I was recently reading a book called ‘Applied Empathy’ by the entrepreneur and creative director Michael Ventura. Like any great book, it’s not until you get to the end that you start to think more deeply about its key messages. The ones that linger long after you’ve put it down. I ended up going back, to read those sections over and over again. There was one in particular entitled, ‘It’s about to get personal’. Michael was talking about his creative process and how his approach to problem solving was completely different to anyone else in his team.
He says, “You may be surprised to hear that I am a linear, methodical thinker. Yes, I’m a creative at heart, and I spend a lot of my day cooking up ideas for clients that help solve their problems. But I have a process that isn’t conducive to working off the cuff. If you throw me into a room with zero preparation and give me some markers and a whiteboard, I’m probably going to sit there staring at it for an hour or two before anything happens.
That’s not so for a lot of creatives I know. They can dive straight in and spit ball ideas endlessly. I need to more fully understand a situation before I can do that. I need to see the bigger picture. I need to do research. I need to talk with a few people and hear their perspectives. Otherwise, I feel as though the ideas I generate are built on ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if…”
So where am I heading with this? Well, I’ve been at mark-making* for ten and a half years and although this has been one of the most difficult and challenging, it’s also given me the opportunity to reflect on my own creative process and how I approach the problem at hand.
Similarly to Michael, I’ve always struggled a little with rapid fire ideas and the urge to land the first thoughts on the board. In fact, I’ve often felt my discomfort levels rising in these situations. Am I contributing enough? Are my ideas any good? And ultimately, am I really giving this problem the consideration it deserves when all these doubts are charging through my head?
Combine this with a reputation for being ‘quick’ or ‘fast’, and I felt like now was the right time to try and distil things down. The process that works for me can be broken down into three parts. Or as I call them, ‘My Three Cs’.
The first, and for me the most important element, is confidence. Confidence can be broken down, beaten up and stamped on. But learning at every step and finding the resilience to hold your head high, can help you come back bigger and stronger. There’s a difference between arrogance and self-belief. You have to believe in yourself and your ideas if you’re going to deliver not just what’s expected but work you can be really proud of.
Confidence can also come as you build your ideas and concepts. I used to put quantity ahead of quality. Produce reams of ideas and present them all. I guess it was my way of showing that I was working hard and demonstrating my value to the team. Now though, I’m much more restrained, selective and considered. The ideas are still there but I have the confidence to only show the ones that I truly believe in and want to put forward.
I’ll look to build confidence in my ideas by starting with the simplest and most basic. But by not jumping in at the deep end, I’m able to ladder up, emptying my head of those first thoughts as I go and giving myself the creative freedom and opportunity to express myself.
And of course, there’s also real confidence in being able to ask for help. That’s what teams are for. Fresh perspectives, interesting insights and new creative approaches can come from anywhere, so don’t be too proud to take them on board.
Clarity runs through the best projects from start to finish. And the lack of it can derail them from the beginning. Without a single-minded proposition, it’s easy to run with some wonderfully creative thinking, but if you’re not clear on your objective, then they, and you, are unlikely to succeed. So stop, and don’t be afraid to question. It doesn’t matter how silly you might think it sounds. If it gives you the focus to start the project with confidence then ask away.
Clarity is key to my thought process and bringing concepts to life. I’ll often try to visualise them in my head, thinking about the steps I’ll need to go through to build up the logo, advert, brochure whatever it might be. For me, if it’s clear in my head and each step defined, I’ll soon be able to bring it to life on the Mac. For added clarity I’ll always look to sketch the idea. Doesn’t matter how loose it is. As long as the thought is clear in my mind, I can take on this stage with confidence.
To help with the process, I’ll often start to build a client presentation before I get too far with the ideas. By doing this I’m able to take myself on a bit of a journey and bring structure to the creative. Helping to put me in the client’s shoes and build up key steps in my thinking, it also gives me the opportunity to write out the brief and objectives, a vital reference point later down the line.
I know, I know. Conviction is the same as confidence isn’t it? Let me explain why it’s different in my process.
We ended last year with 7 client presentations in 5 days and part of me wanted to run away. But each client didn’t know that I’d just presented to the last and I guess that’s the way it’s always been. It doesn’t help that I’ve always been a nervous person but when it comes to work, I believe you have to show genuine conviction in what you’ve produced. You’ve been so close to the project and every little decision has been thought through. Nobody knows it better or can explain it better than you.
Creative work can become personal very quickly, but also very subjective. By having conviction and knowing that you’ve met the brief, you can retain that objective viewpoint.
For me it comes back to the last sentence from the book.
‘Wouldn’t it be cool if…’.
Yes, ideas can be ‘cool’ but that alone won’t convince your client that you’ve understood the brief or the problem. Don’t be afraid to keep referring back to the brief if you need to. Create a presentation that makes you feel comfortable, that plays to your strengths and your style. If that means adding a few extra slides, then do it. You can always remove them later if it suits you.
So, I hope that’s helped to shine a light on my process. But even better, sparked some thoughts about your own approach to problem solving. All that remains is to leave you with this…
Have confidence in yourself.
Bring clarity to the problem.
Show conviction in your solution.