Tonia Simon, a senior copywriter at SS+K, has never gotten a lap dance from a drag queen on her way to work, but she says colleagues picture that scenario when she wears a pair of jeans embellished with a smattering of sequins.
Like her crushed vinyl pants that lace up the front and her lederhosen shorts, Simon bought the oft-ridiculed jeans on one of her trips to the cheap boutiques near her Lower Manhattan office. Simon, 36, finds rummaging through racks of cheesy clothes to be relaxing, and it's also her favorite way to restore her creativity—especially during heavy concepting weeks.
"It would sound more noble to say I find inspiration in art galleries, but that doesn't get me far enough from the job," she says. "To really recharge my batteries, I need to consider what will match a traffic-cone orange skirt and if it's appropriate to wear outside of deer hunting."
If you're in advertising, chances are you've found a way to keep your creativity charged. Some outlets are pretty common—playing an instrument—while others are as individual as the minds that conceived them.
Bobbi Noffke, senior production business manager at Foote Cone & Belding in Chicago, gets a creative boost by exploring places in which people are the most genuine. She likes to run through residential alleys to catch glimpses of backyards, where "reality exists." "If they have a great front yard, they may have three cars in the backyard that are on hitches," says Noffke, 37. She also likes to interact with people she doesn't normally see working near trendy Michigan Avenue—like those at a local bingo hall (one of her new haunts). "These are the people you're really trying to grasp in the end," she says.
Chris Sekin, executive creative director of Dallas-based Square One, seeks a different kind of exposure. He finds inspiration in the advertising of other countries, which is why he travels abroad every year. "I've never found anything quite as liberating, in a creative sense, as visiting foreign lands that don't have all the social hang-ups one finds in America," says Sekin, 40, whose passport includes stamps from New Zealand, Ireland and Kenya. "I come back and say I need to get rid of the baggage I've started carrying ... because we have to be so sensitive to so many things."
Others find creative energy in nature. Andy Wright, an interactive designer at Colle+McVoy in Bloomington, Minn., gets refreshed by sleeping under the stars, drinking from natural springs or picking wild berries. "When you're out there, you get inspired with all the new ideas that flow in, and you feel charged," says Wright, 32. "I find myself saying, 'I've got to write that idea down, paint that thing or print out the picture I took.'"
Surfing, snowboarding and skiing help Mark Frankel, ecd of Modem Media in San Francisco, think of problems in new ways. His beach jaunts have been especially useful for youth-marketing projects. "It's interesting seeing graphics on someone's board, and how people interact with music," says Frankel, 42. "Even if I'm not writing copy while I'm surfing, I'm taking it in and using it later."
Moving rocks is the method of choice for Marshall Ross, ecd of Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago. A few years ago he bought a lake house in Michigan on over an acre of land and decided to landscape with various stones and boulders. He finds shifting them around to form new designs (sometimes with levers, pulleys and wheelbarrows) is artistically energizing. "It's a sense of creative focus that isn't within the traditional ways that I use my brain creatively," says Ross, 45.
Of course, sometimes even the power of such Zen-like exercises can't dissolve deep-set burnout. In 2000, after 10 years in the business, Liz Gumbinner, 36, "was fried" and knew she had to take a break. So she spent two years freelancing, writing a book and taking classes, including one in improvisational comedy. Now, as cd at davidandgoliath in Santa Monica, Calif., she encourages her team members to seek their own escapes. "What makes us great creatives is we know about comedy, film, philosophy or history," she says, "and if you don't enrich your life with this knowledge, you're useful to nobody."