Content Marketing World is part of the Informa Connect Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC’s registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 3099067.

Fueling Creativity

Have you ever said to yourself, “I’m just not creative!” That’s not true. Joseph “JK” Kalinowski, creative director at the Content Marketing Institute, says there are ways we can foster innovative thinking and bring out new ideas. During a recent episode of Ask the CMI Team, JK had us ready to unleash our creative selves.

Key takeaways from the interview

  • Think of Scrooge when you need sources of inspiration.
  • Build a think tank with people in and out of your industry.
  • Bend, don’t break, when looking for balance.

What follows is a loose transcript of the show.

Monina Wagner: Why don’t we start with where do you find inspiration and are there tools or resources that you can use to kind of help foster that that creativity?

Joseph Kalinowski: It’s very subjective obviously, and for me inspiration can kind of come from anywhere. It was just the holiday season. I’ll use the analogy of Scrooge – I look to the past, what my contemporaries are doing now, and kind of what the future creators are doing.

From past initiatives that we’ve worked on at CMI, either successful or failures, there’s always some creativity that I find there. When I say the past, I look back to former creatives that I’ve always admired, be it musicians, artists, designers, storytellers. There’s just an abundance of stuff that we can kind of mine from, what has been done before to give us that creative spark to move forward.

I like looking at what my contemporaries are doing because it’s amazing this industry that we’re in, how much creative content is being churned out on a daily basis. It’s almost hard to keep up. But you see what some people are doing in their successful daily practices, and I really enjoy kind just digging in. I could spend days just looking at what my contemporaries are doing and

just being inspired.

Then from a future standpoint, I really tend to lean on, I mentioned, my children. But I also tend to lean on them to see where they’re going. I have a quasi TikTok influencer in my household. She’s gained quite a little bit of a following through some of her artwork and everything she does on TikTok so I always kind of like lean on her to see what people are doing and where the trends are going there. It’s just amazing what the creativity that are coming from the young minds and how they’re using these tools to inspire themselves and inspire each other as well.

MW: One, I did not know about TikTok which is fantastic for your daughter. I see Ilham here says that they find inspiration from some articles and also videos on YouTube so talking about social media.

I know I saw Wendy and Kate talking about nature, somewhere that they go to to find inspiration. Again as you were talking about your daughter, someone had said art is something that really drives them and really helps them. And I did see also Jennifer had talked about she was inspired by color. So how about you, JK. So you hear all of that. Are there tools that actually help you once you get into that creative, inspired mode?

JK: Obviously beyond my daily tools that I use, I’m a huge fan of the Adobe Creative Suite. They have done so much in a sense of helping someone – even like if you have a spark of an idea – of how you can kind of like expand on it.

And they also have a community that really pushes you. If you need help finding creative ideas, Adobe matches their programs with people that like “hey you need some inspiration design this?” Or “you need some inspiration here? You need some inspiration for your podcast ideas?” Here’s a community of people that are willing to help.

I’m sorry I forget who mentioned color but color is such a huge inspiration. I pop over to the Pantone site once a week. There’s just something about going through colors and getting inspired.

Now, fortunately with CMI, we have a pretty limited palette with our brand. But it’s always cool to see how we can push it a little bit. I can get inspired just from different blends and stuff like that. It’s so easy to find inspiration when it comes to tools. A lot of tools are getting matched up with communities and users and user groups that are just ripe, full of creativity and where you can kind of mine what you need out of them.

MW: I had seen Denise LinkedIn had said something about looking at what other industries are doing, what our counterparts in other industries are doing and applying them to her work, which I think is really genius. It kind of gets you out of your box and gives you a different perspective.

JK: Oh absolutely. It’s very interesting to see our contemporaries. But I’m always really interested to see specifically industries that some of us would consider oh-man-it’s-not-like- bright-lights-big-shiny-craziness cool stuff that we get to work on. But it might be just your day-to-day medical products or something like that.

It’s very interesting to see how they’re using their branding guidelines and kind of working around and kind of being able to push them a little bit to really inspire some really cool content that people are really digging in to. Normally, audiences that they wouldn’t have garnished before or worked with before, they’re now starting to obtain a snowball effect, grabbing more and more people as they go just by using creative sparks.

MW: Before we go on to our next question, I do want to thank Jim and also Kate. Both with comments in Facebook and on LinkedIn because they are sharing links to Adobe Creative Types quiz and also color combo inspiration. So good resources there.

