A lesson in creativity from Roald Dahl

The first book I remember reading is The Twits. The first character I ever related to was Matilda. The first time I believed in magic was when I discovered Roald Dahl. It’s fair to say that Dahl defined my childhood and helped to shape my adult life. Admittedly, I was a bookworm as a child, so I’d probably have found my way into the hidden worlds that lie within the dusty shelves of a bookcase regardless of Dahl's work. But had it not been for him, I don’t know if I’d have found my way into the creative industry in which I now work. 

September marks the centenary of the beloved children’s author. With an enormous crocodile already finding its way into Cardiff Bay and a month of festivities planned in the city, it’d be rude not to join in by celebrating the man who helped that shy, bookish girl to grow up and find a career in which I could finally feel at home. I’ve already spoken about how the irreverent voice of Tyler Durden gives me the passion for challenging marketing misconceptions, but it’s Roald Dahl that originally awoke the dreamer and creative in me.

Image source: Quentin Blake

Aside from teaching me to be suspicious of women with large nostrils, Dahl taught me so many other valuable lessons. Whilst I could probably write a dissertation on the poignant life lessons hidden away on the pages of a Roald Dahl novel, this isn’t that sort of blog. However, what Roald Dahl taught me about creativity. That’s an apt topic for a marketing blog…

A great ending requires hard work

"Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it's unbelievable...”

Dahl’s life wasn’t full of chocolate rivers and friendly giants. He was a fighter pilot in WW2, I imagine he saw some pretty awful things. Similarly, his characters all face surprising hardships considering they supposedly live in the safe, bubble-wrapped world that’s common in children’s fiction. Parents die, there’s clear poverty, illness is rife and bitter loneliness is a commonly explored theme.

Yet all of his characters push through this, believing in the power of imagination. That’s a powerful life lesson in itself. Furthermore, it also instils a strong work ethic. If you push through the bad stuff, you’ll get the results and the ending that you deserve. When working on a creative campaign, it can be an uphill battle that seems downright impossible at times. But if you don’t push the boundaries and your own limits, you’ll never get the results that you want. It’s always worthwhile in the end.

A golden ticket to your own imagination 

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.”

Being creative isn’t a 9-5 job. Your brain doesn’t switch off as soon as the office lights go out at night. Your mind is constantly ticking, your mouth is endlessly asking questions, your eyes are relentlessly analysing your surroundings and your ears are always listening. The best ideas come from the most unlikely of places, as such you have to be constantly challenging the ordinary and thinking outside the box. Dahl's fiction explored fantastical worlds that existed far beyond the pages of a book. His imagination knew no bounds, and neither should yours. 

Creativity shouldn’t be taken seriously

You can’t lock yourself in a room and expect to think up a groundbreaking campaign by a specific time. As I’ve already said, inspiration comes from the strangest of places. Whilst Dahl would take himself off to his writing shed every single day, he knew that his ideas weren’t confined to that room. You need to make time for life. If you’re stressed and desperately trying to think of an idea, you’ll never get there. Creativity occurs naturally and unexpectedly. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Go outside, embrace the weird and the wonderful, and have fun with it. That's how the best ideas come about. 

The idea for Charlie and The Chocolate Factory came to him when he was stuck in a traffic jam. He reportedly got out of the car and wrote the word ‘chocolate’ into the dirt on his vehicle so he wouldn’t forget about it. He refined that one initial idea into one of his most famous works. His advice? “You work it out and play around with it. You doodle… you make notes… it grows, it grows…”.

Advertising should make you feel something

“If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.”

Dahl wasn't a marketeer, but this quote sums up what marketeers should aim to do. There's a vast difference between marketing and selling. Marketing and advertising should make you feel something that transcends the selling message that lies behind it. This is something I wholeheartedly believe. Marketing isn’t about a hard sell. I wouldn’t want to be a part of anything that sold to somebody for the sake of numbers. I want people to relate to the brands they buy into. I want the brand to mean something; I want businesses to have an impassioned brand message that is ingrained into their very core values. That’s what we want to for our customers at upriseVSI.

As cheesy as it sounds, Dahl injected a little bit of magic into my life, and that's what we strive to do for our clients.

Happy 100th birthday to the ultimate dreamer of dreams. 

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