by Andy Capp
Okay, so it takes me a while to learn my lesson. I had just dropped off my sons, Baseball and Bottle, at preschool; and, running late as usual with head spinning with which ASAP would be ASAP'er when I got to work, I accidently took that turn and ended up sitting at that stoplight.
You've probably aged a few months at a stoplight like this one before. It's at the intersection of one of the mainest and one of the lamest streets in town. It's the kind of stoplight that seems to forget that it's also a "go" light for the minor street -- especially when you're late to do a stack of ASAPs at the station.
I sat there, waiting, checking my watch every other second, waiting, watching absolutely no cross traffic whatsoever, waiting, peeking at the ever growing trail of cars in the rearview, waiting. A wait like this is one of my visions of Hell. In fact, I half expected the light pole to start bleeding and the crosswalk sign to start flashing, "ABANDON ALL HOPE, ALL YE WHO STOP HERE!"
That's when an Angel from above came to my rescue. Actually, it was the woman in the car behind me. Fed up, she jumped out of her car, raced to the light, slapped the pedestrian crossing button and leaped back behind the wheel just in time to enjoy the satisfaction only a green light can give you at a time like that.
Several thoughts came to me at that moment. First, while I'm sure a cop would find something illegal about her technique, it was a great solution, and it worked! Second, it's amazing how I had overlooked such an obvious solution (of course, the other obvious solution was avoiding the light all together, but it's the only path that takes me past the window my boys wave from each day. Sometimes the heart outvotes the head...). Third, here was another situation to over-analyze and turn into a RAP column.
Me, over-analyze? Hard to believe, friends (Ha!), but I over-analyze just about every situation from whether to shave or shower first in the morning to what creative approach I should take with every commercial or promo I tackle.
So, why not look for an obvious answer, like the lady at the light, and go with it? Fact is, I'm really good at ignoring the obvious. I tell myself it's that little voice in the back of my head that screams, "MAKE IT REAL CREATIVE!" Or, maybe there's some sort of separation in my head between "creative" and "obvious" -- a solution isn't creative unless it's tied to all sorts of time and thought and angst; and somehow, an obvious answer doesn't fit this criteria, so it's a lesser answer. So, I tend to ignore the obvious, even though it might be a perfectly workable solution.
That's how I justify this spacey character flaw of mine. The problem is, I'm assuming that the obvious answer is the easy answer, and that's seldom the case. While the creative uses your imagination, the obvious takes a great deal of perceptive skill, which also eats up time, thought, and emotional stability. Just because the obvious answer is staring you in the face doesn't mean it's going to jump up and down screaming, "Pick me!" If obvious answers came easy, why didn't I think to do the crosswalk button dash after sitting at that light eight thousand times? The truth: when you're looking for an answer, obvious or "out there," sometimes you have to look at the problem from many different angles. In fact, I've found that all the angles I use when looking for a "creative" idea work just fine when I'm looking for an "obvious" idea. Here's a list of some of those angles:
1. Look at the entries in the dictionary under the third letter in the name of the product/promotion. Count down each page the number of letters in the name of the product/promotion, and make a list of the words you land on. Look for relationships between these words and the project. Can't find any? Try the fourth letter.
2. Listen to an old RAP Cassette at random and listen for ideas to "borrow" or build on. No answers? Try another Cassette.
3. Grab a SFX disc at random and listen to the cuts, back to front. Nothing? Try another SFX disc.
4. Borrow a magazine from a coworker. Go through the pictures in the magazine and think up new captions that apply to the picture and your project.
5. Stare into space for five minutes, telling yourself over and over not to think about the project. Nothing after five minutes? Try ten.
6. Page through one of those "Top 40" list books and make your own list of titles that apply to your project.
7. Call someone on the RAP Network, explain your project, and ask for ideas. Nothing? Try the next name on the list.
8. Walk to the newsroom and read the latest on the wire - national, entertainment, sports, whatever.
9. Ala Letterman, write a top ten list about the project - funny, sad, disgusting, the sky's the limit. It's your list.
10. Doodle. (I've gotten to be quite an expert on doodling with a box of colored markers ready in my desk for full color scribbles). Just think about the project and start scribbling away.
These are my angles, the places I go at random when I'm stuck for an idea. What it comes down to is forcing your brain to look at whatever you're working on in a different light, internally or externally. I've found both obvious and off-the-wall ideas using these angles. Here's the odd part. Several of my "obvious" ideas have earned me kudos at the station for being "so creative." I guess a good idea is a good idea, and no one cares if it came from observation or imagination.
Finally, before I get a hundred "Why don't you just..." letters, Baseball and Bottle now wave at me from a window that keeps me away from the offending stoplight, thank you. If I'd just remember that they go to a new preschool now. As I said, it takes me a while to learn my lesson.