JK: Jim is a great resource of mine. I follow him. He and I met at Content Marketing World a few years ago. He’s another designer, and he’s done some great work. I follow him devoutly on Twitter and whatever he shares. So thanks for sharing, Jim. It’s good to see you virtually.

MW: Let’s move on to when you hit a wall. Because inevitably, I think a lot of us do hit that wall. How do you push through? How can you overcome that creative block?

JK: Oh the creative block. I was thinking about this the other day. I’m very fortunate because I created almost like a little pattern or, you know, like almost like a process for myself when I get into a rut or I’m faced with a problem that I just can’t get over. We’ve all been there. We’ve all stared at a blank page. We’ve all stared at a computer screen with “I know what I got to do. I just don’t know how to get there.”

So one of the biggest things I do is I walk away from it. I walk away. I like to run. I like to spend time outside. Nothing will get you more focused than getting into a groove of getting outside or being able to step away from something where you can absolutely clear your mind. Because that is when, I think we all know, the thought or the idea just automatically hits you. Then you’re like, “wow, there it is.” Like for me, I’ll be out on a walk or a run, and then I’ll think of something, and it got to a point at one time I always keep one of those little field notes packs in my running pack because if it hits me, I write it down. I look like a maniac, you know, in the middle of a run stopping and going off having my aha moment.

Another piece of advice that I learned from one of my creative gurus, John Cleese who we’ve had at Content Marketing World and who’s dedicated a lot of his later career to the study of creativity, is completely removing yourself from distractions. Distractions are the killer of creativity. So if you’re sitting and working and you have five browser screens open or your emails are going off 20, 30 at a time. Your phone’s blowing up. You can’t focus on what you’re really wanting to be focused on. Nobody can be creative when they’re distracted from what they’re supposed to be creative about. So separating yourself from your distractions, just give yourself that little bit of time for some pure thought or some pure creative initiative, and it makes a world of difference. That’s a huge one and that’s a piece of advice that I took from him years ago. I just read his recent book and he talks more about it, and I couldn’t agree more.

Then finally, I created a small think tank. This is the one that I personally really enjoy is getting some people together that you really trust. Get some people together that you really trust their creativity and just bounce ideas or your problem. Because nothing works better than talking it out. If you’re really in that rut and if getting away from your distractions or getting outside doesn’t work, talk about it with the people that you trust, the other creatives that you trust Build a relationship. Build yourself a network because they will bail you out. That is for sure.

MW: I love the idea of a think tank. So I have something similar, but it’s not with people who are in community management or social media. But it’s just people who I thought were smart people who I can go to and look to and say, “hey, this is a great article” or “hey, I’m having this problem. Can you help out?” And I think just surrounding yourself with those people, I agree with you. It can really just help you clear your mind and get to a space that you need to take the next steps in a project.

JK: Right. Case in point, mine just off the top of my head are some of my old college friends. Some of my mentors. Other people in the industry that I work with. But one of the biggest ones is my brother. My brother, who’s a very analytical thinker and he runs a machine shop. He has tools. He has plans. Everything’s laid out for him and his skillset is to make sure everything matches up perfectly.

Where the subjective mind kind of thinks off and does this. And it might take him this way. It might take him this way. So it’s nice to have someone that’s almost a complete opposite kind of kick in some ideas because then it really takes your mind in a different spot than where it normally goes.

MW: So you said it was the dreaded creative block, but I think this is also something that creatives and marketers dread, and that’s if there are structures, if there are guidelines in place in your organization, what do you? How do you find balance?

JK: It’s tough. You and I have had multiple conversations about this before. Branding guidelines. I just think of some of the stuff that we create for Content Marketing Institute and Content Marketing World. We run into that, and it’s guidelines that we’ve set up that we want to push them a little bit or go one way or another but it doesn’t necessarily fall into what we’ve set up.

I’m a big proponent of the “bend, don’t break” rule. Push it as far as you can. Extend it as far as you can but don’t break the rules. Don’t change your logo. Don’t change your brand color. Don’t do something that’s going to look completely out of the ordinary for your brand. But push it a little bit to inspire some more creative thought.

In addition, I’m a big fan of you keep your guidelines set because your brand and your  audience is very comfortable with that. They know what they can expect. So when you do push your limits and your boundaries a little bit, they’re like, “whoa that’s pretty cool. It’s nice to see they went in that direction.” But don’t go changing it all the time. But it’s nice to go back to your palate cleanser, of going back to what you’re normally doing, then all of a sudden – boom! We do something kind of out of ordinary, and it makes you step back and go, “hey, that’s pretty neat.”

