Creative on a Deadline

phil cooke Jul 28, 2022


By Phil Cooke

We often think that creativity is something that’s inspired, beautiful and only happens when the spark strikes or the muse speaks. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. I’m a proponent of what I call “practical” creativity—which means creativity on a deadline. I’ve spent my career working for clients—studios, networks, nonprofits, major churches and ministries. In those cases, I don’t have time to wait for inspiration, I have to deliver creative ideas and projects on a schedule. Worse, sometimes I have to deliver when there’s enormous pressure, risk and a great deal on the line.

Chances are, you work in a similar situation. While we’d all like to experience the comfort of waiting for wonderful ideas to come from the heavens, with most projects we have to conjure up something right now. Certainly, we can’t totally control creativity and can’t just hit an on/off switch, but there are techniques we can use to draw from when we have to deliver creativity under fire.

  1.   Be a raging consumer of media yourself.Read books, watch movies, TV and online video. Go to museums. Subscribe to popular magazines. Know what’s popular in the culture. To know what creative ideas will work, you need to know what’s working now, what’s failing and what’s already been done.
  2.   Have confidence in your talent.This comes from years of work, practice and failure. (Rinse and repeat.) The more experience you have, the more options will come to your mind under pressure, and the more confidence you have, the more likely you are to step up. Plus, experience and confidence tends to quiet that voice in your head that’s telling you that you have no talent and your work is trash. However, the key is that you should be mastering your craft when the pressure is not happening, so that when it does hit, you’re ready to be amazing.
  3.   Develop creative connections.Creative professionals are rarely the lone wolf types who sit alone in a studio thinking brilliant thoughts. For instance, read about Pixar’s “Brain Trust” and how it works in Ed Catmull’s terrific book Creativity, Inc. Always have creative friends and mentors you can reach out to when you’re coming up blank because building on each other’s ideas is a key to creating brilliant work. Who would you call right now if you needed some help? Create a list so you’ll have it when things get tough.     
  4.   Be the voice of calm in the middle of the storm. When deadlines approach, or the $%#@ hits the fan, people tend to freak out. You need to be the calm, creative leader in the middle of the madness. Even in desperate situations, I’ve seen stressed out film crews and other creative teams completely relax in the presence of a leader who is calm and in control. You’ll never produce compelling creative work if you don’t know how to experience calm within yourself—especially when it matters most.  

Unless you have all the money you need, decide to create only for yourself, or only work when the muse speaks, then chances are, you need to deliver creative projects on time and on budget. You can master practical creativity, but it takes preparation and discipline. 

There’s no better time to start than right now…



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