How to battle boring … even without a budget

I’m working on a new book and studying inspiring examples of creative excellence. This topic is timely because we certainly have an epidemic of dullness in the world, and AI isn’t making it any better!

Early in my career, I learned a powerful lesson on how to battle boredom that changed my professional life forever. I hope this story will inspire you too.

How to battle boring

I began my career in corporate communications and had the amazing opportunity to have my own little company magazine. I did everything – writing, editing, design, and photography.

100 percent human contentThis dates me (painfully), but at this time in my career, a photographer still had to worry about f-stops and film speed. Digital wasn’t a thing—not even close. So, I needed to learn the craft.

I signed up for a weekend class with a master photographer who specialized in the type of corporate photography that was part of my job. He assembled a class of ten students in adjoining suites in a Dallas hotel, and this is where I learned how to battle boring forever.

The first day of class covered the basics of composition and lighting. The second day pushed us to put these lessons into action. The class was divided into two and we were challenged to create photographs that would make the other team laugh, ask questions, or feel curious.

Using Polaroid cameras to create our art on the spot, we were instructed to only use what we could find in the hotel rooms for props. With no budget or outside resources, we depended on the team’s collective imagination to create something out of nothing.

The teacher pushed us. “Never be average or predictable,” he said. “Use the team to create something I’ve never seen before.” We moved, changed, twisted, challenged, and pushed our meager resources until we had singularly unique and bold photographs.

The team trials became progressively more difficult, and near the end of the last day, the teacher issued a final assignment – create a photo that would shock the other team. Until then, creating a funny or puzzling photo had been fun and relatively easy. But shocking? Now we really had to reach … and remember we were stuck in that boring hotel room.

The Shock Doctrine

We did our best and worked to create a photo that we thought was shocking. But then he looked at both teams, shook his head, and said, “You’re not getting it. I mean, you need to create something really shocking. Go back to your rooms and create a photo that will knock our socks off. You have 20 minutes.”

By this point we were working well as a team and we were determined to produce something audacious. We emptied our pockets and backpacks. The women on our team emptied their purses on the floor. Was there anything we could work with?

One of the women had black mascara and started rubbing it on the back of her hand like shoe polish. Then the other woman took it and started rubbing it on her face until it was black as night.

Somebody else had a tiny flashlight. Another person had a mirror that we held up to her nose. We pulled up her blonde hair. At the end of 15 minutes, this was our photo:

battle boring

Yes. We blew their socks off.

Decades later, I still see this photo as a great inspiration. If we could create this ghoulish, one-eyed monster in a dark Hilton hotel bathroom, it made me believe that I could make anything more remarkable. I could battle boring and win. I would never create dull content again.

I didn’t need money to push the limits, and I didn’t need a team of experts. I just had to be desperately dissatisfied with mediocrity.

Money is the bane of creativity

Later in my career, I worked at a plant location that was swimming in money. It was the most profitable plant in the system, and everyone just threw money at every problem. There was so much waste. And so much dull!

I realized that the most creative teams I worked with had the fewest resources. Money was the bane of creativity. It’s possible to battle boring, even with a small budget.

I’ve never met a fellow marketer who told me, “We have too much money in our budget.” No matter where you are in your career, you’ll face resource constraints. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be audacious. In fact, as long as you have access to a tube of mascara, you’ll probably be OK.

Need a keynote speaker? Mark Schaefer is the most trusted voice in marketing. Your conference guests will buzz about his insights long after your event! Mark is the author of some of the world’s bestselling marketing books, a college educator, and an advisor to many of the world’s largest brands. Contact Mark to have him bring a fun, meaningful, and memorable presentation to your company event or conference.

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