The Creative Process – Cold Tomato Paste

Cold tomato paste. That’s how creative ideas feel sometimes. Just… blah. You wanted something GREAT but you got… “great” (high school teenager sarcasm voice). Others make it look so easy. “How did they think of that?”, you wonder. I have wondered. And after 35 years of wondering, I’m going to let you in on some trade secrets.


Step. 1

Write Every Idea Down!

Either use the notepad on your phone or carry a real notepad in your back pocket. Whatever you do, NEVER skip the few seconds it takes to hold your finger up to your friend’s face mid-sentence and say, “wait a second, I just thought of something! I gotta write this down.” Brilliant ideas do not come from bigger brains, they come from a bigger selection of ideas. One hundred mediocre ideas are better than five good ones. And several mediocre ideas can be combined to make one GREAT one. But not if you can’t remember them. And you won’t. Scribble on a napkin. Steal your kids crayons and construction paper. Faintest ink is better than greatest memory! – Benjamin Franklin… or maybe Confucius…? I can’t remember which. I didn’t write it down!!

Step. 2

Marry Your Craft.

Are you a photographer? Logo designer? Animation your thing? Take pictures. Doodle. Scribble! This is very similar to Step. 1. Not a bigger brain, just vigorous, tireless, driving effort. Most of my final ideas or designs have been an accident after trying several things I thought would be great, but weren’t. Just grab part of the logo shape and start moving it around without rhyme or reason. Scribble without a cause and ask people what they think. Take pictures when everyone else sets their cameras down. Why does the person who carries a camera around EVERYWHERE they go capture such awesome pictures? You know why? You probably won’t like the answer. Because they carry a camera around EVERYWHERE they go. And I guarantee you that when the time comes to capture an epic moment, they won’t be wondering how to work their camera. They will be like a U.S. Marine with their gun. They will change the ISO, shutter speed, and f-stop in three seconds without looking and BAM!

You either love what you do or you don’t. If you love what you do, then why don’t you have a camera around your neck everywhere you go?! Well?! Start!!


Step. 3

Soak It All In.

You must complete steps 1 & 2 to move on to this step. The reason is because it takes writing ideas down and living with your craft to start observing and noticing a much larger spectrum of creativeness around you. The world is full of it. When TiVo and Netflix came around, we could start skipping commercials. Commercials are the bite size snippets of entire creative teams’ collaborative work. They involve writers, graphic designers, actors, directors, costumes, lighting, sound, animation, basically everything. Don’t simply visit art galleries. Observe the design, thoughtfulness, and strategic creativity in playground equipment, billboards, cereal boxes, hotel lobbies! The world is full of it. But it takes beginning your journey in creating to observe the world of creativity.


Step. 4


This is probably the most important step because it determines who will continue coming up with great ideas and who will die wondering, “how did they think of that?” This is crucial to the creative process because it hurts, it stings, it’s personal, and it leaves you staring at your ceiling in the middle of the night obsessing over what you could have done to make that idea better. This period is where heroes are made. Failure sticks in your gut like a bad breakup. Wrong answers are for math; but when you are creating, being wrong pushes you onward to risk more the next time. Failure breeds success. “I have not failed. I’ve found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas A. Edison


Step. 5

Know When To Stop.

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never achieve it.” Salvador Dali. It’s been said that creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes, but art is knowing which ones to keep. By the time you’ve gone through steps 1-4 you will arrive here, the place where others start to ask you, “how did you come up with that?” Was it because of your bigger brain? No. It was because of your hard work! Hundreds of notes, living with your craft, soaking in creativity around you, and repeated failures all take time. Are you willing to give it? Those who are willing to give it develop a skill to recognize how to turn cold tomato paste into Ratatouille.

Comments for this post are closed.