Perspectives #1 Transcript

The Process of Creativity

  1. Intro

Elizabeth: Creativists in Dialogue now offers the first of its thematic podcast posts. In these composites, we chose a particular theme within our Creativists project and pull sections of four or five interviews together to demonstrate not only the common threads across multiple people but also the differences and variations on that theme.

Michael: Our first thematic composite focuses on the creative process, which is not one method chiseled in stone for everyone to follow. Each person develops their own unique process over time, from watching others, from watching themselves, and from appreciating and understanding the dynamics of their life journey. Over time, perhaps, each individual has chiseled their creative process into stone, whether it is soapstone or granite.

Elizabeth: We have pulled together four wonderful speakers on this subject. You’ll hear from international chess master Oladapo Adu, screenplay writer and sexuality educator Laura Zam, poet Naomi Ayala, and communications expert and birth doula Shakirah Hill Taylor. No matter their field of expertise, each has an understanding on the creative process well worth a reflection or two.

  • Clip #1 Intro 

Elizabeth: One of our earliest interviews was with Nigerian international chessmaster Oladapo Adu. He talked extensivity about chess and the creative process not only while playing the game but also while engaging students. In this clip, Adu asserts that the best way to get better at chess is to lose at chess, something that every person who has ever created anything will readily agree with.

Michael: For whether a person calls it losing a game or failing to materialize an expression, the creative impulse guarantees disappointment. Only by working through that disappointment does a person’s creativity improve.

  • Clip #1: Adu

Elizabeth: Can you speak a bit about how you use creativity in those kinds of educational settings?

Adu: Yes. I’ve taught a lot of kids and adults. Actually, a student was a 51-year-old lady from Florida and she’s responding so well. For me, I use a feedback method whenever I’m teaching. And when I teach for you to understand, not just for you to know this is right, this is wrong. You have to know why. Because when you know why, you can actually become somebody else’s teacher. So that way you can actually pass the knowledge to another person. When I teach, I work along with that feedback because everybody have their different ways of approaching anything—it is maybe sports or game or whatever—so, beyond the things you, beyond the method you know how to teach, you also have to teach based on the personality that is in front of you. And you have to take your time to understand the way they learn, their learning process because—and that, through that way you can actually—that becomes another additional way of teaching different kind of people that has the same characteristics with the new person. So that way it makes me bring about more opportunities, the way I teach and all that. And like I said, I believe a lot in this feedback thing. I don’t just give you information, I wanna know what you feel. Even sometimes I have to ask you to tell me what we’ve talked about.

Elizabeth: At the emotional level, I would imagine children and adults—sometimes we’re even worse than children—can be very competitive. If they’re playing a game, either in a classroom setting or certainly in a competitive environment, there’s a lot of ego involved and kids who don’t win or who make a mistake or who just become disappointed learners or discouraged learners. And I’m wondering how you, the instructor and you, the kind of chess mentor, can help a student get past that sort of emotional block?

Adu: I actually like the fact that they go through that. It means they, they really want to get results, but there’s a roadblock somewhere, alright? And one thing I always tell the kids—and even the adults—is you start winning until you lose. You really have to lose because the losing is the experience you gather. The reason why I can be better than you is because I’ve lost so many games and I’ve learned from these games. That way, there is nothing you’re gonna bring that I haven’t seen, like, I’m at—the high percentage I’ve seen them. But if you are new to it, you have to go through that process. And if you feel hurt, that means you want to learn. Because if you don’t have those emotions, then you don’t care about it. Then it doesn’t matter if you lose or you win. But when you go through the emotions of, oh, I’m having a bad game, I—because I remember years ago, I tried to quit chess so many times. I lost count. Like I—after each bad tournament I’m like, this is it. I’m no longer playing this.

Elizabeth: Oh, wow.

Adu: But the next thing I find myself playing there. Then after another bad tournament, I’m like, you know what? This is it. Several times. But nobody fought me. But I pretty much fought myself. The bad experiences of losing, it’s now looking back that I saw that all those losses actually were experiences for me.

