How do you harness creativity?

There’s a lot of talk about “creativity” these days. Business books and leaders are constantly searching for it, but it appears to be a bit of a will-o’-the-wisp: mysterious and elusive.

As a strategic digital and brand agency, we deal in creativity every day. In this blog, we’ll explore what creativity means, how to be creative in today’s fast business environment, and how to help grow creativity within an agency.

Ask the right questions

Creativity begins when there’s a problem to solve. But oftentimes, the first problem we see isn’t the right one to tackle.

Let’s say a client comes to us and asks us to build a bridge across the river. (Just FYI, we’re not in the architecture business—yet.) We could start right away and build a gorgeous bridge that solves our client’s problem.

Or would it? Instead of going straight to construction, what if we first asked the client, “Why do you need to build a bridge?” And what if the client answered, “To get a message to the other side of the water”? In that case, building a bridge wasn’t the problem we needed to solve—rather, it was one of many possible solutions to the real problem of cross-water communication.

By asking questions and identifying the real problems, we open up a project to an unexpected myriad of solutions. And that’s where creativity begins.

A small budget doesn’t mean a small idea

I’ve heard stories of clients with unlimited budgets and non-existent timelines, but in my 20 years as a creative, I’ve never actually met one—not once. Budgets always seem to be smaller than what we’ve been asked to deliver and timelines shorter than we need to get the work done. But I’m not complaining because those constraints are what foster creativity.

While it sounds great, unlimited resources and time can mire you in the endless possibilities. But when you have constraints, you’re forced look outside of the expected solutions to take advantage of every resource and opportunity you have available. It forces you to push the boundaries of what is possible—and that’s creativity.

Here’s an example from inside GLG: Our client Taco Del Mar wanted to reach a large audience, but didn’t have the budget for a big broadcast media buy or traditional commercial shoot. Rather than be discouraged, we used those constraints to our advantage, creating ultra-short five-second spots featuring talking tacos and burritos. Because they were short, the spots were inexpensive to produce and place and, better yet, an unexpected, attention-grabbing surprise when surrounded by traditional-length commercials.

Make sure you have “shower time”

There is truth to the old adage that great ideas come to you in the shower. It’s in the seeming downtime that your subconscious is at work coming up with creative solutions. So at GLG, we make sure there is room for mental downtime within our creative process.

We like to start with a short, focused briefing and brainstorm. Then, we allow the team to think, go for a walk, think more, come back, and share any ideas that came to them. Rinse and repeat. By combining shorter bursts of intense brainstorming with planned downtime, we get more ideas—and ideas that are more diverse. As it turns out, the best ideas come from letting our brains take a break.

Look everywhere for inspiration

The most creative thinkers are innately curious and are constant consumers of culture. As a mentor to young creatives, I challenge my team to keep their eyes open and stay involved in the world around them: go see a show at a museum, pick up a graphic novel, go to a sporting event, travel, follow fashion, learn about new technologies, read everything, and cultivate hobbies outside of work.

If you want to develop creativity, it isn’t enough just to be a student of advertising and marketing, you need to be a student of the world around you. This gives you a larger toolbox of inspiration and broadens your palette from which to create interesting solutions. (It also makes you a fantastic cocktail party guest and darn good at trivia.)

Practice makes…

Even after you have asked the right questions, understood the constraints, made sure you have a good process in place, and gathered all the inspiration you need, it still can be terrifying to stare down a blank page and get started on a new project. At that point, it all comes down to practice. Doing it over and over, and then again.

At GLG we’ve been practicing creativity for over 23 years, and we keep on practicing. Because there is always a better solution out there.

GLG

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