BRAVE is AHA’s code for creative work that rocks. Each of the letters stands for a characteristic that we think defines exceptional work. It has to be brilliant. It has to be relevant to the audience. It needs to drive action.

You get the point.

BRAVE is our formula for testing whether our work meets our standards of excellence.

But there’s not much of a formula for getting to BRAVE. In fact, sometimes the less formula there is, the better.

That’s because creativity isn’t a skill. It’s an attitude.

You can’t learn it. But you can practice it.

Here are five things I practice (and encourage our creative team to practice) in the service of creating BRAVE work.


1. Learn to love the messiness.

My first draft might feel disjointed. Confused. Full of tangents and wild hairs. But I know that’s OK as long as it comes straight from the heart.

This takes going to a quiet, lonely corner. Putting on my headphones AND my hoodie to block out the world. Or, when I’m really into it, typing with my eyes closed. I’m writing as fast as I can and trying not to care about the results. It looks a little crazy. But who cares? Getting the idea out is the first step toward making it great.

I know I can clean up the messy and comb down the wild hairs later. But I can’t fix boring and uninspired.


2. Consume while you create.

I often write with a book in my lap. Write a little, read a little. Write a little more, read a little more.

The same thing goes for making visual art. I keep a few color copies of some interesting work from other artists nearby. Paint a little. Look a little.

I’m not copying the work at all. It’s more a kind of Jedi mind trick to maintain momentum. (This isn’t a new idea or even my idea. Einstein called it combinatory play.) When I do this, I’m able to create for longer periods. Bonus: I also produce more inspired work because doing two things in mix-and-match fashion keeps me open to new ideas.


3. Steal (it’s OK).

There’s a big difference between stealing and plagiarism—I’m not advocating that anyone just copy/paste.

But I have no problem borrowing a model or framework from another discipline and using it to solve my creative problem. I keep Pinterest boards and folders full of interesting images and great creative work from other people. When I’m working on a new project, I will sift through those folders like a raccoon with a pile of shiny objects.

When we started developing our new AHA brand identity, I could not stop thinking about Mark Rothko. I told my art director, “That’s what I want AHA to look like—like a Rothko. Where the color is so vivid it looks like it’s lit from within.” OK. AHA doesn’t look like a Rothko. I know that. But his work got us going and inspired the vision as it developed.


4. Ignore (some of) the rules.

Here’s the most dangerous—and most powerful—bit of advice.

Every new project comes with a set of rules. Deadlines, client objectives, brand guidelines, agency goals, personal agendas. The list can go on.

And many of those rules are of my own making. About what’s smart. Or what success looks like.

I always throw some of them out. The ones that are limiting. The ones that say, “You can’t do that.”

You cannot make great creative work by following every rule. Adequate work? Sure. But not great. You make great work by following your instincts and intuition. Rules be damned.

Here’s the danger: Do this wrong and you’ll piss people off.

Do it right? They won’t even notice you broke a rule in the first place.


5. Find what’s fun.

If you’re bored with what you’re creating, so is everyone else.