So, recently, one of my friends said he just cannot play, he’s tired of losing. I say, it’s a process. Nobody just got dropped into the world a master in anything. There is a process you have to go through. And one thing with creativity is when you get to the process, when you learn the basics, the fundamentals, you unconsciously bring your own addition to it. Because, like we have a fingerprint, everybody has something to offer. So I might even learn from you, even you being my student, because the way you do it might be a little different from the way I do it, which I might actually, like—the emotional aspect of it, you just have to let them know it’s a process. You have to give them examples: this person went through it, I went through it, so it’s good you’re going through it now. And this is what’s gonna happen after this emotional stuff going on: you’re gonna feel bad losing, and when you learn from your games, when you learn from your losses, you’re gonna start seeing the effects of learning. The worst thing is not to learn from your losses, because then you’re bound to repeat them again.

Recently, I got a new surge back. Because for the past two years, I think, I lost a lot of rating points and people were like, what’s wrong? I said just playing people that were playing better than I was. So I was still relying on my old experience and all that, but it’s no longer working because all the information is online. People have access to all these things. So if you want to get your game to the next level, you have to work on your game. So sometimes last year I started working on my game, but I really wasn’t seeing any improvement per se, in the game, but I knew I was getting better. So in the last month, I’ve won three tournaments. I can’t remember the last time I won a chess tournament. Actually, I won four tournaments, first position. But prior to that I really couldn’t remember. So I had to actually encourage myself and tell myself, no matter how much I go for these games and I lose games, I’m gonna keep coming because I know that I have the potential to get to as high as I want to.

Elizabeth: So it sounds like the creative process in chess is in some ways profound humility. That there is a process—

Adu: There is.

Elizabeth: —and that you have to trust the process—

Adu: You have to.

Elizabeth: —and you have to hold your own hand.

Adu: You have to, at some point, no matter if you are three year old or five year old, it doesn’t matter. That’s one thing I like about the game. It teaches you to be responsible. You stay responsible or quit.

Elizabeth: Tell me more about that. Because one of the things that I’ve seen chess do to young children or to learners is to really build their resilience, build their, kind of, endurance, to really be able to move past obstacles and to just soldier on, if you will. Do you have any particular examples you could pull up from your vast memory of a student, a child, or an adult getting past their stuck-ness using that, kind of, natural consequence, if you will, of either not being attentive enough or not doing their best or just blowing it off or whatever?

Adu: Yeah. I have a student that I teach—I started teaching him when he was six years old, when he was still living in DC but now he’s moved back to China with his parents.

Elizabeth: Oh, wow.

Adu: So I teach him online. He’s Chinese, he’s eight years old right now, and he really believes he knows a lot of things. And sometime when I play him, I just take it easier on him, which I really don’t normally do, just encourage him. But when he starts to feel, oh, he knows everything, then I don’t let him win any games. Yeah, I don’t like—yes, and that really pushes him. He doesn’t like to lose. It pushes him. It makes him wanna fight. It’s surprising seeing him come at me like that, but I like it because when you do that, you definitely gonna improve, you definitely—and the thing about that process is the things you learn, you don’t forget those things. No, you don’t. It stays with you because such experience—there are some, I can read a book and all that, and then forget some parts of it, but when I experience it, when I go through it—I could tell you 1,001 times, like, line by line how it went. Yeah.

So with him, I tell his daddy—that dad, he say, the dad always tells me whatever I’m doing, it is really working. Because he also affects him in other parts of the things he does. He’s like a genius, he says, but for him, chess, he’s so passionate about the game. He does well in so many other things. He shows me the things he build, like, it’s mind blowing.

Elizabeth: Wow.

Adu: He’s an eight-year-old boy. There are some things you don’t even understand—I don’t even know what the word GDP is it, he told me what it means. He told me the countries that has the iGDP, the low, he’s an eight—so that’s one thing I like about the game chess. If you’re passionate about the game and you’re really into it, it actually affects other things you do unconsciously. You don’t even have to—because you need a whole lot to, to stay afloat to, to get some results. So if you can, you consciously put the same effort in the other things you do.

Elizabeth: So have you noticed, ‘cause you have many students from many different parts of the world and many different age groups and ethnicities and different genders. Are there substantial differences in your creative approach depending on the sort of demographics of the world?