MW: I believe it’s Irene. I hope I’m saying that right. She says, “bend don’t break.” Also Christi said something really interesting. She talks about being a voice actor and she has to bring what creative she’s given to life. And I love that because she talks about it’s really a collaborative process. I think that’s what you’re saying.

JK: For sure. You and I work very closely together as well as Cathy, our marketing director. It’s so many of our team. It’s all about keeping the perfect balance of what we’ve created in our guidelines. But also, pushing it just a little bit to kind of catch the eye of our audience. So I’m really interested to see each and every time we start a new initiative how we can do that.

MW: I love what Hattie says here. Hattie says she’s taking something that sometimes is seen as a negative and makes it a positive. She says asking how you can be more creative within the parameters and that gives her inspiration.

JK: That’s fantastic. That is the truth.

MW: So you talked about John Cleese already and a few others. But who are some creatives that inspire you and why?

JK: John Cleese is just one of many. But all I have to say there’s people in our industry that I really look to. Obviously our founder Joe Pulizzi has always been a huge influence on my creativity because he was one of the first people to bring me into the content marketing world and really kind of open my eyes to how this industry and this community works. So I always look to him. He’s kind of one of my mentors when it comes to my creativity.

As well as Robert Rose and some people in our industry that I really really enjoy – Andrew Davis, Jay Acunzo. I really love Kathy Klotz-Guest. I really just enjoy her comedy as well as her content. But her comedy really gets me.

And that leads me to some of the other people that I really look to for inspiration. They aren’t necessarily designers or creatives in the sense of creative sit-down designer design something it’s you know any kind of creator. I get the most out of podcasters. Just hearing people think  and their thought process going from soup to nuts. Like they start with a topic and where it takes them. I find that incredibly creative and inspirational.

The other people that just blow me away, the other group of creators, are stand-up comedians. I just think that they’re some of the most creative people ever. Observational humor and how they can spin it and make it funny. I am a huge fan of a lot of our local comedians but another person that I just absolutely love that will always be the quintessential content creator funny guy for me from my youth all the way now is Conan O’Brien. I mean, you’ve seen what he’s done from a television show to books. Now he’s got a number one podcast. It’s just amazing what that guy can do just off the top of his head.

MW: Hmmm, is that like a suggestion for Content Marketing World?

JK: Wink, wink. [laughs]

We spoke about it earlier too. I find a lot of inspiration from my kids. I have a musician in the house, and I have an artist in the house and just to see where they take things and how their thought process works is incredibly inspiring. I’m very fortunate to have them as almost my muses. Both of them are getting to the age where I can run ideas past them. Like, “hey, what do you think of this?” And they have no problem giving their honest opinions so I’m very fortunate.

MW: If you do not know JK’s work, he is everything CMWorld so if you see any of our wonderful sets for Content Marketing World, that is JK. But he also writes for our blog and that inspired an idea for a new show. So JK, why don’t you tell us a little bit about it.

JK: Starting later this month, I’m partnering with my friend and CMWorld speaker Buddy Scalera, and we are starting a little livestream show called The Creative Show, which will be on this channel. We are super, super, super excited. Buddy and I have partnered on many projects, many blogs in the past, and we are going to start revisiting some of those blogs and giving a little bit more in-depth information and kind of our thought process in writing and hopefully get some feedback from you and we can make it a little bit more interactive.

I’m really excited because it doesn’t necessarily always have to entail you know, what we were talking about. We could talk about podcasts. We could talk about blogs we’ve written. One of our biggest blogs that we wrote, I love it so much, is the inspiration and the idea of being behind the design of the Jaws movie poster, one of the most iconic movie posters ever and how it was such a great piece of content. So I’m really excited to kick this off. More information to come soon.

MW: With that, I just want to thank everyone for their fantastic comments today. Keep them coming. Thank you to Amanda Subler, you do not see her but she is hard at work behind the scenes. And a huge thank you to JK. Remember he will have his own livestreamed show starting later this month.

Again, I am Monina Wagner. This is Ask the CMI Team. We’ll be back here next Monday. Until then, be well.

This interview is part of our new live series, Ask the CMI Team. Each week, you’ll be introduced to one of our colleagues who will answer your questions about various subjects. Become a better marketer with advice on content creation, social media, web development, and more. If you have a topic suggestion, we want to hear from you. Let us know in the comments below.