Most of what one knows about creativity is a lie.
Our culture has welcomed the idea that creative genius is inborn and natural.
If you’re not one of the lucky people with creative skill in your genes, there’s not much you can do to change that.
You’re either a brilliant creative content marketer or you are not.
And it’s total, completely, wrong.
You can teach yourself to become more creative.
To understand the scientific processes behind creative insight, we had a chat with leading neuroscientists and pioneering academics and found that to improve your creativity, you need to understand the two colossal forces behind every instance of creative success: familiarity and novelty.
Attracted to the familiar
In 1968, Robert Zajonc conducted a study that would revolutionize the field of psychology in which he recruited students at the University of Michigan for a “language learning experiment.”
He showed them “Chinese characters,” claiming they signified various adjectives.
Students saw the characters at varying frequencies before rating their positivity and how much they “liked” the character.
The “Chinese characters” had no meaning.
The study on the students tested whether frequency had any effect on their feelings.
The most number of time participants saw a character, the more positively they perceived it.
Interested in novelty
Imagine you’re walking through an art museum and you see this abstract painting.
Now imagine you walk by it five more times.
Would seeing it repeatedly change your opinion of the work?
Robert Zajonc’s team of researchers conducted a similar experiment.
Paintings viewed by students 25 times were about 15 percent less liked than ones seen for a single time.
An intersection of familiarity and novelty
Researchers at the University of Toronto and the University of Montreal wanted to know.
They played clips from a half-dozen songs for 108 students.
Students revealed liking a clip more the second through eighth time they were introduced to it.
But they liked it gradually less between the ninth and 32nd plays.
Both of Zajonc’s studies are correct, but neither provides the full picture.
At first, the more we are exposed to something the more we like it.
Once that reaches a peak, we tire and like that thing less and less each time we encounter it.
If you plot a graph about the interplay between familiarity and novelty between remembrance and excitement for the new you get a clear shape.
Embrace the creative curve
The activity of both familiarity and novelty results in a bell-shaped curve relationship between preference and familiarity.
This bell-shaped curve is called the creative curve.
Here’s how it works.
Creative insights aimed at the bottom right part of the curve won’t be long for the world.
Too much novelty and not enough familiarity mean that the idea will attract peripheral interest but most people will stay away.
As the learning curve slopes up, familiarity increases and novelty sinks to non-threatening levels.
The upward slope is what they call “the sweet spot” of the creative curve.
Ideas in this region are familiar enough to be comfortable, yet novel enough to attract attention.
But as people become more and more familiar with the new idea, the novelty bonus reduces.
Then, we reach the point of cliché, where familiarity and novelty are perfectly balanced.
It’s a bad idea to aim an idea at any part of the curve past the point of cliché.
Many ideas become a follow-on failure.
Putting the creative curve to work
Content marketing is all about providing value to your audience.
Your audience has seen the same five tricks repeated 500 times.
Repetition is boring, and boring doesn’t add value.
That’s where creativity comes in.
If you can provide something different and exciting, you’ll engage eyes and hold focus.
But here’s where people go wrong.
You need to balance this difference with familiarity.
If you give a bold take on a topic and a ground-breaking method of presentation and do it at an unwanted time, you risk difference overload.
Pick one creative angle and stick to it fully.
Don’t change too many things at once.
Repaint the wheel, don’t reinvent it.
Too new is sometimes as bad as too boring.
Content marketers who learn how to strike the perfect balance between the familiar and the novel will set themselves up for dependable and repeatable creative success in their careers.