Minds in Motion: Space for Creativity

“Every idea I’ve ever had in the last 10 years has been on the bike,” says Rich Silverstein, co-chairman and cd of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, who prefers to travel the 17 miles from his Mill Valley, Calif. home to his agency’s offices in downtown San Francisco on his Specialized.

“It must be the endorphins,” he adds. “With no stress ideas come. … I don’t even know I’m thinking and all of a sudden I think, ‘That’s a good idea.'” Sometimes, he says with a laugh, he’s wrong: “It’s like a dream; they sound really good on the bike and then I get to work and think, “That’s a stupid idea.'”

Advertising agencies love their “creative” spaces, and the upper ranks adore offices that have been designed and decorated to match their creative philosophies and reputations. But when it comes to where some of the industry’s top creative leaders do their best thinking, many say it’s not within the walls of their agencies, no matter how many talismans with which they surround themselves. Instead, it’s when their bodies are in motion and/or their minds preoccupied with anything other than the problems at hand.

Wherever his thoughts are free to roam is where David Droga, creative chairman of Droga5 in New York, says he does his best thinking. While inspirational jaunts to museums and galleries are part of the creative nurturing process, notes the Australian-born art director, taking walks or doing yoga gives him the freedom required for creativity.

Ideas flow “when you’re not under duress or constraints to have to be thinking of business or cracking something,” says Droga. But “it’s more the attitude than where you are. Sometimes the best ideas will come in the least inspiring places.” That includes boring meetings in which he’ll sometimes find his mind drifting to an unrelated, nagging problem. “I was in a bank meeting in London once that was so torturous, I had a flash of inspiration for another client,” he says.

Andrew Keller, partner and CCO at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, says for him it’s less about coming up with ideas than it is about allowing ideas to come to him. “I think of creativity as more of tuning into a radio station — channeling the proper mindset to be receptive to the ideas that are floating around all the time,” he says. “As cliched as it is, the shower and planes are sometimes great places for that. They give me that moment of focus, when I’m open to it.”

The two spaces have something in common — low ceilings. Keller, in fact, says a low-ceilinged environment or, at least, the feeling of being in one, is actually helpful when it comes to getting his creative juices flowing. He suspects it has something to do with how he loved to run in the woods when he was growing up. “

There’s something about the intimacy and privacy you feel,” he explains. “When I walk outside in Boulder and look up in the mountains, I’m filled with a sense of awe and a sense of how small I am in the world, which oddly doesn’t make me feel that creative. It inspires me about human existence, but ideas come in closets, under beds and in caves and the woods.”

But most critical to creative problem solving in advertising, Keller says, is positivity. “You have to find out what your passion points are about a brand,” he says. “There’s a certain openness that comes with that positivity. To be negative about it is to not fully embrace it. It won’t have personal meaning.”

Mike Hughes, president and co-creative director of The Martin Agency, has found his thinking habits have changed over the years. “As a copywriter, I’d obsess about the project that was next on my list,” says Hughes. “I did some of my thinking during ‘walking around’ and commuting time. I’d use that kind of time to get past the early, easy ideas to try to get to something a little deeper.”

As a creative director, he explains, “I have to think and react more quickly. I’m often looking at ideas just before we’re scheduled to show them to a client. I need to give my reactions and input on the spot, so that’s what I try to do. But as all the teams here know, I reserve the right to change my mind over night. That’s not just a women’s prerogative, it’s a cd’s prerogative.”