Creativity is a Process – Tim Leake Interview
Part 2 of 3

Dedicated to Dan Higgins @adscientist Medical Officer US Army deployed  Monday, Aug. 23rd to Afghanistan and will be reading Part 2 – Tim Leake blog on the plane.

Part 1 of my interview with Tim Leake looked at the insight gained by teaching the creative process; in this part, we discuss the roles solitude, discipline and simplicity play in giving him the mental space to work.

New York City – Soho

Ah, high school: close friends, spirit-filled gymnasiums and what seemed like innumerable essays. But, in addition to the ups and downs of adolescent life, high school often brings out talents and skills that are the first kernel of our professional careers. This certainly seems to be the case for Saatchi & Saatchi Creative Director Tim Leake, who realized this thanks to a classmate.

Relishing a Creative Challenge

“One of my favorite compliments ever was back in high school, in computer science class,“ he recalls. “Only myself and one other kid were any good at programming, and one day that kid looked at how I solved a particular coding problem. He was really impressed, because he said he’d never have thought of doing it the way I did…I’ve always loved the challenge of solving problems through creativity.”

This is fundamentally linked to his belief about the true role of the advertising profession. Tim believes, and many probably would agree, that, “Advertising is about providing creative solutions to business problems.”

Inspiration Comes from Balance and Discipline

On the surface, creativity seems to be something that “hits” someone via the influence of a muse, a daydream or a eureka moment. But, in a profession that demands production level creativity on a daily basis, how does Tim manage to seek inspiration? “It was easier as a kid,” he says, “because I had so much time to devote to it…as I get older, I have to be much more disciplined in order to act on it.”

As responsibilities mount and attention becomes more fragmented, Tim acknowledges that what once came easily takes more deliberate focus. “One definitely has to work to retain creativity. Life is really good at letting other stuff get in the way,” he admits. So, in what ways can the idea of discipline serve creative inspiration?

First, Tim believes in the importance of solitude: “You need time alone, free from distractions, in order to get anything done. It’s really easy, actually, to think of clever ideas. The hard part is making them a reality.” Tim takes this seriously and treats the discipline in a way that others can understand its importance. “I schedule meetings with myself. I reserve a meeting room and go there to work. People have a habit of thinking I’m goofing off if I’m sitting on the couch with a notebook – [it’s] sad, but true. They also don’t mind interrupting me. But somehow, meetings are inviolate. If I’m in a meeting, nobody even thinks of bugging me.”

Balancing being a father and a creative director poses exciting new challenges for Tim as well. However, anyone who’s spent time with children knows that there’s as much inspiration in the time spent with them as there is challenge. With the idea of creative challenges in mind, I asked Tim what he did in cases of “writer’s block,” during the time he carves out for solitude. He responded with candor: “I’m often not in ‘the mood’. But you have to try anyway. Sometimes that gets better once I get started, and sometimes it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, I’ll go do something else. Then try again later. Other than that, just remember it’s a process. You can’t force yourself to think of a brilliant idea.”

Importance of Simplicity

A final  key aspect of Tim’s work and observations that is à propos of refining creative habits is the importance of simplicity. Tim noted that the search for simplicity has always been a passion of his:  “Communication is like throwing a ball to someone. If I throw you one ball, you’re likely to catch it. But if I throw you five at once, you likely won’t catch any of them. I like to joke that one of life’s great ironies is how complicated the Wikipedia page for Occam’s Razor is.” When it comes to messaging, visuals and creative concepts, we shouldn’t stray from the beauty that simplicity can instill.

Well, now to distill a complicated discussion into clear takeaways. Remember that creativity is a process, and one that can’t be forced. Habits such as making regular time for personal solitude and remembering the value of simplicity can work significantly to preserve inspiration in an otherwise chaotic life. As Tim remarks, advertising is about providing creative solutions to a business problem. The best place to start this process however, is by making sure you’re practicing habits that ensure that can happen.

If you found the methods for keeping creativity vibrant fascinating in Part 2, then you’ll surely want to check out the final installation of our conversation with Tim Leake. In Part 3, we will delve into an overarching piece of advice that has served Tim well and we will deliver a set of takeaways with which you will be able to approach creativity in your career, personal life and the overlap in between.


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