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Creative Process Q&A: Miranda West

Creativity & Innovation

mirandaMiranda West is co-founder of the Do Book Company, an independent publishing house based in Shoreditch, London. Do books are written by speakers from the Do Lectures, and aim to provide guidance on how to develop the mastery of a new skill or craft, a simple mindshift, or a shot of inspiration.

Do you use any tricks or techniques to come up with ideas?

I’ve learnt not to force ideas. I get on with other things. The best ones creep up on you or you’ll suddenly and spontaneously connect the dots. To do that, I find it helps to broaden your sphere of influence. Stick your head above the parapet and read articles, interviews, magazine features, go to exhibitions. The harvest may not be immediate but then, boom, you’ll make a connection and have a breakthrough moment. It could be a single word or image that opens up an entirely new project or direction.

What’s the best idea you’ve had recently? Tell us where you were, what you were doing, where you found inspiration.

I was at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and found myself in front of a Mondrian painting. The painting alongside was similar but on closer inspection was by another artist, Marlow Moss. I hadn’t heard of the artist (despite studying art history at Goldsmiths’ as a subsidiary) but two words on the tiny plaque gave me a raft of information: ‘her’ and ‘St Ives’. Not only was this artist female, but British too. Days later I started some initial online research and discovered that was she good friends with Mondrian and the two of them often worked together. Moreover, no-one had told her story beyond some academic papers. As a commissioning editor, there is nothing more exciting than that initial idea or concept for a book. Especially when you’re breaking new ground like this.

How did you develop your idea?

I haven’t yet as I’ve been too busy! But I know the next steps to take as it’s what I do. Any new book, especially one like this that has great potential, is quite an undertaking in terms of time and commitment. For now I’ll develop it incrementally when I can.

Did you get any feedback or test your idea on anyone? Who did you ask?

Don’t underestimate your own instincts. Ultimately you’ll be driving the idea forward and turning it from a concept into a reality whether that’s a product, thing or event. Asking people for their opinion can sometimes derail or dilute a good idea – and even stop it from happening.

What was the hardest part of developing your idea?

The hardest part of developing any idea is not knowing how many pieces are in the jigsaw or where it might lead. Which, conversely, is also the exciting part. One single idea can take on a life of its own or certainly takeover your life. In that sense, ideas can be dangerous.

Tell us about an idea of yours that didn’t work. What happened?

If something genuinely isn’t working I stop before it takes up any more of my time or energy. I’m quite pragmatic in that sense. I can’t think of a specific example but chances are it was a book that instinct told me wasn’t quite right. It’s difficult walking away sometimes but you have to think longer term and the best use of your (very limited) time and resource.

Where / when do you feel most creative?

Probably away from my desk. No surprise as I’m normally doing something administrative! There’s a great deal of problem solving and project management involved in publishing. Reading shortform articles – newspapers or magazines – will often encourage me to make connections between seemingly unrelated things, if that makes sense. New ideas or mental leaps are often borne out of that process.

Does technology help or hinder creativity?

Obviously it helps – I’m assuming we’re talking creativity in the broadest sense. The only hinderance is how much of a distraction it can be and productivity can seriously drop.

Do you use group brainstorms? If so, how do you run them?

Nope. There is often a huge divide between having the idea and someone executing it. I’m more of an operator, i.e. I like to take a good idea and actually make it happen. The more people involved the more diluted the idea becomes and the less likely it is to happen. Or those tasked with making it happen didn’t come up with it in the first place so the don’t share the vision or have the passion and drive needed to see it through.

What’s the biggest challenge facing creative people?

Assuming we’re talking about truly brilliant and creative people here, I’d say it’s having to compromise. Whenever I work with creatives I try to give as much freedom as possible. Trust and respect can be pretty powerful motivators. The more the idea or concept travels – by that I mean, the more people are asked what they think (and we know each person asked will have a different opinion) – so it drifts from its original concept.

Can creativity be taught?

You can learn to think more creatively. There are some great books to help you do this. Creativity is so broad. In a literal sense, can I be taught to be a graphic designer, yes, but I’d never be a great one. I probably wouldn’t even be a good one.

Who is the most creative person you know?

Two people I’m fortunate to work with come to mind: James Victore and David Hieatt.

Who should we ask these questions to next? Why?

Probably those two. You’ll see why when you read their responses.

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