Unlocking Creativity with Deej Johnson
February 10, 2020 | In his latest book, co-authored with Mojo Nation’s co-founder Billy Langsworthy, writer and creative consultant Deej Johnson teaches others that creativity is not an art form. Instead, Johnson suggests creativity is something that anyone can learn using different techniques.
At Toy Fair New York, Johnson and Langsworthy will share these techniques and help inventors generate more ideas in the session “The Creative Habit,” taking place on Sunday, February 23 at 2:30 p.m. in the Creative Factor Theater (the lobby outside Hall 1D). Johnson will also host an innovation workshop on February 25 at the first-ever Student Congress Day to help students get their creative juices flowing. Ahead of Toy Fair, Toy News Tuesday caught up with Johnson to hear what attendees can expect to gain for these sessions.
Give us a brief overview of your background and what you’re working on right now.
My background’s a bit of a hotchpotch. I’m an inventor-magician, a qualified hypnotherapist, a writer, a speaker, and a creative consultant – all the product of horrible indecision! At school, I told the Career Advisor that I wanted to be a magician. I was 14, got short shrift, and no help. I left school in a fog of uncertainty and got a job in retail logistics.
This actually turned out to be incredibly useful, because everything revolved around service and problem solving: very practical creativity. I’d also been writing scripts for a comedy-magic act for a couple of years which led to my writing catalogue copy, websites, and instructions. I moved into that more and more, and then creative consultancy. Happily, after I did my first book, I found a niche in the toy and game industry.
Right now, I’m answering lots of questions about my new book on creativity. I’m also developing several board games, working on a couple of video scripts, a speech, and some Amazon copy for a new client.
At Toy Fair, you’re presenting the session “The Creative Habit.” You’ve made quite the habit yourself of talking about creativity. Have you always considered yourself to be a “creative person”?
No, on the contrary! When I was young, I couldn’t even create a fuss. From the age of around 16, I was in a group of tremendously creative people: two other magicians, a filmmaker, a dancer, and the most remarkable musician. They’d be working on all sorts: comedy shows, films, concerts; all kinds of creative things. I’d show up with a cup of tea and a blank look; I contributed absolutely nothing!
In hindsight, this was probably a blessing because when I chose to do something about it, I began researching and using creative techniques. I also started writing a lot of stuff: comedy scripts for the magicians, notably, but then more serious stuff.
Your latest book is geared toward inventors to help them unlock creativity. Most people – no matter what they’re doing – hit creative and/or mental blocks. What can attendees expect to gain from your Creative Factor talk?
I’ll be talking about where ideas come from and how to have more of them. I’ll also be talking about the one thing every inventor needs to know and two magic words that unlock your thinking. Creative or mental blocks are interesting. In my experience, people that say they have them are rarely creative by profession. If a client says, “I need three ideas for a game styling by Friday afternoon,” a professional can’t hold a hand to their forehead and say, “Friday? That’s no good: the muse only comes on weekends.” When people say they have a creative block, what I think they mean is that waiting for an “Aha!” moment isn’t working for them. Ego permitting, I think these are the people who most benefit from techniques that kickstart their thinking.
How do you think those outside the design/inventor field can benefit from your book?
Well, brace yourself! I’m going to give you the full title and subtitle. It takes a while! The book is called The Snakes & Ladders of Creative Thinking: How to Have More Ideas for Board Games, Improve Them & Get Them Ready to Pitch. Every technique in it is tried, tested, and proven to work over and over again. You can use these creative techniques in any industry: they’re reliable ways to manage your mind and produce ideas in any situation. It’s only my work with Mojo Nation that means this book focuses on board games.
Mojo Nation has had its own successes with the Mojo Nation Student Conference. What have you learned from those events and what kind of creative wisdom will you offer to students attending Toy Fair New York’s first-ever Student Congress this year?
First, Mojo Nation is a terrific client. They’re lovely, genuine guys who really work hard to celebrate and communicate around creativity in this industry. Their Student Conference starts with morning talks and panels with terrific people like Hasbro’s Rich Mazel; Rena Nathanson from Bananagrams; and Matt Burtonwood, who co-invented Rubik’s Cage. Then, in the afternoon, we give the students real-world creative briefs and ask them to invent either a toy or a game.
There are also about a dozen mentors in the room with different areas of expertise. It’s extraordinary: every group of students gets to speak to somebody who really can move their idea forward. Later, these professionals go into a huddle and pick out one toy and one game that they think has real potential.
The important thing, though, is that – at the end of this one day – dozens of people leave feeling energized, excited, and enlightened about an industry that thrives on passion and new ideas. The students attending New York Toy Fair’s first-ever Student Congress can expect a slice of that same energy and opportunity. And Lastly, and by all means least, they can watch in amazement as Billy’s hairline continues to recede in real time.
Toy Fair New York will take place February 22 to 25 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Visit ToyFairNY.com or download the free Toy Fair app on Apple iTunes or Google Play for the full list of Creative Factor programming and other informative educational sessions taking place only at Toy Fair.