Thinking about “creativity”

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Today’s blog comes from a daily writing prompt asking “What does a typical brainstorming session for you entail? How do you get creative?” As I thought about this, it is a bit disappointing. I feel as though my creativity is lacking more than I care to admit.

When I was doing radio full time, I prepped a show every day. I was always on top of the news, I watched (or at least read about) the “hot” TV shows that people were talking about, I was tuned into local happenings, and was always writing. I carried a notebook with me to jot down observations, and things to talk about on the air. I also wrote down ideas for future shows, jokes, or bits. Today, my life basically consists of waking up, driving to work, working, driving home, sleeping – then repeat. When you don’t observe or create on a daily basis…it becomes difficult to do.

As I prepared to write this, I found some great quotes on creativity….

Creativity Quotes:

Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

Earl Nightingale says, “Creativity is a natural extension of our enthusiasm.”

Edward de Bono says, “Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.”

Ken Robinson says, “Creativity is putting your imagination to work, and it’s produced the most extraordinary results in human culture.”

And, Julia Cameron says, “Creativity is always a leap of faith. You’re faced with a blank page, blank easel, or an empty stage.”

CREATIVE LADY

Why is being creative and creativity important?

On the website for the Topeka, Kansas public library, Betsy Roe says, “It is because it makes life infinitely interesting and fulfilling. Creativity is a way of living life that embraces originality and makes unique connections between seemingly disparate ideas. Creativity is about living life as a journey into seeing and communicating the extra-ordinariness of the simplest, most every day acts.”

She continues, “We often think about creativity as making something, but in fact the root meaning of the word means ‘to grow’. When we are creative we feel as if the world and all that is in it is vibrantly alive. Creativity’s by-products are some of the major achievements of civilization–from the invention of the wheel to Mozart’s sonatas. Human beings are essentially born creative–from infancy on we find innovative ways to negotiate life. The most creative people find ways around obstacles because they see them not just as roadblocks but also as opportunities. Creativity expands our perceptions and along with expanded perceptions come new ways of problem solving.”

Pretty powerful stuff, huh? The quotes and paragraphs above have prompted and encouraged me to once again be creative! They also have caused me to look back at a time when I was a bit more creative, and to people who I admire for their creativity.

Creative influences

With 30+ years in radio, I have worked with some very creative people. Each was creative in their own way. Many of them were morning show personalities and had quick wit. Two morning guys come to mind immediately…

Two Jims – Bosh and Biggins.

I worked with Bosh in Detroit and in Saginaw. I would compare him to Robin Williams. He was always “on”. Give him a random topic and he could do a 10 minute bit on it and be hilarious. He is also a voice actor and can do many voices, bouncing from voice to voice, which he would obviously incorporate into his show. When given free reign to ad-lib, he always made me laugh and left me wondering “how the hell does he do that?!”

I worked with Biggins in Flint and Saginaw. He is one of the fastest wits, I have ever met. There is never a shortage of punch lines, some of which you could never tell on the air! The way he can come up with a pun or an association to create a punch line with little or no prep just amazes me. Sometimes I can read a story and try to come up with a punch line and just struggle, not Jim. He’s often got two or three. I’ve always wished I could be as quick witted as he is.

Mr. Molson

I have mentioned Johnny Molson in past blogs, and he certainly needs a spot here in a blog about creativity. When we worked together at WKSG, Kiss-FM in Detroit, he did the evening show. He also wrote and produced copy for our voice guy (the great Stu Bowers). We really had a lot of fun on that station, and that fun was also conveyed in the sweepers that played between records.

I always looked forward to when new pieces of imaging showed up in the studio. Stu had a wonderful delivery to the lines that Johnny wrote. He could be very serious or very playful. Two pieces of imaging that I remember are examples of both.

His serious delivery was perfect for a sweeper that talked about how every station in Detroit, except ours, emitted harmful waves that were dangerous to wild life. It talked about how important it was to listen to us and not those other stations. In that serious voice, he says, “The choice is yours. You can listen to WKSG Kiss-FM and know you are doing your part for the environment or you can listen to those other stations and watch innocent penguins in the Antarctic barbecue!”

His playful read was perfect for another sweeper I remember. His read was perfect. It started serious – “WKSG, Kiss-FM. Listening to us is better than sex!” Then, he loosens up and says, “Well, maybe not … but it did give me a chance to say ‘sex’ on the radio. Whoops I said it again! I’ll say it again, sex, sex, sex….” he giggles and laughs as the thing faded out. It was funny and probably a bit controversial for 1989, but it got people talking and listening – and that is what you wanted.