Adu: There are, like when I work with people from back home, it’s a little different because you have to actually show them things they can relate with it. It’s totally, you see, kids, from different demographics and all that, it is totally different. The black kid in the US is different from a black kid in Nigeria, the way they see things. So you, I can’t just give them all the, you can’t just give them all the information based on, well, this is it. You have to look at their background, to look at what they can relate to, that way helps their learning process even faster.

Yes, definitely, I—different the way you go through that. And that’s why before I teach any student, I always ask questions like, okay, what do you want? What do you wanna achieve? What’s your level? What are your goals? For how long? I don’t, it doesn’t matter if you are five, six, just let ’em know. So I don’t want to situation whereby, oh, my dad wants me to do it, or my mom wants me to do it. Why do you want to do it? So, it’s very important. That way, I can always come back to the question if I have some roadblock trying to get through to them, because I can just come back and tell them, these are the things we want to do, so if you really want to do, this is how we have to go about it.

  • Clip #2 Intro 

Elizabeth: Our second clip is from our conversation with Laura Zam, screenplay writer, speaker, and sexuality educator.

Michael In this clip, Laura asserts that one of the fundamental functions of the creative process involves healing, from trauma, from confusion, from fear. In that regard, she says that pleasure is crucial to any healthy creative process, for it provides the setting for the creative act.  

  • Clip #2

Michael: And then I would like to, a different aspect of that same question. Is the creative writing communities or maybe even, theater making itself—myself as a director, I’m always acutely aware when I’m working with actors of the, the intimate relation between their creativity ‘cause they’re creating the character, I’m just observing and giving hopefully not damaging feedback. But ultimately you want to nurture the creativity of the performer in that situation. In a writing workshop, the same sort of principle applies is that somebody will share a story, or they’ll share a piece, and your goal is to nurture that creative imagination and not to do anything that might stifle it or divert it or undermine it. Do you have a particular sort of approach or philosophy that you use when you’re in those kinds of situations?

Laura: Yeah, I think that there’s different aspects to it. One is to, right, to let people come forth with whatever it is that comes forth and there is something inherently healing about that. There’s something inherently healing and expression, especially if somebody is, has a kind of trauma that feels shameful. And it doesn’t have to be sexual trauma that feels shameful. I think a lot of people absorb the effects of trauma as a kind of self-blame or shame. And so, expression in and of itself can be profoundly healing just to get it out and to say, “This happened to me.” Or even, “I did this.” Right?

But beyond that, there are other ways that I think that creativity can be healing. Part of that is, I think shaping these narratives or helping people understand aesthetic shape is something that I believe can be healing. But people have to be ready for that because sometimes people only want to express, that’s where they are. It’s very raw act. A very courageous act to just get something out, let’s say get something on paper that has always been a secret. And that may be enough. That may be a lot, and it may be, like I said, profoundly healing. But there are other people for whom that’s not enough, and that’s where this aesthetic shaping might be helpful because then you’re using the rules of narrative to create more of that distance between you and this story where you can now look at this as a story, as a monologue. Not just saying, okay, this horrible thing happened to me. But that really is a phase, I think. Somebody would have to be ready for a phase like that.

And I’ve also taught performance in conjunction with this because I think that part of being traumatized can also be, we can feel very judged and so through the act of performance—and also, we can be dissociated from our bodies—and performance can teach us to be in our bodies and to create, have a visceral sense of power in our bodies. And I think that can also be healing.

Elizabeth: To expand a bit on this educational work that you’ve done in so many realms. You’re also an award-winning author of The Pleasure Plan and other books, as well as an internationally recognized expert and coach on issues of sexuality as you commented earlier, including, quote, “beyond consent education” on college campuses and elsewhere about sensual potential and more. And clearly these are extremely intimate and life altering issues that are rarely dealt with as openly and triumphantly as you do. So, could you speak a bit about the interconnections between one’s physical, psychic, sensual, and creative selves?

Laura: Sure. Some people say that the pelvic bowl—

Michael: Okay, I haven’t heard of that term before.

