9 ways to use Twitter as a creative tool

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“Combinatorial creativity” is an idea that has taken off in recent years. Brainpicker’s Maria Popova is probably the best-known exponent of this concept, which holds that creativity happens “when existing pieces of knowledge, ideas, memories and inspiration coalesce into incredible new formations”. And what’s good for combining existing pieces of knowledge, ideas, memories and inspiration? Twitter.

I know this, because Twitter is the single most useful creative tool I have right now. Thanks to Twitter, I’ve cracked ideas for paintings, concepts for campaigns and the subject of my talk at the upcoming TEDxJohannesburg in August. The other day, I came up with a tactical press release for one client, a tactical fundraising idea for another, and some useful insights for a social change campaign.

To understand the power of Twitter, here’s how one of those ideas happened. I consult through a digital agency on the South African Breweries (SAB) account, which is where I got to know about SAB Boucher Conservation. Here we are with a rhino darted to collect DNA. (That’s me in the Hello Kitty cap. Mark Boucher, a former South African cricketer, is on the right.)

Rhino

Castle Lager, one of SAB’s flagship brands, recently tweeted about a fundraising drive involving SAB Boucher Conservation and The Baron chain of restaurants. The Baron on Main happens to be a famous watering hole in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs, otherwise known as Cougar National Park. I used to hang out there (I once took a 20 year old for dinner). Seeing an opportunity to promote a cause I care about, and which also happens to be a client, I leapt in with a suitably tongue-in-cheek comment:

Baron Tweet 1

The Baron responded, and I evolved the idea further:

Baron Tweet 2

Baron Tweet 3

All of this was on the spur of the moment, between all the other things I was working on at the time. But because this is one of the causes I care about, I often make tongue in cheek comments about being a cougar, and it was an opportunity to promote it, I went with it. #cougars4rhinos certainly has a ring to it, and because many Sandton residents love the bush, it would make sense to do these kinds of promotions.

That’s just one example. These are nine ways I routinely use Twitter to get more and better ideas:

1. See what others are thinking, feeling and talking about.

2. Expose myself to points of view other than my own. I try very hard not to unfollow people who irritate me. We’re only truly creative when we’re challenged.

3. Random inspiration. I follow 4 614 accounts. Not all of them add value, but I like the chaos precisely because you never know where a good idea will come from.

4. Research, news and information. From The Atlantic (currently my favourite online read) to Lapham’s Quarterly, to breaking news of the Egyptian coup, Twitter is a constant stream of links to information and inspiration.

5. Consumer research. Sometimes I pose questions to Twitter to get anecdotal input when I’m writing a brief.

6. Crowdsourcing opinion. Thinking out loud while I mull over ideas is something I often do on Twitter. It’s a great way to get input from others.

7. Conversation is one of the best tools for creativity I know. Shooting the breeze is a less focused form of brainstorming, but it can often lead to better ideas. And Twitter is a great tool for conversation.

8. Insights about places I’m visiting. Twitter is not a replacement for going out into the world, but it brings in an added layer of meaning. That’s why I like to tweet my obervations about where I am – because it’s likely to encourage others to share their views.

9. Combining one idea with another to create something new. The idea for my TEDxJohannesburg talk literally came about thanks to a random tweet commenting on one of my lipstick paintings, which was inspired by Twitter in the first place:

Gondwnaland

Yes, Twitter can also be a great tool for procrastination. It can be very distracting, and the only time I get any writing done is when I don’t have Wi Fi or a decent 3G signal. I don’t sleep enough because I’m often too engrossed in other people’s tweets – and sleep is critically important for productivity.

But the benefits are immense. If creativity is combinatorial, then the more diverse your input, the more likely it is that you will be creative. And Twitter is perfect for that.

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