Those things that Johnny created were just brilliant. His evening show was like a morning show – it had bits, sound effects, regulars, and a lot of laughter. LONG before Whose Line Is It Anyway came to TV, Johnny and some other guys used to perform at coffee shops and on stage doing improve comedy. I had the pleasure of watching this group many times and it was hilarious! No matter what suggestion was made by the audience, he and the group were able to ad-lib and create the scenes. I still think back to those shows and remember realizing just how talented he was – and still is. He still occasionally gets together with the group and performs. No surprise that he is the creative services guy at his current station. He is consistently writing and producing award winning commercials for clients. He has also written a book and speaks about advertising.

They say the right side of the brain is what controls the creative and artistic aspects of a person. I always loved that he named his business Right Brain Visions.

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Jeff “from Burton”

Jeff Michaels isn’t in radio anymore, and that’s a shame. He’s a very funny guy. He and his buddy Tim (who I will talk about more in a minute) both started in radio at about the same time. He was just an intern when I met him. He started working at a small AM station and eventually teamed up with Tim to have the top rated shows in markets in Arkansas and Ohio.

I remember he would occasionally call my show as some character and ad-lib some ridiculous story or joke. Eventually, that character became “Jeff from Burton.” I asked him to cut a bunch of lines for me that I could play over song intros. I think I wrote some, but many of them he ad-libbed. One I remember went something like “Hi, I’m Jeff in Burton. You’re listening to Keith Allen on B-95. He eats crayons (breaks into huge laughter and abruptly stops) … wait, that’s me.”

His warped sense of humor stemmed from some great creativity!

Tim Timmerman

While all of the people I have mentioned are all very creative, this guy is one of the most creative – Tim Timmerman. As I stated, he worked with Jeff Michaels and they dominated the markets they were in when they were doing their morning show. They understood how to drive listeners to their website with video content, and how to connect with their audience. Separately, they are both very talented. Together, they were dynamite!

Before they worked together, Tim had a show in Port Huron. Once a month, he’d drive over to Flint and after my show, we’d go into the production room and brainstorm. If I had to pick a time when I was most creative – this would be it. We’d look ahead at what was going on and jot down possible ideas. Some ideas came from bouncing thoughts about topics off each other. Some ideas took longer to emerge than others.

I think that first get together, we wanted to create some phoney commercials for each other. I voiced his stuff and he voiced mine. One of the first ideas was a fan club. What if we both had fan club? We wrote and created a very convincing spot inviting people to become a member of the Keith or Tim Fan Club. “You’ll get a membership card made out of high quality construction paper that gets you free water at area restaurants and an autographed Post-It note.” I used to play it once a show. I remember a gal came up and wanted her membership card! So I went out and made one for her!

Before Christmas, we were talking about whatever the “hot” toy was that year (probably a Playstation or something like that). We made a fake commercial for “Keith Allen” and “Tim Timmerman” Action Figures! “Get your kids what they REALLY want this Christmas! Collect all 42!” Shameless self promotion and funny stuff.

Also before Christmas, I thought it would be funny to say I shopped at a non-existent store every year. I said that our engineer ran a patch into their PA system for me, so I could listen any time I wanted – so I wouldn’t “miss any deals”. I found this extremely cheesy version of Jingle Bell Rock (played on strings – you know, your typical bad music that plays in department stores), and used that as the background music. I put on a voice that made me sound drunk and I would talk about what was going on in various departments of the store. I had a punch line for each bit and as the PA announcer, I was about as incompetent as I could make him. Every time I “checked in” after every punch line, I would usually say something like “Thousands of people are out of work – and this guy still has a gig!” or something like that. That bit stemmed from a creative brainstorm session with Tim.

At election time, as you know, there are countless ads for politicians. So Tim and I created spots promoting us. “Keith Allen for DJ”. You know how at the end of the ads it will say something about being “paid for by Joe Crawley for Congress” or “paid for by Democrats who want your vote committee”? I wish I still had a copy of my phoney ad – I actually called my mom and had her say, “Paid for by Keith Allen’s mother.”

