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The Three Rs of Modern Creativity

Resilience - Jet Set Willy Style

Resilience – Jet Set Willy Style

I’ve been thinking about what it takes to be a good creative in a modern agency. And it just so happened that 3 things that kept resurfacing began with an R. So here are my Three Rs for creatives:

Resilience – Don’t give up!

The modern world is complicated for clients and agencies. In most commercial environments there are tons more reasons not to do something brave than there are to do it. So if you’re doing your best as a creative person to innovate or do something a little more daring or unexpected there are hundreds of ways for your idea to be killed.

The idea that’s on the table might not be to the taste of the person who’s buying. It might sound a bit like that thing that someone else did. There might be a mismatch of appetite for risk. It might be too complicated in terms of requiring people from different departments to talk to each other. It might be all about Facebook that week. You may have used the color blue incorrectly. And sometimes, just sometimes, the idea might be a shitty one (but that almost never happens, right?).

So what do you need? Apart from good ideas? Resilience. You need to be able to take a few knocks. You need to understand that someone not buying something in the first meeting doesn’t mean “no”, it just means they didn’t believe your spiel. If you’re convinced that you’re right. Then figure out how to make them believe.

Listen to the clients’ feedback. Why didn’t they like it? Speak to the rest of your team. What was wrong? Mostly your idea isn’t 100% incorrect. So don’t tear it all up and start again. Fiddle with it. Squeeze it. Bend it. Change the typeface. Do some ghetto focus groups. Work with some folks who can make a better business case than you. Make it red if you have to.

Too often you see good ideas die because people weren’t able to look at the idea and protect the core of it. Babies get thrown out with bathwater all the time. Partly this is because people become wedded to execution of ideas. And as soon as they feel like the execution is questioned then the idea feels compromised. Mostly that’s not the case. There’s a different way to express the same idea that will often overcome everyone’s issues with it. Fight to keep an idea on the table when it deserves to be there.

Of course there’s ways to do this and there’s ways not to do this. Don’t confuse resilience with belligerence. And if someone is really really saying no (especially when accompanied by sustained weeping) then it’s time to give up.

Oh and you don’t just need resilience on one project. You need it across everything you work on because chances are you’re going to fail over and over again. That’s just how it is these days.

Restraint – Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. 

It is tempting though isn’t it. There’s all these fancy new things out there that everyone is using. Why not spooge your wares all over Pinterest (or whatever today’s fresh virgin snow is)? Of course it makes sense to gum up Instagram with your awesome thing. It’s not like people have had their fill of your Tweets, YouTube Videos, Facebook status updates, rich media eye-rape, projection-mapped city takeovers, bluetooth phone-jackathons, interactive outdoor-o-matics with busloads of people jumping up and down in front of a Kinect, and that mobile-thingy-you-stuck-in-at-the-end-for-good-measure. Oh and of course a bloody #hashtag.

Ideas fail all the time because they’ve been obscured and over-compicated by adding ‘too much stuff’. They start to feel onerous and difficult and that they’ll be a nightmare to manage for the client. Let alone what a ball ache they’ll be for any normal person to engage with.

It’s no wonder people crave the simplicity of a TV spot, some print, and a bit of radio. Imagine how much simpler and easier that sounds to a client. You can sign-off in 20 minutes and be back doing your proper job before you know it. With all this social media nonsense we’re asking them to dedicate the rest of their lives to whatever-it-is. 24×7.

Make it simple, concrete, smart, and focussed. At least at the outset. When your idea proves to be the next big thing and people are begging to be wowed in even more places, then of course oblige them, it’d be rude not to.

Respect – You can’t do this stuff on your own.

In this complex world you can’t do it all on your own. You need to collaborate. And to collaborate well you need to respect other people. Even if you don’t understand what they do. No wait a second. Especially if you don’t understand what they do. Chances are it’s much more complicated and difficult than you think – unless their title has “Social Media” in it, in which case probably not ;-)

I’m always amazed at how threatened people seem to get when it comes to working with new people. We have to get used to collaborating. In most situations everyone wins most when a successful outcome occurs. It’s rare that sabotage and watching you fail are anyone’s motives. Unless you find paranoia, fear, and a general sense of unease are useful creative motivators assuming the best in people is a good idea.

