I’ve rewatched the whole Mad Men series more than once, and many of the characters’ phrases have stuck with me.
It’s one of the most quotable TV shows ever, so well written that it’s an absolute pleasure.The characters feel real, yet many of them are almost implausible in their wittiness. That only adds to the dreamlike atmosphere, though – New York in the 1960s, a time and place where people could very well have had more eloquence, as well as style, than we do today.
The characters feel real, yet many of them are almost implausible in their wittiness. That only adds to the dreamlike atmosphere, though – New York in the 1960s, a time and place where people could very well have had more eloquence, as well as style, than we do today.
Genius advice from Mad Men
If you haven’t watched the show, Mad Men is about an ad agency in 60s Manhattan, and the main character Don Draper is a handsome, arrogant, misogynistic, yet charming, creative director of the agency. His protegé is Peggy Olson, wide eyed secretary turned promising copywriter.
It’s an episode in Season 1 where Don says something that really strikes a chord with me.
Don and Peggy are in the early stages of their professional relationship, working on a campaign for a client. She is about to leave his office to go work on coming up with ideas. In a rare moment of charity, he gives her advice. “Just think about it, deeply,” he says, “and then forget it. An idea will jump in your face.”
There is a lot of mystery around the concept of creativity, but Don’s words encapsulate what it’s all about. It’s rare to hear it explained so well. Creative work is neither about just hard work or just daydreaming. It’s a combination of both.
“Just think about it, deeply, and then forget it. An idea will jump in your face.”
It really is that simple
When we want to get more ideas, or even just one great idea, it means hard work. We need to analyze the task at hand, look at what others have done, brainstorm, take notes, and create new connections between concepts. If it’s teamwork, much time will be spent on discussion. If it’s independent work, much time will be spent staring into empty space and trying not to look at the phone every 5 minutes.
This part of creative work is often frustrating and agonizing, and it’s rare for anyone to be “in the mood”.
But it’s necessary. It will give birth to a whole slew of bad ideas that belong in the trash. It will also give birth to ok ideas. The ok ones are those with potential, and with a little bit of tweaking, they might become great ideas.
Now we get to the second part. Our brains are not machines, and they need a little bit of breathing room after grinding. So we have to take breaks. Meaning
- getting up
- going somewhere else
- doing something else
- and thinking of something else.
It’s often during time off that we got those light bulb moments. It’s weird how, when we forget all about work, often that’s exactly when those ideas pop into our heads.
So there you have it, the killer combination for creativity: work hard, let it go, repeat.
Once upon a time, I had a big idea
Now, to illustrate this point I’m going to give you an example from personal experience.
It was springtime 2017 and I had decided to finally get going with starting a blog, which I had wanted to do for a very long time. The only problem was that I didn’t have a name for it. I knew the niche was going to about self-development, and I knew I wanted the name to sound fun and fresh. But I just couldn’t come up with an idea.
I decided I would dedicate a whole weekend to it. I was going to work the entire Saturday just to come up with a name, and if I didn’t get it done, also Sunday.
So when the Saturday came I did everything I could think of.
- I looked at other blogs
- I read articles and blog posts with advice for coming up with a name
- I tried word generators
- I even looked at different kinds of indexes and wrote long lists of options
As the hours passed by I grew more and more frustrated, and by the evening I was in a truly bad mood. I just couldn’t find anything that worked! I had tried all these different kinds of combinations I could think of and nothing seemed right, or it was already taken. I went to bed disappointed.
The next day I didn’t want to think about it, that’s how annoyed I was. So I forgot about my plan, which had been to keep working that day. I was just having a normal, relaxed Sunday: reading the paper and going to the gym.
And at some point during the day, it suddenly came to me. Two words: Goal and Crush. Goal Crush.
Could it really be that simple? But then I thought, it did need a little something extra. Ideas flew through me like lightning. Goal Crush Guide? Goal Crush Book? No, it needed to be something that would feel inclusive, like a society or a club… There it was! Goal Crush Club.
The combination of working hard and then taking a break led me to finding the perfect blog name that I was super excited about, in less than 5 minutes. It felt magical.
I hope you now understand how you can make the creative process happen.
Being hardworking and motivated is great, but unless you rest you won’t get very far. This is especially true for creative work, but can also be applied to life in general.
So the next time you need to be creative and come up with stuff, I suggest you try this.