One of the things Tim and I would look at when we brainstormed was what month it was. There is no shortage of “May is ____________ month” months. Some of the months that we found were just crazy. One of my all time favorite bits was one we did for June. June, in case you didn’t know, is National Accordion Awareness Month! I would think you’d be aware of an accordion if it was nearby! Tim and I produced a simple sweeper that would play between songs. It stood out like a sore thumb, because it was so ridiculous. Here is that sweeper in a nutshell:

“B-95’s Keith Allen reminds you that June is National Accordion Awareness Month. Here’s an Accordion Awareness Month update: (Insert some silly 10 second clip of accordion music). Listen all month long for more Accordion Awareness Month Updates!”

The idea was to make the listener wonder “What the hell was that?” Mission accomplished!

Time to get back in the creative saddle

Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu says, “The creative process is mysterious; a conversation, a ride in the car, or a melody can trigger something.”

The great Miles Davis says, “I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning… Every day I find something creative to do with my life.”

With all of the positive changes that have happened in my life over the past couple years, it is time for me to be more creative. I used to write songs. I used to write jokes. I used to write stories. I used to create. I have decided to once again grab my little notepad and begin observing. Once again, I will look for things that might otherwise go unnoticed. I will take note of things that can spawn an idea for a bit or joke. I will be inspired by those who have had some creative influence on me and use my “right brain”.

“Creativity is intelligence having fun!” – Albert Einstein.

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Go! Be Creative!

Have You Used Your Imagination, Lately?

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The following blog is based off a speech I had to do in college.  It was a persuasive speech.  While most students tried to persuade me to think one way or the other about marijuana, assisted suicide, or some other hot topic items that I knew my professor had heard a gazillion times, I wanted to do something different.  I wanted to persuade the class to use their imaginations!

I am going to attempt to transform my notes from the speech into this blog and include links to the sound files that I used to illustrate my points….

Without any further ado – get ready to imagine:

Introduction

There is an old saying, “Seeing is believing”.

We live in a society where we can access images of just about anything. We can find them on television, the movies, and all over the world wide web.  However, I’d like us to conjure up an image without having to plug anything in.

I know we are in a speech class and eye contact is important, however, for the purpose of this I need you to close your eyes and listen. (For this part of the blog, I guess you need to keep your eyes open, but you’ll get the illustration).

You are looking at a table. On top of the table is a large lemon.  It is a bright yellow and at its peak ripeness.  Next to the lemon is a sharp knife.  Picture the knife slowly cutting into the lemon.  You can hear the knife cutting through the rind, and you can see the juice coming from the lemon onto the table.  The lemon is now in half.  I want you to pick up the lemon, and bring it towards your mouth …and take a bite into it.

Now open your eyes. How many of you could actually taste the lemon?

Now look down …do you see a real lemon? Of course not.  However, you did SEE it…and seeing is believing.

Picture this …

In radio, we often refer to using the “theatre of the mind”. As someone who has worked in radio for almost 30 years, I have witnessed firsthand the decline in the use of one’s imagination.  There was a time, not so long ago, children would use their imagination to create adventures – to go places they’d never been before – and pretend to be famous athletes, princesses, or dinosaur hunters.  Today, television numbs their minds by spoon feeding them images; video games are graphic and scenarios are predetermined.  Their imagination lies dormant.

Sadly, it’s not just children who no longer use their imagination, but adults too.

In the next couple minutes, I will illustrate the power of the imagination, and by doing so, cause you to want to use it on a more frequent basis.

Prior to television, families would gather around the radio every night and their imaginations would run wild.

I want you to listen to a clip from 1948. Marion and Jim Jordan were Fibber McGee and Molly on the radio.  One of the show’s running gags, was Fibber’s messy closet.  You are about to hear the first time the gag was used.  The McGee’s are trying to figure out what a word means and are looking for the dictionary.  They think it is probably in the hall closet, which we are told is full of McGee’s stuff.  (For blog readers – you need to go to the 4:00 mark to hear the bit.)

After playing  the clip for my speech class I asked them a few questions that illustrated a point –

What color was the door?   What did you see fall out of the closet?

Each one of us saw a different closet door. Maybe it had a glass door handle or maybe it was brass?  Maybe it opened to the left or opened to the right? All of us heard the same clip, but we all aw something different – our own vision of the door and the stuff that fell out!

Imagination

Albert Einstein said

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” “Logic will get you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere”.