Laura: —the pelvic bowl in a female in any way, or people who, a person who has a female body is this place of creation. The baby is created and nurtured in this space. And so, there are theories that are very interesting to me that talk about this part of the body as being the source of our creativity. And it also touches upon the chakra system. The second chakra is, is in the pelvic region or the sacral region. And this area is also known to be our, where our creativity lives. So, I think that there is something to that and I’m, it’s something I think about a lot. I’m not quite sure what my lived experience is of that, this connection between creativity and, and sexuality. I think that there is there’s lots of different threads that are fascinating to me and also things I’ve experienced, but I’m still formulating how these things connect.

I will say, just to sum up the answer, that I think that sexuality is a part of us that is not often really free and alive and healthy because of lack of sexual education in terms of, because of shame, because of different things that might be part of our lives or relationships. And so, there’s a—for me, my work in sexuality is a way of helping people be whole. It’s a way of helping people have this kind of wholeness. And it also, when I’m working with female bodied people, it also is an act of empowerment because there is a lot of inequity when it comes to women’s sexual wellbeing versus a male bodied sexual wellbeing. And, and there’s more to it than that as well. But—and so, I think that for me, I approach this work as a creative, so it gave me a way to write, to start thinking about it and structuring things and using creativity, but how they ultimately connect, I’m not sure right now. I’m not yet sure.

Elizabeth: You’ve written widely on it, and you’ve also been profiled widely, both as a writer and a performer and a kind of sexuality educator. Both in the New York Times and Salon and HuffPost and other places. And you’ve traveled globally to work with different, in different settings with trauma survivors and others. Can you speak a bit about the responses you’ve received from the others with whom you’ve worked and how their own creative voices emerge as more—you, you spoke about this a bit earlier—but as more integrated human beings. Just the process, as you mentioned before, about objectifying, if you will, or putting one’s own experiences out of the self and being able to write about it using some of the craft of the writer’s process.

Laura: Yeah, so I think that, just to clarify, I think that what I said before is just, I’m still like connecting things for myself in a very personal way. But going back to what you’re asking specifically, yeah, I think the creative process can be very helpful in terms of any kind of healing, really, any kind of healing.

And I think when it comes to sexuality, I think that pleasure is a really interesting exploration because pleasure also is, takes us out of the ordinary and puts us into the realm of the extraordinary. Because if I’m going about my day, I’m often stressed and, and I’ve got a long list of things I have to do and I’m it’s, it’s very, it’s very ordinary, normal experience of being, of disconnect. Disconnect from something transcendent. But pleasure acts, asks of us that we step outside of that and that we now give ourselves this permission to have expanse. It’s like expanding time, right? To just sit with the coffee and just to experience the talking. That’s the flow state, I think just to, that is the flow state there, is to just be present, to be fully present. And when we are fully present, that’s where, to me, healthy sexuality emerges from. It emerges from this place of presence.

And I guess art in many ways, or creativity, also comes from that place. It comes from these extraordinary moments or time periods where we can just be fully present and notice and attune to beauty and we can channel whatever needs to be channeled, and we can maybe create some of the imagination and create something new. So, I think that there’s maybe pleasure is in some ways a kind of pre-condition for, could be, for the creative process.

Michael: I’m just curious, have you found an opportunity or the inspiration to explore pleasure or you mentioned the goal of sexual healing in your solo performance pieces or in your writing, other kinds of creative writing. Have you found a way to bring that goal into those kinds of spheres?

Laura: Yeah. I think it’s more process oriented. It’s a, it’s about the way that one goes about creating. I do really, I make a very concerted effort to make my creative time very pleasurable with the right cup of tea, with the perfect seat, with the—with taking, I take breaks every 25 minutes and do really pleasurable things during this break. Not explicitly sexual things, but things that bring me pleasure. Though, I could. Five minutes is not a lot of time, but I’m a sexuality educator, I should be—anyway, no I build pleasure into my day because I wanna stay in this realm of the extraordinary, and I don’t want to have this feel like a grind, because that is going to shut down the creative, it’s gonna shut down the channeling. And it’s gonna, and it’s gonna make me, put me in a zone where—the ordinary zone, in the ordinary zone. “I’m, I don’t think my sentence is good enough and I don’t think I’m as good as so-and-so and also so-and-so and so-and-so and so-and-so. And I don’t think I can get this done. And I don’t think I’m smart enough.” And so that to me is the ordinary realm. And, but, in order for me to create in this extraordinary realm and have access to, I think, better ideas wherever they come from, I need to put myself in a different zone.

