Thursday, January 3, 2008

Creativity Tip: Listen and Learn

Everywhere you are, there are people you can learn from -- if you're willing to listen.

While I was at Corporate Communications Group, I learned more about writing and business from Cotton Smith than he will ever know.

Cotton is a fascinating man -- a devoted family man, tremendous business success and a nationally lauded Western author. He's an amazing blend of strategy and creativity, a mix I never appreciated -- in others or myself -- until I worked with him.

One day, Cotton stopped me in the hall at CCG and inquired about the strategy behind an ad I had written for one of his clients. I disdainfully flipped my hair and reminded him that I was on the creative staff.

He politely flipped me back, as only Cotton could do. (Think words, not fingers.)

"What's the first thing you do when you sit down to write?" he asked.

"I think about what the client wants to communicate," I said, in a creatively sarcastic tone. "Then I figure out what would grab the audience's attention and start writing. That's creative."

"That's strategic," he firmly corrected me. "You didn't just sit down and put pretty words on paper. You thought it through, strategically. And I need that strategy to sell this copy to the client."

I winced. I listened. I learned. And I explained the strategy for my headline and copy.

Before he walked away, Cotton looked me in the eye and said, "I don't ever again want to hear you say you're not strategic. Am I clear on that?"

He was clear. I am creative. I am strategic. And I am eternally grateful to Cotton, for this lesson and all the others.

Finding a strategic mentor is truly a gift. To discover what you should look for in a strategic mentor, you can learn a lesson from Mike Brown -- check out his checklist on the mikebrownspeaks blog.

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