While technical advancements make life easier for us, the human imagination is being threatened. Technology encourages us to relax our minds and let others make decisions for us.

Doctor T. Berry Brazelton says, “Television imposes an artificial world of violence and unreachable good and evil numbing” the imagination.

In his article, the Death of Imagination, Duane Loose makes reference to the book “Sibling Society” by Robert Bly. Bly suggests that the measurable decline in the imaginative process of forming imagery in the mind is a direct result of the power of TV, movies and other intense visual media.  These things cause humans to bypass the imagination by feeding explicit images directly into the brain.  No imagination is needed, so the brain doesn’t have to work.  This results in a slow death of the muscles of the mind, because there is no need to form images when they are provided for you.  Scientists say that this will ultimately destroy the human ability to imagine.

To further illustrate my point, think about reading a book in contrast to watching television:

Watching television requires little thought for you to absorb the images, speech, and music which are a part of the program. Reading a book, however, requires imagination to turn letters into words, the words into thoughts, and the thoughts into images and actions.

Entertainment, so called, today requires no imagination. Even the creators of entertainment today lack imagination.  All you have to do is count the slew of old TV shows that have been made into below average movies to see that they lack any type of new idea!

More Old Radio

Radio, in its Golden Age, however stimulated the human imagination. It caused America to see the same program in millions of different ways …. Or if you will…millions of different closet doors.

To further prove the power of the human imagination, I want to tell you about a program that aired as a Halloween themed adventure. On October 30, 1938 radio caused an entire nation to panic.

The Mercury Theatre on the Air, broadcast it’s version of “War of the Worlds” with Orson Wells. As crazy as it sounds today, families listening to the broadcast actually thought that the earth was being invaded by Martians and that the men from space were destroy parts of New York.  The panic that ensued only proves the power and quality of the shows that aired at that time.

It also speaks volumes as to the actors acting ability to stimulate the imagination and make the program believable.

In an 1984 interview, Himan Brown, described radio actors and how they worked. He says, “Their voice and what they did with their voice.  What they did with the words.  They didn’t read- they played.  They touched, they felt.  There was a tremendous relationship in everything and the skillful actors were absolutely brilliant”.

Suspense, was a show that aired on CBS radio from 1940 to 1962.   It was often referred to as “radio’s outstanding theatre of thrills”.  Each week, the listener could hear stars like, Lucille Ball, James Cagney, Katherine Hepburn, and Jack Benny as the show’s weekly guest star.  Stars were drawn to the show, because it required that they actually perform.  The great Cary Grant said, “If I ever do any more radio work, I want to do it on Suspense, where I get a good chance to act”.

One of my favorite Suspense shows was based on Cornell Woolrich’s short story, “Three O’Clock”, which stars the great Van Heflin. A husband (Heflin) thinks that his wife is cheating on him.  He decides to get rid of his wife by building a bomb in the basement.  He wires the detonator to an alarm clock and sets it to go off at “3 O’Clock”, when he will be back at his office.

What he doesn’t plan on is being caught by two burglars when he comes upstairs.  They haul him off to the basement and tie him up and gag him.  What we hear is what he is “thinking” as he is counting the minutes until the bomb goes off.  It is one of the best episodes of the series in my opinion. Take 30 minutes and Notice how the use of sound effects and descriptions by the actors enhance the story and make the tension even greater!

A well written story, performed brilliantly by amazing actors, and brought to life within YOUR imagination!  Everyone listening pictured the characters differently, saw a different basement and different clock.  The imagination is a wonderful thing!

Now, go and imagine something!!!

Sherri Mandell defines imagination as: “the ability to remember, dream, create, improvise and in the process entertain oneself anywhere and anytime.”

We’ve seen how modern technology and entertainment hanker the human’s ability to use their imagination to its fullest potential. We’ve heard of the future ill effects of the non-use of imaginations.  And we’ve dusted off the cobwebs in our mind and used our imaginations a little.

I’d like to encourage you to continue to use it. There are countless hours of old radio shows available online, there are millions of books at the library, and it really isn’t a bad thing to turn off the TV and  daydream every once in awhile.

I will close with another quote from Sherri Mandell, “The next time you see a child lost in a daydream or in an imaginative game, sit down next to him. You might just discover the lost part of yourself, the authentic self who engages with the world without premeditation or pretense and disguise.  The self who dwells in fantasy.  The free and authentic self who is content to just be.”