Client: “That seems so obvious.”
Me: “Thank you very much.”
This is possibly my favourite exchange in any client presentation. The client thinking us oh-so clever for a comprehensively simple solution to a knotty problem. And whilst we may smile enigmatically (as we can) we know that it was hard yards rather than a wistful stumble that got us there.
So where did that and other ideas come from?
It’s less a case of knowing how or even where to look, more of being prepared to look – and think – hard.
Firstly, anyone can do it
‘Creative’, it seems to me, has become something increasingly few people feel they can claim to be, while others dare to define themselves as such. Yes, some people have more of a knack for it – like others do for mental arithmetic – but it’s not magic. Think of it differently. An idea – ‘creative’ – can simply be thought of as something different, unexpected, a suggestion. “What if we…” is the beginning of something ‘creative’. It may be genius, or terrible… doesn’t matter. It’s a start.
Be prepared to fail
Now, whilst you’d think the SAS couldn’t be further removed from pencil pushing problem solving, their maxim “Who dares, wins” does have some relevance here. Ideas will never (ever) see the light of day if they aren't given the opportunity to get shot down. And they will. This is why many of us don’t do ‘ideas’: we might look stupid. Fine. But we can and do have ideas. It’s just those that boldly-go, take-the-flak and fire-off more suggestions, survive and win out. The SAS, see.
Give yourself an interesting problem
One of the godfathers of design, Mr Bob Gill, champions a disarmingly simple way to approach a problem: concentrate on the problem. Brilliant. Forget what you know. Crush assumptions. This gets you in a position to… redefine the brief. Or as Mr Gill put it “now at least I had an interesting problem”.
Vital though it is, the creative brief is often a little earnest, verbose, with the odd red herring thrown in. Question it. Poke it. If you can redefine the brief into a simple “so, in other words, we need…” you’re a long way towards prompting ideas that point you to your solution. (Or, alternatively and crucially, you’ll discover that the brief is plainly inaccurate.)
Occasionally, the first idea you have will be the winner. When it isn’t – or when it’s pointed out it stinks – you have to dig in. The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas. The more questions, thinking, probing of the problem, the more likely you’ll crack it.
Unlike the proverbial chicken and egg, problems precede solutions. Every time. One begets the other. The more interesting, vague, (in)accurate the problem the more interesting, vague, (in)accurate the solution.
Focus on the problem. Dare to share ideas. Find your solution.