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Two Creativity-Boosting Hacks To Wipe Out Bad Business Writing

And no, neither are writing exercises.

Two Creativity-Boosting Hacks To Wipe Out Bad Business Writing
[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]

You probably wouldn’t expect furniture designers to be great writers, but whenever I’ve leafed through the archive here at Herman Miller–paging past witty 1940s ads and internal memos alike–it’s hard not to think, “God, they must’ve been having a grand time!” Which is essentially the core of perhaps the best piece of work-related advice I’ve ever received: If it’s no fun to write, it’s no fun to read.

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That idea tracks pretty much across everything. Work that’s a slog is often disjointed, jerrybuilt, and flat. Work that shows the pleasure of the maker, however, is far more likely to be inspirational and engaging. So it’s a good bet, judging from the pervasiveness of truly horrendous business writing, that many people absolutely hate writing for business purposes.

Let’s change that! These quick exercises can help.

1. Find Inspiration Far Afield

Creativity breeds creativity, and one of the best ways to find inspiration is to go looking for it in unexpected places–even (or especially) if you don’t fancy yourself as “a good writer.”

If you’re stuck trying to write clever, thoughtful copy for a client presentation, don’t trawl the internet for other slide decks you can mimic. Go wide. Grab a magazine that’s thoughtful and clever, ideally on a subject totally unrelated to your presentation–or the business world altogether. (I find that this principle works in management, too: If you need to spur your team to work faster and with more precision, head to YouTube and grab inspiration from something offbeat yet analogous, like footage of a Nascar or F1 pit crew.)

Personally, I go to art museums to become a better writer. What better place to observe what gets people to stop, stare, and engage? No, the project I’m planning to write won’t be hanging on a wall somewhere, but “research” for creativity-boosting purposes isn’t exactly one-to-one–your goal is to make surprising connections and see with new eyes.

2. Embody Somebody Else

A great way to inject a little fun into a very dull task can be to imitate the best there is at whatever you’re doing. Maybe that’s writing, or maybe it’s some other work task that leaves you feeling uncreative and defeated–making a pitch, say, or taking an important meeting.

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Try getting into character. How would Don Draper finesse that ad copy? While you mull that over, suit up, toss back a Scotch, and literally Hamm it up. Okay, maybe skip the Scotch–but the point is to imagine yourself as some other figure whose personality or competence you want to harness. Don’t just ask, “What would Michelle Obama do?” Tell yourself, “Okay. For right now, I am Michelle Obama, and I’m going to write the hell out of this damn speech.” Imagining yourself making this transformation is the key to shedding your baggage and liberating your creativity. Don Draper would never type the word “synergize,” and neither should you.

I recently had to gin up some alluring yet abstract copy. My chosen character for the task? Walt Whitman. The goal in impersonating a personal hero wasn’t about copping Whitman’s verse, but more his restless sense of possibility, of allusion, of nearly levitating ecstasy. The web copy I helped draft is nowhere close to O Captain! My Captain!, but in stepping out of myself and into the skin of a master, the prize I sought was won.


Aaron Britt is senior manager, brand content editor, where he heads up the editorial team at Herman Miller.

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