you’re not seeing what’s going on around you—you didn’t see when that woman put her bag down and the car horn went off; you could use that in a commercial’."

Be more like Paul Smith.

To illustrate the importance of staying connected, Hegarty points to fashion designer Paul Smith’s inspiring experience in the Milan airport. Smith had some time to kill as his flight was delayed, but instead of retreating to a quiet seating area, he took a stroll around. A lone bracelet charm which had fallen to the ground caught his eye. He picked it up and decided it would make a beautiful button for a shirt. Smith went on to make 30,000 shirts with that button detail.

Remember success can breed your failure

Getting recognition for your achievements can be a dangerous thing, Hegarty warns. With the awards comes the nice car, the personal assistant, and the big office, all of which can act like a fortress and prevent outside influences from coming in. "You become isolated, and creatives cannot become isolated because they have to be part of culture, " Hegarty notes.

Be brave and dare to be different.

Taking big risks is easy when you are starting out, because no one knows you and failure doesn’t stick. When your reputation rises, being daring becomes difficult. "Your success really does eat away at your future opportunities, " he says. "It takes great courage to break through."

Every McCartney needs a Lennon.

Once you’ve achieved enough to be held in high regard, people may stop disagreeing with you. Don’t surround yourself with "yes" men and women. Stay close to people who aren’t afraid to tell you when you are wrong. "You need people around you that you can trust to say "that’s a shit idea," Hegarty says. "Every McCartney needs a Lennon."

Sir John Hegarty

Expand Your Personal Circle.

Hegarty, who has his own vineyard in France, likes nothing better than spending time with people in professions different from his own—like his winemaker for example. "Talking to people in different industries about what they do is fascinating. " he says. "It opens channels in your thinking you didn’t know were there. "

Look for inspiration in the unexpected and the difficult>

Hegarty is an avid reader of the Financial Times, though he admits he doesn’t always understand it. "You have got to read stuff outside your comfort zone, as well as doing things you love, " Hegarty says. "You can pick up a business article, get a creative angle on it and find the solution in creativity."

[Black Sheep: BMJ via Shutterstock | Flickr user Rosmary]

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  • Renos Demetriou

    I thought I had made a big career mistake when I have moved to an industry that I had a brief
    interaction with which in all honesty I knew nothing about and little did I understand the way it operates. The financial industry is stale of creativity in it's communication system. It's people understand numbers and measurable results and have no need or understanding of human emotion. I believe there is a strong human emotion with people that are so connected to numbers and analytics because they are driven by them and creativity is not far behind. I made this my challenge. Renos Demetriou Creative Director for Conversion Pros (Converting Ideas for the Financial World)

  • Caroline Gerardo

    Enjoyed your article Anne Cassidy but can't see if you are the YA crime fiction writer or another person. I wish Fast Company would link to your credits :)
    Caroline Gerardo

  • LXFN

    I am pretty much addicted to wearing headphones as I'm a designer/musician. They almost go hand in hand for me but spending some time without being so isolated could be a worthy experiment. I've never really contemplated nor seen how much it can isolate you it until now...

  • Castleconnection

    I have to be in thick of people and people watch. I am from a large city and find it very mentally stimulating.  I love to take classes to learn about things I have never investigated, and brain storm with people from all different backgrounds. YouTube is an excellent way to help me further along with new ideas too. I just cannot stop!  I know people who are content sitting on the couch all day reading and watching television, but the book and the television do not respond to the many questions I have.  I have been told I am a question box. This is how I keep the juices flowing.

  • Kathy Mast

    I love the suggestions. I would take the headphones a step further and say "get out of your office." PDMA asked for suggestions on achieving innovation when resources are limited or non-existent. I say "get out of your comfort zone." Walk around, talk to people, visit a museum or hospital waiting room. Do something creative! Thank you for the good advice!

  • Nate Davis

    Sound advice for any of us who want to remain creatively alive, and these suggestions line up with a number of my other favorite inspirational books, including The Artist's Way, Hey Whipple, and Bird by Bird.

  • Sophie | Spark

    Excellent and thoughtful insights - not sure I'm quite up to read the Financial Times just yet, but I will definitely expand my reading list! 

    On a related note, I find that looking in a new direction can often completely change your perception of a place and be quite inspiring - looking up at rooftops instead of the ground, or keeping an eye out for a particular colour. It's amazing how much there is to discover...

  • Conor Cunneen

    Headphones! It baffles me that so many people wear them when
    hiking/walking/running on beautiful beaches / parkland etc. They are missing
    half the experience and of course all of the sound.

    I never truly realized how isolated you become wearing
    headphones until I forgot to bring them to the gym one morning. No headphones TOTALLY
    changes the experience. You actually have conversations with people and as
    Hegarty suggests you see "what’s going
    on around you." Brilliant little insight from the man.

  • Naomi

    I agree agree agree.  Would like to see more examples of this type -- can always learn something.  Or the masseuse who told me she tries to do something different, unusual, something she's never done -- a different thing each month.