Creativity X Portals

To get from idea to execution, find the way in.
A person falling through a portal

In the world of creativity, there’s never really a right way or a wrong way to do something.

A fact that makes it so much fun but also so terrifying. You can certainly attempt to build a process. Go ahead, codify techniques and construct a methodology around them, but there’s a right-sizing that will eventually happen. I think about that eventual right-sizing a lot. 

 I believe it’s human nature to measure and define what we see by its opposite, especially in a Western world where we perceive life in binaries. An easy example of this is the concept of light. But without its counterpart, dark, there wouldn’t be any light. There still may be luminous, radiant energy that we experience, but we wouldn’t be able to grasp it and measure it as we do.

Simply put, when there’s an opposing force, it’s easier to define and grasp the phenomenon we experience. Wet and dry. Cold and warm. You get the point. I’m not interested in why that is, per se, but I am interested in the thing itself, polarity. 

Creativity is a known phenomenon, but has no polar opposite, at least not one that’s any easier to define than the unsatisfying dictionary antonym, “reality.” To me, this doesn’t do creativity, or reality, justice.  If this is the best opposition we can find to measure and define creativity, then how can we build a process around it? The simple answer is we can’t.


The very act of considering an opposite of reality requires embracing the possibility that there’s an alternative to reality. A dream state, a place where we float in search of ideas, concepts, solutions, etc.

We listen to the forces that feel counter-intuitive and go against our desire to define. We have to be willing to consider what can’t easily be reconciled. Emotions, feelings, vibrations. Open to them, let them work through us so we may better understand, and know when it’s time to embrace or reject them.

Maybe that’s what Bob Dylan meant when he suggested the answer is “blowing in the wind.”

If searching for ideas means we have to float adrift in a state where we aren’t in control, how do we ground ourselves and capitalize on opportunities that come up there? Are we antennae picking up signals? Do we translate those signals based on a series of personal experiences that make up who we are? I think so. 

As a matter of fact, I think, in a sense, we’re informed conduits for ideas.

How does this relate to the reality that we have to deliver on our creative work? I think it’s an area worth considering and exploring when we come up with ideas for the projects we work on. This doesn’t always mean a deep metaphysical thought experiment. Sometimes it’s the most literal translation of the polarity concept available to us. Where it’s worth thinking about the opposite medium in order to get to what you’re working on.

If you’re designing a brand identity, for example, consider how it’ll be advertised; Place your brand ideas into that situation. Say you’re working on a digital ad; think instead of a full-page print ad, and tackle the project from that unique angle. It sometimes helps to pick an advertising medium that a brand often uses, then try its opposite. Finding a way into your project through this portal is helpful because you can also share your work with the client. 

Here are five ways to find those portals: 
Play Around.

I can’t stress this enough. Don’t limit yourself to the artificial guardrails you, your client, or anyone else have placed on the project. Sometimes the best answer lies right on the other side. 

Ask Permission.

This is a big one for me. I need to find permission to explore ideas on the fringe of what I’m trying to do. This sometimes means I need to ask for it from a trusted source, a client, a partner, my wife, etc. Other times it means considering some deeper reflection, which leads me to my next point. 

Do Travel. 

Sure, travel is harder these days. If you’re conscientious of what’s going on in the world, or you have someone immunocompromised at home, stay in your own bubble. Consider travel in a far more abstract way.  

Be Pretentious.

Don’t fake it until you make it, but instead apply empathy. Position yourself in the shoes of the recipient of what you’re working on. If it’s commercial, what will your client say? What will your clients’ clients say? Are you the customer? Can you imagine yourself as one? 

Fight For It.

Advocate for your ideas. Even if they weren’t quite on brand or on brief, if your gut says they’re good ideas, you should bring them to light. It might be an upsell opportunity for your company. Even if it gets the big “NO” stamp on it, your client will appreciate the effort. 

Matt Maguy is co-founder at JXM, an advertising agency located in Massachusetts.