Michael: So at some level, there’s a direct relationship between the experience of pleasure and the source of ideas themselves or the imagination is fed by the pleasurable experience.

Laura: It is. It is. But I think it’s like, it’s just being in—I was, I read a book on magic recently, which was really fascinating. This is like my candy. I like to read all kinds of books about magic and, anyway, so this book was fascinating because it was about how to think magically. It wasn’t about using specific rituals, it was about just how does a person who’s interested in this, how do they think and how do they create rituals out of this new way of thinking?

And part of that—and this is I think where a lot of these ideas now I’m talking about ordinary, extraordinary, they came out of this reading investigation. Because she said, the woman who wrote the book, her name is Brianna Saussy, she wrote a book called, I think “Creating Magic” [Making Magic: Weaving Together the Everyday and the Extraordinary]. Anyway, it’s an interesting book. So, she, she talks about how, in order to put your—you put yourself in this extraordinary realm and you do it, that’s what the rituals do. You light a candle, right? And you enter, it’s like a doorway, you enter another realm.

  • Clip #3 Intro

Elizabeth: In this clip, Puerto Rican Poet & Educator Naomi Ayala discusses creativity from many perspectives, as a teacher, as a community organizer, and as an essayist and poet.  For her, the poet’s creativity is a “tortured process.”

Michael: Finding the time and energy to immerse yourself in poetry is the greatest challenge, and for Naomi the only way to reduce the torture is to write continually, which of course is impossible.

  • Clip #3 

 Elizabeth: And maybe you could speak about the essay that you worked so hard on about your former teacher and your former mentor, and it took many months of hard work, as well as your poems of course. And then translation is a creative process unto itself. I know you have schedules, and you have rituals, and you have a kind of very disciplined process, and I wondered if you could just share some of that with us.

Naomi: I think. Wow. Yes. Sorry. It’s a tortured process. This is my response.

Michael: You have a rack.

Naomi: This is why I sound like this, and I just I saw it all in my head like this garble of the web of, like, nests and things with feathers poking out. And it’s a lot. It’s a lot. I was thinking today this morning I thought, oh, I’m, I might have a chance to work on something this evening. And I thought, why couldn’t I just want to do one thing? Why couldn’t it just be the one thing just essay, just poetry, just the one thing? Because each one is challenging unto themselves.

I think poetry has always been the most torturous for me. ‘Cause I, in English it’s a different experience and in Spanish it’s a different experience. And I never have enough time to do both as completely as I would like to. So, I’ll hear a line in my head or a stanza or sometimes a full poem, and I’ll write it down in whichever language it is. Then I’ll wait. I call it the sexy stage. And the sexy stage lasts for 24 hours, if I’m lucky, now that I’m old. It used to last 72 hours or week. Now it’s—

Elizabeth: Getting older.

Naomi: Yeah, getting old, it’s like 24 hours. Tomorrow I might decide it’s a horrible thing I wrote. And, and then it’s one thing to decide it’s horrible. Another thing is to decide it’s horrible but look at the first line. That’s not too bad. Can you take that somewhere? Does it need to go somewhere else instead of where it’s going? How can it be tweaked? And so that whole process of inquiry starts. And let’s look at the closing is that, nah, you can live with a bad closing for a while till you develop the body, but it’s this, where is this going? Or—and the worst, which is, I’ll look at it later. It’s too horrible. I don’t know if this, there’s anything worthwhile in here. I’ll wait a week and then the week turns into a month and it’s probably gonna be a reject.

And so in, whether in English or Spanish, the process is the same. But when I’m writing regularly, it becomes this fluid thing and it’s as if the poems, whatever the language, they’re in conversation with one another. And I’ve continued to say or explore something and then I pick it up in a different place in another poem. And that in and of itself becomes more successful.

I think poetry in general, most people would agree it’s the most challenging because it’s just a moment in time and that’s what it is. It’s what makes it so great I think of all the writing genres, but also the most challenging because it’s one moment in time that you’re trying to sculpt. Even when it’s longer, it’s just a freaking moment in time. Did you have a follow up question, Elizabeth?

Elizabeth: No, I, Michael, I think can speak more about the poetic process as a fellow poet.

