04/12/2012 02:10 EDT | Updated 06/12/2012 05:12 EDT

How to Be Creative in Five Easy Steps


I love it when clients ask us for a "creative idea." While it's not much to go on, somewhere between the lines it usually means they want something they haven't seen before. The underlying caveat is that the ideas must deliver. Nobody wants to pay for creativity without results.

To some, the term "creative process" is an oxymoron. For others it's simply a mystery. Regardless of your personal take, it's difficult to plan creativity that gets desired results without some sort of process (or a whole lot of luck).

When it comes to designing a creative process, the process is as important as the creativity. Take, for example, a recent case I saw where a bunch of "creative" people were jammed in a room with a whiteboard and a lengthy, boring brief. It wasn't long before nobody wanted to participate, and the session fizzled.

So, is there one creative process that's superior to all the others? I think not. Even impromptu discussions in a cab on the way to a meeting can deliver fantastic results. Every single creative challenge has a unique need, and an equally unique solution.

Considerations can run the gamut, from the audience, the organization, its competition, its limitations, the time of year, the desired outcome, pop culture, and current affairs -- even the team of individuals at your disposal. So, rather than losing yourself in the x-factors and mysteries of the creative process, recognize that there are some simple guidelines that can help any group of people with any creative challenge achieve a good idea.

Here they are:

Respect your audience: At the end of the day, your audience will decide whether your idea works. So, engage them in the process. I'm not suggesting if your audience is 40 year old men, you need a brainstorming session with 40 year old men. You do however need to get to know what they're all about. What are they reading? What do they watch? How do they communicate, and with whom? What influences their thinking? What do they do day to day? What matters?

If you didn't start with an insight, find one, and fast: In order to resonate, you need to hang your approach on something that matters. If you don't have a unique hook (one that really hits the mark), stop and go back to the starting line. Investigate your audience until your "eureka moment" insight seems like simple common sense.

Keep your creative brief brief: Nothing can limit ideas like information. So, if it doesn't matter, keep it out of the brief. Giving creative types excess information is like giving a high jumper hand weights -- the more you do it, the less they'll soar. Keep it simple by sticking to the 2W's: Who and What.

Nature vs. Nurture: When it's time to brainstorm, make sure you have a mix. When these sessions are well moderated, creative types and pragmatists can come together for creative ideas that deliver practical benefits.

Test your theories: When it comes to research, I'm a firm believer that you need to present specific options to get valuable insights. Don't ask a focus group for a solution, ask them what they think of your solution. And much like getting to know your audience, if you don't have time or funds for research, test your thinking on someone who fits the bill.

When developing a creative idea, adding process won't compartmentalize the creativity -- ideally they work together to generate even bigger ideas. It's not mysterious, it's not magical, it's not a one-size-fits-all approach; it's about understanding the challenge, and using your resources appropriately, and in your own way.