Make a big difference to The Big Idea.

Help us tell the most creative stories.

Become a supporter

How to Unleash Your Creativity

Don't let your creativity get trapped. Photo: Vinicius Amano
Hnry Awards Judge Brendon McLean. Photo: Supplied
Hnry Awards Judge Tui Te Hau. Photo: Supplied
Finding that creative spark is the key. Photo: Riccardo Annadale
Two of the judges for the Hnry Awards give their insights into why creativity and experimentation are important to your career - no matter the industry.


You’re either creative - or you’re not. Most of us have heard words to that effect throughout our lives. 

It’s a myth.

Everyone is creative. Some just have the confidence to believe it, or more accurately, to execute it.

Engineering Creativity

Brendon McLean has a degree in Mechanical Engineering and could quite easily be pigeonholed to a certain sector. But his decision to follow his creative desires has led to a successful advertising career, with stints at Saatchi & Saatchi and Colenso BBDO before his current role at FCB New Zealand.

McLean is lending his experience to the Hnry Awards, where New Zealanders are being invited to answer “what does independent earning mean to you?” to be in the running for a share of the $25,000 prize pool. He knows first-hand about testing yourself and pushing outside your comfort zone to hone your craft or find your true calling.

“I think it (the creative process) is very individual. To get anywhere interesting you need time to think and reflect, time to consider and try new things, time to be wrong, and time to let your mind wander whilst you’re busy doing other stuff.“

Hnry Awards Judge Brendon McLean. Photo: Supplied

Innovation and Intuition

An eclectic CV’s also been at the heart of fellow judge Tui Te Hau’s success. A highly credentialed innovator responsible for the Lightning Lab Digital Accelerator and having overseen Te Papa’s Innovation Hub, Te Hau originally had her roots deep in government policy and as an analyst for Trade New Zealand.

"To get anywhere interesting you need time to think and reflect, time to consider and try new things."

“Very early in my career someone told me to back myself and trust my intuition.  It was important at the time because I was young and unproven.  

“I think intuition and creativity or imagination are closely linked.  I’m not a painter or musician, my creative expression is in solving problems.  Those problems could be straightforward – like, how do we accelerate the success of start-up entrepreneurs? Or how do we design an event that this audience we want to attract into our space will come to?”

Hnry Awards Judge Tui Te Hau. Photo: Supplied.

But being prepared to test yourself doesn’t come without its challenges - or in Te Hau’s case, its challengers. 

“I’ve had lots of people rain on my ideas.  I even had a concerned older colleague take me out to coffee to tell me my idea for a business training programme for smaller Wellington businesses would never go anywhere. 

“I wasn’t mad with him, in fact I remember saying ‘thank you, you may be right – but I’m going to give it a go anyway’.  At least I could say I tried. Even today I drive by businesses and community events that were born in that programme.”

Never Too Old to Learn New Skills

Te Hau’s currently using those skills as the Director of Public Engagement at the National Library, where McLean had his latest reminder over the weekend of the importance of experimentation. “I was at the National Library with the family and we stumbled into a workshop on how to create children’s books. A writer and an illustrator spoke about how they work together to create these amazing stories. 

“Our little boy loved it, we had to make a story together and I learnt some really cool stuff that I’d never even thought about before.”

As well as learning new skills, McLean sees another benefit to experimenting in new mediums, “In the ad industry we work with so many different people. Trying different things yourself gives you a real appreciation of how hard it actually is and how much magic and craft different people can bring to a project.”

"I rely on the creative input of contractors and freelancers... to bring my ideas to life."

Te Hau agrees,  ”I rely on the creative input of contractors and freelancers, in particular designers – to bring my ideas to life.  It's impossible for them to see inside my brain and recreate exactly what I was thinking. As much as possible I work with contractors I trust.  That’s why the Hnry awards are important to recognise the creative talents of these individuals who interpret and improve on the creativity of others.” 

Anyone can find that creative spark. Photo: Riccardo Annadale.

Give it a Go 

McLean adds he has no idea what to expect for the entrants, which he’s excited about. Just like he and Te Hau didn’t let their original roles define their creative abilities, the awards are the chance for anyone in the country - in any industry - to let their true creativity run wild.

The judges’ role is to come up with a top 10 - which is then put through to the public vote. And McLean has a final piece of advice when you’re stuck with a creativity block - keep going.

“It’s hard but it’s OK to be wrong. Only by being OK with that will you get anywhere interesting.

I find it equal parts exciting and terrifying!”


This article is written in partnership with the Hnry Awards 2020. 

How to enter Submissions are open now and will close on 21 March. The panel judges will name the 10 finalists on 30 March before opening it up to public voting, leaving it to people’s choice to decide the top three. The winner will be announced on 21 April. The Winner receives $15,000, First Runner Up $7,500 and Second Runner Up $2,500. Entries are open to New Zealanders over 18. One entry per person. Entries are free. Detailed entry instructions can be found at



Written by

The Big Idea Editor

16 Mar 2020

The Big Idea Editor