Let me answer that up top—the idea that younger people are somehow more creative than older people is a fallacy. 

I’m older, I know. And no, I’m not just pleading relevance. There’s an actual reason. 

I’ve been in the creative field of advertising for nearly 20 years. The main thing I’ve learned over that time is that the engine of creative thinking is fueled by process. The purpose of which is to learn *how* to think. And that takes time. 

No, The Process doesn’t favor older people. But it does favor discipline, patience, and faith. Which again, takes time. 

I broke into advertising as a copywriter. I was in my 30s, but felt no pressure to compete with younger people. I was eager and hungry and learned quickly how to ask the right questions to glean critical information, how distill problems to their core elements, and how to discover real solutions. I was a sponge for the the wisdom of seniors, and a disciple to Concept. I wanted to create work that really fucking moved people toward things.

During my crash course in creative problem solving, I was introduced to The Process. Basically, it’s like this – 

Frame problem. Set goal. Build solution. 

There’s a lot more to it than that, clearly, but you get the picture. And believe it or not, it works.

My best ideas (note: ones that solve problems/reach goals) have come during the most mundane routines imaginable. Scooping dog poop in the backyard. Driving my kids around town. Showering. 

Only, it’s not just that. Being creative doesn’t mean walking around gazing at the sky waiting for great ideas to appear. 

Not yet, anyway. 

First comes the real work.  

The Process requires building the foundation for the solution, learning as much as possible about a thing, poring over data, creating an “other” who represents the target audience (and then having long conversations with them in your head and sometimes aloud), and setting realistic goals. Then more research and more questions until you know as much about the problem as possible. 

This is when it gets really interesting. Some people will tell you that this is when you get to work writing and concepting and dumping your guts onto a page to sift through later. 

Except, you don’t. You do something completely contradictory to sweatshop mentality. You let go. Walk away. Leave the whole thing on the table to play fetch with the dogs or take a ride up to the mountains. Invariably throughout my career, this marination is requisite for the bubbling up of concepts that you then shape and mold and beat the hell out of until you determine whether it works. 

In time, when you’ve worked The Process enough, sifting through these ideas to determine what works becomes an art form. 

The Process demands a certain level of trust. Faith, even. Without it, you’re spinning your wheels working yourself into a sweat-soaked fist of insecurity. Serving the job instead of solving the problem. 

I’ve worked in places that didn’t understand this level of creative efficiency. People worked till 10 at night because … dammit that’s what you’re supposed to do. It’s “the culture” of our industry.  

That’s not only bullshit, but it’s inefficient and bush league.

The Process works. If more agencies adopted it into their creative culture, they’d have happier and more productive teams. 

I routinely solve complex creative problems today in 1/4 of the time it used to take because of The Process—and the discipline to work it. 

Which is all to say that the only advantage a young person has on me today is they can work till 10 every night and not miss out on kissing their children goodnight. 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate young creatives. On the contrary. Their energy and enthusiasm is contagious. I’d like nothing more than to work with young conceptual thinkers both to learn from them, and to show them how to harness their powers to connect dots better, faster, and more efficiently. 

I do, however, loathe when people see my billing rate and put me into the “overqualified” bucket without realizing that efficiency matters. I’ve been at this long enough to know how to think. I’m a concept machine calibrated to solve problems. Oh, and I’m also a fast typist. 

So don’t be quick to judge people by age. Or billing rate. 

That’s it. That’s all I wanted to say about this. And no, not all older people get this stuff. But the ones who do? They’re gold.

(And yes, for all the cynics—at some point my brain will start to fire slower and my experiences will begin to fade–yours will too–providing fewer reference points to draw from. I’m guessing the brain fades at the same rate it matures. Only, it’s not fading yet. Thanks to understanding The Process, I’m in my conceptual prime.)

***

Jim

Identity Crisis
The Tale of Two Conservatives

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.

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