Agency Life: Self-discipline in creativity
by TJ Njozela (@tj_njozela) In an industry where we constantly strive to break convention, be disruptive and find new insights to make brand relevant, it seems almost paradoxical that discipline should be a characteristic a creative individual should have.
We mostly think of discipline as rules, structure and formalities, all of which are in contrast with the creative process, which involves intuition, innovation and imagination. This is true for institutionalised discipline, which is a way to make people conform to a particular way of thinking. Self-discipline, however, is training yourself to do something consistently over time.
In agencies, ideas are currency. With some self-discipline in the creative process, it makes it less of a challenge to be creative on demand. There’s no silver bullet for coming up with great ideas, and each person’s process is different but, going about it with more discipline, you start to set the stage for a better creative output. Here are a few tips to help you be a little more self-disciplined in your process:
1. Figure out your style
There are, essentially, two types of creatives. There are those who can come up with a million ideas a second, and in those are real gems. Others have to work harder, thinking things through and interrogating every idea before moving on. It doesn’t really matter which side of the fence you’re on, but when you know which style suits you more, you start to develop a better understanding of your approach.
By being deliberate in your thinking process, you can start to figure out what helps you get to a good idea, and what trips you up. More importantly, you’ll also start to understand why this happens. You can then intentionally add or remove things in your creative process to find a way to replicate your successes and minimise the amount of work that gets bombed.
2. Practise, practise, practise
If you’re a strategist, research. If you’re an art director, scamp. If you’re a writer, well, write. Try different methods. Look at industry benchmarks and learn from them. Practise as much as possible until the simple stuff becomes second nature, and the harder stuff becomes easier. The more you practice, the sharper you’ll become, and the quality of your ideas will improve, too. Michelangelo didn’t just pick up a brush one day and paint the Sistine Chapel. MJ didn’t simply step on stage and do a perfect moonwalk out of the blue.
It takes time and effort to train yourself to be really good at something. And the more you train, the more prepared you’ll be to make the most of an opportunity when it comes around.
3. Know the rules before you break them
We’re always told to think outside the box. But how do you do that if you don’t know what the box is? By practising self-discipline, you’ll start to develop a system that helps you to deliver consistently. Once you’re comfortable with your system and it becomes routine, you have to switch it up and break some rules to expand your thinking.
By repeating this process, soon enough, you’ll be bringing ideas to the table that are on par with everyone around you. And if you continue to challenge yourself and people around you with your thinking, you’ll be in a position where you can disrupt the status quo with really strong ideas.
Be intentional and methodical in the way you break the rules, otherwise all you’ll ever do is dream about doing it.
At the end of the day, passion is the driving force behind great ideas. And even with an incredible self-discipline the creative process can just be a hot mess. But, by being deliberate in the search for the elusive big idea, you’ll find that structure may help guide you in the right direction and make it possible for you to do work that you’ll be really proud of.
TJ Njozela (@tj_njozela) is an award-winning senior copywriter at FCB Africa with several years of experience in the advertising industry. More than a writer, he is also a reader, a thinker, and an avid liker of things; and he once walked from Joburg to Cape Town in 30 days to raise funds to buy wheelchairs for people in need. #30Days30Wheelchairs. TJ contributes the regular “Agency Life” column, in which he gives career advice for working within the advertising industry, to MarkLives.