Michael: So, it sounds you’re saying it is torture to write poetry. If you were to write a chapter or a book on the poetic process—

Naomi: I would rather do anything else. Give me, gimme the job. I would do it, and I would skip this one altogether. Yeah. I wouldn’t do it. Yeah.

Michael: But then you have, the whole, the, you have to, the poet has to sort of enjoy the sexy period, but know that it’s gonna end—

Naomi: It’s gonna end.

Michael: And that’s when the real work starts.

Naomi: And that’s when the real work starts. And then that reaching, some poems I wrote it’s just, it’s horrible, that I wrote 15 or 20 years ago. Every once in a while poke their head. It’s, ah, the poem I couldn’t crack. There you are! Just to spite me, just to remind me. The poem I still cannot crack. I didn’t see a version of it in another poem, I wasn’t able to rewrite it, I wasn’t as, just, I couldn’t figure out that puzzle.

And, but equally there are poems—there’s a young woman who, who was making a short film about my work recently. And she asked me to read some poems and I just thought, oh God, how do I choose the most current thing? The thing I think she would like or other people would like? And then it got to the near the end and she asked me for a poem in my last book and I thought, oh sure, of course I’ll read it for you. And then I read, I thought, oh, I’d forgotten about you, there you’re, this was a successful poem. I like this poem. To this day, I still like this poem. And then that kind of, oh, I got to say what I needed to say in the form that it needed to come in. And it sounds how I wanted it to sound. So, I consider that complete. I still feel good about it. So there are moments like that and that’s worth all the torture crap that you go through for, yeah, it is.

  • Clip #4 Intro

Elizabeth: Our final conversation is with Shakirah Hill Taylor, who is Chief Digital Officer at Fenton Communications. She’s also a social impact visionary, an executive leader, a birth doula, and an author. In this clip she discusses the creative process in the context of developing campaigns of social change. Unlike the other speakers, her process is collaborative, where each team member shares and contributes to the whole.

Michael: Shakirah lays out in detail the variables that her team considers as they construct a campaign that will inspire people to change their lives and possibly the world around them.

  • Clip #4

Michael: And so could you maybe just talk a little bit about that collaborative creative process of taking a campaign from its ultimate goal to theorizing a strategy to actually the practice of it?

Shakirah: Yeah, that’s a great question. When we are working with our clients, there is so much collaboration. We like to say that we co-create in partnership with our clients. We are hired to do the work and we invite our clients to sit at the table and imagine with us.

So, let’s use an advocacy example, ‘cause I, I love our advocacy work. Let’s say we’re trying to get a bill pushed forward to reduce carbon emission. We might imagine a campaign where there’s a Hill Day where we’re having our client talk to policy makers, where we are educating the public on what it means to move towards zero-net carbon emission, ‘cause there’s so much education around that. We might do some advertising; we might do some experiential design where folks actually get to interact. All of these elements require, first and foremost, articulating what that strategy is, just very plainly in writing so that we’re all moving in the same direction. A lot of organizations use the change of theory model and we embed that in our work, which is to say, if doing this will change this outcome. So, if we do this, then what changes as a result? So, if we educate the public on the dangers of rising emission levels, then we can get more people to buy electric cars, change from gas stoves to electric, right? Be more conscious of their carbon footprint, therefore, helping to bring down emission levels.

And so we’ll start with something like a change of theory or an agreement upon what we want our goal to be. And those goals have long shelf lives. Because the work that we do, we’re not like a Droga5 or a more commercial oriented agency, which is, we’re not trying to sell 10 million Nike shoes, and I love sneakers, by the way. We are actually trying to change the world. We’re actually trying to change the world, and so our goals sometimes can feel really theoretical and lofty, but these strategies and these smaller things, that change of theory keeps us focused.

And then we’ll do the designing. We have a full-service creative team led by incredible art directors and our creative director. We have copywriters, we have folks who do voiceover, we have designers. My digital colleagues are thinking about our email campaigns and our social campaigns and how do we get people to do what we call the “stop scroll” effect. We’re inundated with content all day long. How do we get people to stop scrolling and pay attention to what our clients are trying to say? And then all of these things come together, and they advance change, they change a policy, they get a person to sign a petition, to vote for a particular candidate, to behavior change. Maybe, maybe they do decide, hey, I’m gonna turn in my gas vehicle and get an electric vehicle.

