In his Confessions of an Advertising Man, Mr. Ogilvy has much to admit not just on the subject of honesty, but also on his creative process. One facet in particular struck me: how he nurtures his imagination.
The majority of business men are incapable of original thinking…Their imaginations are blocked.
As a writer, I often experience this, suffering through unproductive weekends – or even entire winters. But Ogilvy’s process for unblocking his own mind fascinated me:
…I have developed techniques for keeping open the telephone line to my unconscious, in case that disorderly repository has anything to tell me. I hear a great deal of music…I take hot baths. I garden. I go into retreat among the Amish. I watch birds. I go for long walks in the country. And I take frequent vacations, so that my brain can lie fallow – no golf, no cocktail parties, no tennis, no bridge, no concentration; only a bicycle.
He sought out activities without mental stimulation to deliberately un-focus his mind, and often.
While thus unemployed in doing nothing, I receive a constant stream of telegrams from my unconscious, and these become the raw material for my advertisements.
So to catalyze creative ideas, Ogilvy rested his mind frequently. In this way, he allowed for all his observations (stored day after day in his memory) to flow into focus slowly.
It’s impossible to hold in focus one’s entire arsenal of knowledge at once. If you’re thinking about one tree, you can only direct your attention to the nearby trees, never the entire forest at once. But by resting the conscious mind, the subconscious information (observations, memories, ideas) can be sifted through.
Ogilvy's second lesson to me:
A flourishing imagination requires both mental focus and rest. A mind blocked from its fuel must pause to unblock itself. Tap into your subconscious reservoir by relaxing your active mind often.
(If you missed Ogilvy's first lesson to me, you can read it here.)