Young children on phone

Behaving like Children: Unleashing Creativity

I recently conducted a training workshop around ‘generating creativity’ for a group of people who tend to be more in the ‘logically thinking, planning space’.  The aim was to impart some hints and tips on how such individuals can be more creative when it comes to problem solving – something that we can all learn from. Such pearls of wisdom are what I wanted to share with you today. In my experience, it’s worth remembering that the best ideas come from everywhere and everyone, not just creative departments. This is often overlooked in some PR agencies. All staff should be able (and encouraged) to channel their inner creativity.

What is creativity then, and how do we harness it to meet the challenges our clients set for us? Creativity is often seen as the magic fairy dust that turns good campaigns into great campaigns. Creativity is not, in my opinion, a linear process, nor completely one of divine inspiration. To be able to see a different perspective, you need to remember that you can work harder, but you can’t force creativity – more hours spent doesn’t mean better ideas generated.

The most creative people in the world are arguably children. They see the world just as it is, with no pretext. At the same time, they are immensely proud of their ideas and actions and want to share them. They can make the smallest cardboard box a racing car or a princess palace. Their imagination is unlimited. As the mother of young children, I can’t count the times a smile has been brought to my face in response to my daughters’ unique approaches and ideas.

So how can we act more like children? Here are some basic principles to kickstart your creative thinking and help you capture its essence in the best possible way.

First, all creative briefs should begin with insight, the research you’ve conducted as part of an initial situational analysis. A deep ‘uncovering’ of the ‘actual’ problem you are trying to solve for a client. The ‘so what, so what, so what….’ until you can go no more.

Ultimately, what is the question we are trying to answer with a creative solution? This should always be derived from some form of data analysis which gets under the skin of the issue at hand and enables the creation of an effective campaign strategy. At the same time, such insight enables thoughts and context to be provided to the creative team.

Once here, you are faced with the inevitable blank canvas of: where do my ideas start?

Begin by laying out that one question you are trying to answer and break it down into its parts, this provides a framework for thinking. From there you can organise your thoughts, focusing in on mini creative problems to solve. As I’m sure you’ll have experienced, this sparks a snowball effect of further ideas in a chain reaction, bringing new and old thoughts together, as our brain relates back to known, historic points of reference.

During the workshop, I shared the thoughts of James Webb Young, who back in the 40s noted that an idea is nothing more or less than a combination of old elements, and that the capacity to bring old elements into combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships between individual thoughts. As mentioned, ideas can come from everywhere and everyone. You want people to see problems differently, with different perspectives, so various combinations can be spotted.

So how can you spot those relationships, and draw out those winning ideas? Here are my tips and techniques:

  • It’s not just thinking differently; it’s how you get your team collectively to think differently. Break your team into two-person groups, which can each approach the same creative problem from a different angle, and then share their thinking with the wider team.
  • You need to be inspired and for this, you need to ‘read, see and experience all the time’. Observe everything, everywhere.
  • Relax, get away from the desk. Creativity thrives when your mind is clear and uncluttered, not trying to complete six tasks at once. Why do you think people have great ideas in the shower or when exercising? For me, it’s running. You need to disconnect, understand the problem and apply some headspace to enable you to think. Thirty minutes in-between tasks in the middle of a busy day is not ideal.
  • That said, applying a time limit means you don’t risk overthinking a problem, and take the best of the good ideas rather than mulling over things too much.
  • Applying constraints can add structure to creative brainstorms too. While there should be no red lights in a brainstorm, briefing participants on the constraints of the task at hand can help shape the conversation. Otherwise you end up with a host of ideas that are unworkable or unfit for purpose, however much you polish them.
  • Document your thoughts. There’s a reason why artists often carry little notebooks. When inspiration does strike – when you’re out walking the dog, brushing your teeth, on the train – note your thoughts down on your phone, because you won’t remember them later.
  • Practise, practise, practise. Business coach and author James Altucher, suggests you write down 10 ideas a day. If you did that you would have 3,650 at the end of the year to choose from. Even if only one percent of your ideas are good, that’s still 36 great ideas. You only need one of these to be successful.

If you are looking to broaden your ideas and thinking, try some of the approaches above. Start with insight and the problem, then clear your head and break away to give yourself space to think.

Ultimately, be more kid.

If you are looking for a creative team of experienced PR ‘kidults’ to help you drive a campaign, get in touch to chat about your creative challenges.

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