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Cheryl Overton on Ditching the Whiteboard: Finding Creative Inspiration in New Places

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I find inspiration everywheresays Cheryl Overton.

You might assume, based on the quote, that Overton is a painter, poet, or playwright. While there are nuances of each of these in his work, Overton has built a career in corporate America as a marketing and communications manager.

“When I work with a client, I don’t just think about the typical creative brief,” she says. “I look for ideas that are improvisational, three-dimensional and experimental.” Abandoning the traditional “whiteboard” approach, she tries to anchor her discovery in the client’s own inspiration streams, which may include textiles, spices, a music playlist or TikTok.

Executives and even some entrepreneurs don’t always have permission to be creative, Overton says, and because of that, the world can miss out on a fresh perspective that can bring value. “We should allow ourselves to lean on that muscle,” she says.

Too often, we are relegated to leads: good at math, analytical thinker, artistic, a natural with languages. These labels can turn into swimming lanes and eventually silos, preventing us from tapping into the breadth of our interests, inspirations and skills. Growing up, Overton was a strong writer and was often the first to speak in class or volunteer to speak publicly. Speaking out loud made her feel like she was seen and heard, literally, in a world where few were like her. But she also had a passion for the fine arts. She has drawn, oil painted, designed jewelry and even dabbled in photography.

In the end, she had to choose between business or the life of an artist. She often wonders what would have happened if she had gone the other way. For now, she fills that need by cooking, traveling, seeing art exhibits, and sometimes even making jewelry. These activities often lead him to think about his business and working with his clients in new ways.

Overton is the Founder and Chief Experience Officer of Cheryl Overton Communications, where she uses her extensive corporate experience, as well as her artistic talents, to help brands navigate their stakeholder relationships through creative storytelling and disruptive business solutions.

His unique approach to working with clients and brands has won him numerous awards, including an Emmy, the Cannes Lion and “New Yorker of the Year”. It also brought him personal meaning and joy.

For example, on a trip to Morocco, Overton was struck by the colorful and elaborate tiling that existed everywhere, from palace interiors to bathrooms. “Almost every deck I created for clients that year had a tile pattern, whether it was the corners, a mosaic of colors in the background, or the placement of the words.”

Recent trips to Santa Fe and the Utah-Arizona border have reinforced his appreciation of the many shades among and within earth tones. She recently put this into her holiday gift wrapping strategy using plain brown kraft paper bags and wrapping paper, but adding texture via raffia bows, using fabric instead of paper. silk and incorporating greeting cards designed by a Brooklyn artist.

While Overton taps into the traditional realms of art, music and architecture, she also finds ideas in other areas, such as how food is cooked and prepared. “I’m a big fan of the culinary arts,” says Overton. “I’m inspired by how chefs use the creative process to solve problems and then create something beautiful for others to enjoy.”

Finding inspiration “everywhere” isn’t always about external prompting; it might be changing your daily routine, creating a weekly “inspiration board,” or seeking a thought-provoking partnership from an unlikely source.

Here are three ways Overton can “get unstuck” and avoid creative blocks:

  1. Wear a uniform. While she’s a lover of fashion and accessories, on days when she wants to channel creative energy, she does the counter-intuitive thing and wears black and white. By limiting her wardrobe options, she can reuse that energy in other creative pursuits.
  1. Brainstorming with an 11-year-old child. She is not a relative, but she is an unofficial “aunt” to many. It never fails: when she asks a young person for their opinion on a branding tactic she’s exploring, she gets something unexpected, fresh or funny in return, and that can sow the seeds of a idea on which it can rely. An “atypical” thought partner is sometimes an excellent foil.
  2. Fool your barista (or bartender). Disrupt your routine by visiting a new cafe. Taste a new pour. People watch from a different place to literally change their perspective on things.

We can all use inspiration to make our lives more meaningful and successful – professional, personal or both. As the poet Rilke wrote in Letter to a young poet, we should “live the questions”. For Overton, the questions are, “How do you engage with the people and the world around you? Are you curious about them? How and why do you care? How is this expressed? By living these questions, she draws her inspiration from everyday life.

Posted on March 6, 2022