When imagination did not satisfy, I had to wonder.

  • Categories:


  • Date:

    July 2, 2019

When imagination did not satisfy, I had to wonder.


We have to wonder what we’d do without Rebecca Henderson, Wray Ward’s own contemplative, curious copywriter and dreamer. Rebecca, a self-described lorem ipsum alchemist whose personal art practice explores humor as the humble messenger of truth, wowed at CreativeMornings Charlotte’s June event. I was in the audience for her talk, part of a series on Wonder.

Surrounded by towers of colorful plastic bricks shaped into some of the world’s most iconic architectural wonders (part of Discovery Place Science’s Towers of Tomorrow with LEGO® Bricks exhibit), I listened, equally absorbed and distracted by the personal images and memories the words invoked — from listening to my dad’s stories of swimming past the waves to touch the sky wall, to counting spattered stars on a quiet stretch of highway somewhere between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

In particular, one line from Rebecca’s talk moved me:

“When imagination did not satisfy, I had to wonder.”

That’s why, a few days after the CreativeMornings event, I sat down with my fellow wordsmith to get at the meaning of those words and what they have to do with marketing.

Imagination and creativity: are they the same?

RH: I think everyone has the same potential for imagination.

Creativity, on the other hand, comes after a certain amount of practice. Anyone has the ability to be creative, but you have to harness your imagination to actually create something. Otherwise, it’s just daydreaming.

Imagination is creativity on vacation.

What about wonder? Is it just a constructive breed of imagination?

RH: Well, if imagination is creativity on vacation, wondering puts that creativity back to work. Wonder is the fuel for living. It grounds us in the possibility of our experience.

I think imagination often exists tangentially to reality, while wonder is the reward of curiosity. And curiosity is a reality-driven exploration of possibility. In that sense, “wondering” lets us keep one foot in each of two worlds — imagined and real. Wondering is what sparks my creativity. The existence of a question invites my artistic curiosity.

Define wonder.

RH: To wonder is to allow the creative ideation and entertaining of multiple possibilities while considering all perceivable influences. Sounds kind of technical and magical. I like it!

Did you get to wonder today?

RH: I truly wonder all day. As a copywriter, I have to have a heightened sense of empathy and understanding of the audience, who isn’t always like me. And being able to wonder what it’s like to be someone else helps me develop messaging that’s more accurate and effective.

We just finished an internal review of a campaign proposal for a client that’s becoming more willing to push the envelope. We followed their lead and developed a few riskier options. Not only did I get to wonder throughout the proposal work, I also had the excitement of wondering what the client’s reaction would be.

In your talk, you said art brings knowing and feeling together. What did you mean?

RH: For someone who enjoys language as much as I do, I also recognize the fact that some things are so deep within our human understanding, we have to express them in a nonverbal or at least not directly verbal way. For me, successful expression leads to a universal understanding that can only be summarized by what we call might call “art.” But art isn’t just paintings and sculptures. It’s any cultural product that expresses the overlap between knowing and feeling.

Let’s talk about risk-taking. Do you take risks at work? Why should people in marketing embrace risk?

RH: I try to take risks as often as professionally possible. I love client presentations because they have a tinge of confronting the unknown, which really lights me up and gets me excited to come to work.

Risk-taking demonstrates a certain level of investment in the work. If it works, it’s authentic. And when people recognize that a brand has an authentic voice, that usually translates to higher success rates for long-term customer conversion.

What are some examples of brands that take risks?

RH: Personally, as a humorist, I love Old Spice deodorant and Orbit gum for humorous takes that also point to an insightful truth.

If you want to talk about industry disruptors, look at the controversial Gillette Super Bowl ad that weighed in on issues such as sexual harassment and bullying. Gillette stayed very much within their lane as producers of a product, but they also offered their perspective on what that product means to them as a company. They told consumers what they believe in as a company, even though they probably knew some people wouldn’t like it. They didn’t just tell consumers what they wanted to hear. They started a discussion.

Sometimes, like when you challenge your brand to do something bigger than itself, the risk itself is the reward.

What’s the craziest, riskiest thing you’ve ever done?

RH: Seriously? Coming to work at an agency. I was scared I’d disappoint people or struggle to fit in at an office.

Before coming to Wray Ward, I did design work at a tech startup. Let’s call it a gateway drug to a desk job. I’d had a bad experience with another desk job earlier — I’d never felt so detached from my authentic self and voice.

But meeting everyone at Wray Ward, I had every reason to suspect this time would be different.

Are you glad you did it? What have you learned?

RH: I said yes to the job because I knew it was the only way to challenge myself to have real impact and harness my unique gifts. And the payoff has been incredible. I’m working collaboratively with creatives I’ve admired for years, and the culture seems to be accepting of my erratic, though hopefully somewhat charming, nature.

Is it important to fail?

RH: It’s important to recognize that failure is not an outcome. It’s part of the process. Any project that doesn’t fail at some point is vulnerable to a huge blowup. Once you’re OK sharing your failures from a place of success — as in, I’ve successfully failed this time — you’re not as bogged down by shame, self-judgment or disappointment that it didn’t work out. That way, you can rebound much faster and be nimbler with your confidence still intact. Our imperfections are how we learn.

I recently did this Queen City PodQuest contest, where the winner gets to work with the sponsor to produce their podcast idea. I didn’t make it to the finals. I had to accept I’m not ready for success in that way, but I may be ready in another way.

You have to be willing to fail. Wait too long, and your silly little idea will become someone else’s big brilliant idea.

Do you love what you do?

RH: Yes. I’m a person of many words, but that is a simple answer to a hard question for many people.

Watch Rebecca's CreativeMornings Charlotte Talk

Explore more articles from Wray Ward.