Of course there are tricky moments when there’s blurry lines over responsibility or people are worried about who’s going to get credit for what. But this is all just ego-nonsense. And surely it’d be better for you to get some credit for a thing that happens rather than be totally responsible for something that never gets made?

I suspect that these 3 things don’t just apply to the creative discipline in agencies, I feel like they might be more general than that. But I couldn’t say for sure.

Have you got any different / better Rs? Being respectful I’d love to hear them.

Confused about why I called this the “Three Rs”? (I’m not sure if it’s a global thing or not) Wikipedia will fill you in. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_three_Rs

11 Comments on "The Three Rs of Modern Creativity"

  • Mike says

    Two other R’s that I think are important, but perhaps play more of a supporting role are Research and Readiness.

    Do you really know what you’re getting yourself into if the the client buys your idea, and when they say yes can you actually go ahead and make it happen?

    I’m sure clients don’t like the scenario where an idea is pitched & bought only for the agency comes back to the table with something different because they can’t actually do what they proposed.

    It’s all very much tied into your point about restraint. Doing less often means you understand it more deeply, increasing your chances of making it happen.

  • I think you touched on it in Restraint, but I think maybe having a sense of Realism is important. New digital frontiers for storytelling are being made almost weekly, yet the uptake of them is minute by “real people”.

    BBH Labs touched on it;
    http://bbh-labs.com/majority-report-looking-through-the-digital-hype

    And being realistic about participation. No one’s going to upload a video / crowdsource the soundtrack / paint a picture then uploaded a photo of it so it becomes one pixel of a much larger brand mural piece, etc, if the brand is Toilet Duck.

  • +++ AAA WILL BUY AGAIN. I really couldn’t agree more, thank you for wiping the inside of your head on the internet for us all to see.

  • Guy says

    Hey Iain. Firstly (obviously) great to have a new longform blog from you. Secondly, I know the comment was tongue-in-cheek but I have to ask: are you sceptical of ideas that need proper social staffing at the core (“dedicat[ing] the rest of their lives to whatever-it-is. 24×7.”)? Or just sceptical of the kind of person who claims to be an ‘expert’ at such a task? After Old Spice, I’m guessing it’s the latter, not the former?

  • Miranda Ross says

    Like your 3 “R”s; they make loads of sense. But having just seen (and sadly failed to stop) a good idea go through it’s 11th iteration, and along the way become some not so good executions, maybe there’s a point at which you have to face facts and Recognise it’s time to move on?

  • Crazy Bob says

    IrReverance-? (I sound like Grahan Fink… whoever he is).

    Randomness? It quite often works.

    Robocop. If I don’t watch it twice a week, I feel gay.

  • “Too often you see good ideas die because people weren’t able to look at the idea and protect the core of it. Babies get thrown out with bathwater all the time. Partly this is because people become wedded to execution of ideas. And as soon as they feel like the execution is questioned then the idea feels compromised. Mostly that’s not the case. There’s a different way to express the same idea that will often overcome everyone’s issues with it. Fight to keep an idea on the table when it deserves to be there.”

    Want to be my CD?

  • Although it’s perhaps implied, I’d single out the need to be a doer/maker. Not because it’s trendy to say, but because more often than not, we’re trying to devise things that haven’t existed before. This means inadequate references to ‘sell’ the vision. It means that execution is more important than ever, as it has to carry the idea without as much ‘stuff we’ve seen that’s similar’ to draw on as a user navigates it. Not to mention the confidence it gives clients that you can actually pull it off. In short, you sometimes have to do it to sell it. At least a bit.

    • Iain says

      Agree. I also think that having made some stuff you understand what happens if you ‘actually’ do something. As opposed to whether or not it sounds like a good idea on paper. Two very different things!

  • John says

    Retribution is always a good motivator and ridicule can be a great vehicle.

  • muqueca says

    Thanks for the ‘Three Rs’ post @iaintait this deserves a t-shirt!