Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Daydreaming Works Out Your Brain

Got a tough problem to solve? Try daydreaming.

Contrary to the notion that daydreaming is a sign of laziness, letting the mind wander can actually let the parts of the brain associated with problem-solving become active, a new study finds. -- - May 13, 2000

This is good news for me and my fellow wool-gatherers. It means that while you're gazing out a window or into your cat's blank eyes, seemingly thinking about nothing in particular, you're actually doing a brain workout. Parts of the brain’s "executive network," which is associated with high-level, complex problem-solving, light up when you’re daydreaming.

Certain ad agency account people I've worked with have not understood this concept. Nothing against AEs and ASs (Oops, didn't really mean an insult there -- but you know who you are.); they're always running a mile a minute, churning out meeting reports, Gantt charts and whatever other paperwork they have to do for clients to prove they're working. The idea that sitting around thinking is "work" just doesn't compute.

Long ago, I worked for a small ad agency whose owner was alarmed by the sight of me sitting at my desk staring at the wall. He would whisper to others, "What is she DOING?" I imagine he saw a dollar meter racking up the money he was paying me while I sat there, apparently producing nothing. He fired me on my birthday. I considered it a great birthday gift, since the boss's idea of "creative" advertising was P&G coupon ads. "New!" "FREE!" These "creative" words had to be included in every ad. Tip to creative job-seekers: be sure you find out what your prospective boss means by the term, "creative."

The fact is, the creative process includes a lot of daydreaming, wall-staring, doodling, humming, walking around, and so on. Typing doesn't mean you're producing anything usable. Not typing doesn't mean you're not.

Here's how the creative process works in an ad agency. Typically, there will be a big kickoff meeting where everybody on an account will receive input from the account people about the project at hand. Afterward, creatives will gather to discuss and propose some initial ideas, most of which are lousy. This is normal. Then they go away to their individual cubicles and do that all-important daydreaming. While a creative sits around looking inert, new input integrates and coalesces in the brain. A few halfway decent ideas may emerge later in the day or the next day. [AEs and ASs, please understand that the reason creatives hate tight deadlines is not that they're lazy and don't want to work; it's that tight deadlines don't give the creative brain enough time to work.] Coming together again later, writers and art directors compare their ideas, combine, sort, discard, and eventually arrive at two or three workable concepts to present to the CD.

The best, most effective campaign I ever worked on took several weeks to develop. The art director and I took walks in the park, lounged in the creative conference room staring at the ceiling, drew pictures, exchanged jokes, did word-association, whatever. The resulting multi-media campaign netted a 1400% ROI for the client. We had time enough to be creative. And we had a very good client, it should be said.

The point is, very little of the creative process occurs during the execution part. By then, the blueprint is done, the materials to build are on hand, and the brick-and-mortar work begins. Not that creative ideas are banned at this stage. They may enhance the original plan. But the point is, ideas come out of thinking and daydreaming, not looking busy.

Account people, relax. When your creatives are daydreaming, they're doing exactly what they're being paid to do: create successes for you and your clients.

No comments: