Did you know Dr. Seuss created both The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham after his publishers dared him to write with a limited number of words?
The challenge wasn’t just for fun — it was meant to help Seuss create stories that would catch children’s imaginations and inspire them to love reading. After all, he was the one who wrote: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
It goes without saying that the challenge worked. The Cat in the Hat, first published in 1957 using 236 words, found immediate success. The response led Seuss to co-found the Random House Beginner Books division with one mission: get more kids to read.
Soon after, his publisher gave him an even tougher challenge — to write a book with only 50 words. The result was Green Eggs and Ham. Published in 1960, the simple, rhyming tale managed to use the least number of words yet sell the most copies. Don’t we all love that book?
It’s a fun story, but you’re probably wondering how it relates to being more creative. I’m going to tell you in three steps.
Step one: Start with a plan.
Just like Seuss began writing Green Eggs and Ham with a plan — to use concise, rhyming words to get more kids to read — we, too, need to start our creative projects with a plan. Whether it’s painting an piece of art, designing a logo or writing a book, we need a roadmap. For Creative Services projects, the creative brief is the plan.
Unfortunately, I hear it all the time: “Can we skip the brief? You already know what we want.” Or worse: “We don’t have time for a brief.” But the truth is, we can’t afford to not have a brief. The plan or creative brief is the backbone of every good project. The brief plays an important role in articulating the challenge you want to solve , defining your audience and identifying what results you want to achieve. It also weighs the work against your objectives and helps determine measurable results. Without a brief, we can waste time and resources creating a product that doesn’t work toward your goals.
Step two: Inspiration is everything.
I wonder how many pieces of paper lay crumpled on Dr. Seuss’s floor by the time he finished writing Green Eggs and Ham. The creative process is inevitably messy. But from a young age, we’ve been taught to hide our mess. Let’s change that. Instead, let people in. Show them what inspires you, whether it’s words, colours, shapes, trends, magazines or even a show on Netflix. Put all that inspiration into one place and what do you get? A mood board.
Creative people use mood boards to explore connections and new ways of putting concepts and ideas together. We also use mood boards to quickly get people on the same page and to visually demonstrate the foundation of our work. It shows that we have thought through various options and helps people understand the creative journey we’ve been on. Everybody loves a mood board.
Step three: Share your work.
Ok, so sharing your work can be scary but it gets easier the more you do it. (Even Dr. Seuss was a beginner once.) The reward is hearing different perspectives that you can incorporate into your draft, which makes your projects even better in the end.
As a bonus, being open about your process can expose you to new approaches, ideas and perspectives along the way. Find people you trust who you can share your work with. These should be people who aren’t afraid to say they don’t like something (in a nice way), who can help you build on your ideas and who will take the time to talk about how things could be improved.
I get to work with a team of extremely talented people in Creative Services every day. They have expertise in art direction, design, digital, illustration, animation, video, production and scheduling. These three steps are the same ones we use to develop all your projects — and you can use them too. Next time you have a challenge to tackle, try following these steps to approach your work in a more creative way.
Plan, get inspired, and share.
After all, Dr. Seuss said, “Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try.”