We've all been there. Looming deadline, limited resources, a ponderous brief, a meeting in two days to which you're expected to show up with a handful of ideas for your client's next wave of creative…and you have nothing.
Chin up, fellow warrior. Here are three insights into how the human mind works that can catapult your ability to think creatively and strategically all at the same time.
Remember, great creative is rooted in a strategic insight about the audience—knowledge of what is going on deep in the recesses of the heart and mind where the unconscious drivers of human behavior live. Getting people to pay attention is easy. Doing it with something highly relevant is more difficult, yet much more effective in creating long-term memories associated with your brand.
Which brings us to the most important strategic insight you can use to think quickly and deeply about your next creative challenge. People, in general, don't know why they do things. Rather, they just do what "the force" compels them to do and then explain their actions later.
The good folks in the world of brain science have done much of the heavy lifting required to demonstrate that even the most highly evolved homo sapiens among us have little no active control over his or her cognitive facilities. The following strategies contain some of their most compelling and useful insights.
Initiate Human Irrationality
You and almost every human being on the planet has been rewarded by evolution with a part of the brain called "the cortex." This makes you capable of reason and rationalization. In fact, you're so smart, you can come up with a thousand reasons why you do the things you do. The trouble, according to neuroscience, is that all of them would be something less than truth. That's right. According to some of the most highly evolved minds in the field of human behavior, we are still highly motivated by primal survival impulses that come from what is often called the "reptilian" brain. And our rationality actually complicates things for us. Because humans will fight to the death for something they believe in. While lesser evolved creatures will simply flee at the first sign of a threat to their ability to remain in the gene pool.
Our ability to reason can and does lead to doing unreasonably irrational things. Like argue over which computers are better. Mac or PC? The rational mind can only draw one conclusion. That both are capable of performing amazingly complex processes. Which is better depends on the user and his or her personal needs and goals. Meanwhile, an entire culture of zealots exist on both sides of the fence ready to defend their preferred machine and operating system "to the death."
How can you tap your audience's irrational side? What ideas will challenge their current thinking? What are their strongest beliefs? How can you support them? What will cause people to rally around your idea?
Motivate The Mirror Neuron
Numerous studies in human cognition show that when people think, they don't think in words or concepts. Instead, the mind uses mental imagery when it is engaged in the process of thinking—95% of which happens unconsciously. Every mind has an eye. And like real eyes, some see more clearly than others. Help people form images in their mind. Mental images are potentially more powerful than real ones. Because our capacity for reason can quickly dismiss images out in physical space as fictional. However, when we see images in our mind, different parts of our brain are activated.
When it comes to mental images, few are more powerful than the one starring ourselves (or someone we know and can relate to) engaged in a potentially rewarding activity. And when we envision these kinds of images, it stimulates what scientists call "the mirror neuron." This is the same neuron that fires regardless of whether the activity is being observed or actually being performed by the observer. Activating this neuron can effectively cause people to imagine themselves engaging in a specific action. Which is prerequisite to them actually doing it.
What mental imagery can you elicit that includes your audience engaging in a specific activity related to your business offering? What actions do you want them to take? How can you help them see themselves doing that very thing?
Activate the Amygdala
During moments of intense joy, or any emotion for that matter, there is an area of the brain called the limbic system that becomes highly active. And as irrational beings (with the capacity to rationalize everything we do) we think (like it or not) through our emotions. Our most powerful ideas and associations are the result of highly emotional processes that sear things into our long-term memories.
At the white-hot center of our emotions is a little almond-shaped cluster of neurons called the Amygdala. (ah-mig-duh-luh) When the amygdala is active, it makes us pay attention. Right now. And it makes us respond before any signals from the cortex can be received. In other words, activating someone's Amygdala is like lighting a fire under them.
Everyone has issues, big and small, that can often seem unsolvable. Presenting real solutions to specific issues can activate the Amygdala, creating a feeling of pleasure that says, "go ahead, you deserve it."
What are the most emotionally pressing issues your audience deals with? How can you address those issues? What can you promise that will bring intense and powerfully positive emotions to your audience's lives?
Great ideas don't come easy. And while there are no real shortcuts to doing genius level creative work, brain science gives us great insights that can accelerate our thinking about how to address a communication problem or challenge. And since all human action begins when things from the outside come in through the senses and enter the brain, it seems like it just might be a great place to start.
Originally published Mar 17, 2014 3:58:33 AM, updated July 28 2017