Get comfortable being uncomfortable

Across all industries, companies or specialty areas, PR is a creative endeavor.

Across all industries, companies, or specialty areas, PR is a creative endeavor. The essence of creativity is solving problems in novel ways, and I think we grapple with more problems than any other industry. There are idea problems, constituent problems, customer problems, protocol problems, communication problems, billing problems, and even personality problems.

But if PR people have to grapple with solving countless problems, then nature is working against us. According to the experts, all humans carry the instinct to resist dissimilar ideas (it was named cognitive dissonance by Leon Festinger in his 1956 book When Prophecy Fails). We see things that are incongruent and we instinctually make changes to ease our discomfort – either by adjusting our behavior, our emotions, or our beliefs.

A perfect example of cognitive dissonance is the way we self-censor in ideation sessions. Without even knowing it, we edit the thoughts that come to us, voice the safe ideas, and dismiss the most absurd of our suggestions. Our perspective changes to protect us from ridicule in the conference room. But if we seek new solutions for old problems, then we need to consider these whacky, fleeting thoughts.

I'm sure there is some benefit to cognitive dissonance that dates back to prehistoric times when we had to evade dinosaurs and volcanoes. But it can be a handicap for a PR person who needs to find inventive solutions for the problems of the day.

When I watch my four-year-old son play, I'm convinced that cognitive dissonance is “curable.” A young child doesn't naturally edit their toys or the characters in their own imaginative play by genre, style, or brand. To a youngster, the princess can partner with the policeman to defeat the sea monster. That's just another day in the mind of a child. They build the dissonance muscle as they grow up.

The most critical “daily stretching” exercise to fight off cognitive dissonance is by practicing as many mash-ups in your business life as possible. Try to solve a problem by combining two influences or images and forcing yourself to let the two intertwine to drive a third, hybrid idea. Pull two visuals and come up with a story about how they relate, or pull a random newspaper page and see how the story elements can be blended with the solution you're grappling with. You'll see that, as the saying goes, one plus one does equal three.

A 20-year agency veteran, Brad Buyce is EVP of client strategy for CoynePR. He once helped his son slay a dragon with the help of a paratrooper and a fire truck.

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