Michael: Yeah, ‘cause you’re trying to find like, a trigger for, obviously, an individual, obviously, you’re trying to change the behavior of an individual, but it’s, it is what will trigger them to behave differently.

Shakirah: Exactly.

Michael: Or to act in a particular way.

Shakirah: Exactly. And a lot of that is really tapping into our emotion and human behavior, like you said, the human behavior. And a lot of that work really is understanding the social science element of it and the sociology of it, which is a lot of what I do to coach my team. We’re not just writing tweets. You have to write the tweet in a way that’s resonant with people to get them to pay attention. So even the way that we may change one word could be a make-or-break moment between somebody clicking a link or keep continuing to scroll and not even paying attention. And so, these are creative practices, both in terms of all of the small pieces that have to come together. And then when we step back and look at the bigger piece, the most creative element of it all to me is the world that we imagine if these things work.

Elizabeth: I wanna drill down a little bit more about this fascinating, very humanistic, associative process of creating this campaign, really. Can you talk a little bit about just this generative process or brainstorming process of coming up with images and colors and icons and symbols and all these design elements, each of which bring their own kind of emotional content? And is there a process for just brainstorming all of that and bringing it to the table? Does that come from the client? Do you bring that to the table?

Shakirah: Yeah. Yeah. It’s, the unsexy part of this is a lot of it can be dictated by our client’s proclivity towards taking some risk or their budgets or time, all of that yada. The less fun stuff. When we have the capacity to imagine what happens is that we do go in brainstorming. We invite clients, we invite team members, and we say, “We need to create this thing.” A campaign, a toolkit, or whatever the product is. “And here’s what the situation is.” We always start with a situational analysis.

We can use gun violence as an example. We wanna get folks to, to help pass bills at a state level so that we get less guns or get guns off the street. What do we need to do? We need people to help see themselves as the hero in that story. The hero’s journey.

Elizabeth: The Hero’s Journey, Joseph Campbell, yeah.

Shakirah: Exactly. We need to get people to see themselves as the hero. How do we do that? What is their, what is the ladder of engagement that we take this hero through? And so we think about all of the different touch points that the hero will have to touch in that ladder of engagement. Like you use. What are the different elements that’ll get them to take a different action or behavior change?

And then what are the, the sort of—if we’re building a house—what are the design elements that then come in that help construct the layer of this story that they can then see themselves? So, images is a big one.

Elizabeth: Sure.

Shakirah: When we’re choosing images like stock photography for websites, landing pages, things like that, our team is so intentional and there’s so much conversation around how images are selected. We don’t want people to feel like there’s poverty porn or that we’re misrepresenting particular communities or cultures, that we’re being asset-based and framing in a way that uplifts humanity and celebrates that we can achieve change while being honest about what the stakes are.

And then there’s what are the values that we need to tap into for our audiences? Are we trying to, if we use a different type of agency that’s talking to a different type of audience, they may say we’re tapping into fear. We have to use fear as an inciting emotion to get at certain values. We would wanna tap into things like hope.

Elizabeth: Sure.

Shakirah: For change and progress, if that’s a value for our audiences. So we think about that and then, yeah, the colors come down to clients’ branding. How aligned are we with their brand? Do they want to change their brand? And if they do, what are the different types of colors that are resonant?

I don’t know if you all heard the story about Target and how they picked the structure of the aisles and the colors that they use?

Elizabeth: Oh, no, I don’t think so.

Shakirah: Target is laid out in a way that the colors invite you to keep walking through the store. So you could never—

Michael: That’s why I keep walking.

Shakirah: You can never just go into Target and then just walk out. It’s like the aisles are laid out in a way that you’re like, I feel like I should just keep going down all of these aisles.

Elizabeth: Interesting.

Shakirah: Yeah! We use a similar psychology, but for the good.

  1. Conclusion

Elizabeth: So whether a person plunges into the terror of the creative process or the pleasure, using rigorous study or collaboration and planning, each person develops an understanding of the process that works for them. If you have your own creative process, we’d love to hear about it in the comments. And thanks for sharing.

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