When inspiration bites: Nine ways fishing informs creativity


Every summer, I spend a week fishing on Cranberry Lake in Danbury, Wisconsin. Friends, sun, beer. We don’t take the fishing very seriously, until we do. I’ve been lucky enough to win the coveted “Fish of the Week” trophy exactly once.

This may be because I’m new to the sport. Raised in the suburbs of northern California, I’m a Minnesota transplant who didn’t buy his first fishing license until age 35. Around here, that’s… “different.” (Not that we would say so to your face.)

Fishing is embedded in Minnesota culture. We fish year-round, in john boats, canoes, pontoons and ice shacks. The spring opener is basically a state holiday. Eight-year-olds regularly catch mammoth, razor-jawed muskies. We do have 10,000 lakes, dontcha know.

In any case, fishing involves a lot of sitting and waiting. Which means you get a lot of time to think. And what occurred to me recently is how the whole fishing experience maps to what we do here at The Frameworks – or any other commercially creative endeavor.

Learn the basics

1. Learn the basics.

Fishing is pretty simple. It’s a 40,000-year-old practice. (That’s 30,000 years older than such recent hits as “agriculture” and “cities.”) But you do have to know how to spool your line, tie the right knot and cast. The fundamentals have to come first.

Start somewhere

2. Start somewhere.

I’m a book learner. I like research and prep work. Practice, however, trumps theory. You can’t catch anything if you’re not fishing. So get going on the first draft, first sketch, first pitch. The conditions may not be ideal. Excuses may be plentiful. Do it anyway.

Use the correct presentation

3. Use the correct presentation.

Fishing is pretty complicated. There’s a lot to consider. Nightcrawlers versus leeches. Jigs versus spinners versus crankbaits. Color, size, and weight of lure. Certain fish respond best to specific bait, just like B2B clients in automotive have vastly different needs than B2C clients in retail.

Know what time it is

4. Know what time it is.

Early morning and early evening are best. You can fish at noon, but you won’t catch anything. It’s vital to know when you do your best work. And when clients are ready for more. And when a brand should get back to basics – or adopt a new strategy.

Know the environment

5. Know the environment.

Put a great angler in an unfamiliar lake and watch them struggle. You have to know the curves and contours of the shoreline, how the depth changes, where the weeds are, where to find hidden structure. If you don’t do nuance – on the lake or in the studio – you’re going to come up empty.

Keep your line in the water

6. Keep your line in the water.

Every cast counts. If you’re constantly rethinking, reassessing, and resetting, you’re not fishing. No bite? Cast again. Nothing? Pick another spot and cast. Beware of too much planning and too little doing.

Appearances deceive

7. Appearances deceive.

The northern pike is a disgusting fish. Dark green and white, snakelike, aggressive and dripping with slime. It is also extremely tasty. Not every opportunity looks like one, and not every cool project starts out that way. An open mind is essential.

Shut up

8. Shut up.

At a certain point, you get sick of all the chatter and the boat goes quiet. You can hear the water, or the loons, or an eagle. These times are golden, even for extroverts. Sitting in silence is when a really fresh idea can swim up out of nowhere and bite.

Get away. Go fish.

9. Get away. Go fish.

Or take a hike. Or do whatever you enjoy. Because the working world will keep going without you just fine. Knowing you’re not indispensable brings perspective. And you can’t come back fresh if you never get away.

So the next time you’re out on the water, whether you’re a seasoned pro or a fumbling first-timer, keep these tips in mind. You never know what kind of story you might come back with.

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