Creative process – wait, isn’t that an oxymoron?

Posted by Veronica Wainstein on November 2, 2017 at 8:00 PM

How do you push your team to be more creative? It might sound counter-productive, but a good process could help!How do you push your team to be more creative? It might sound counter-productive, but a good process could help!

Pairing the word ‘process’ when you’re working with ‘creative’ seems unlikely, but I was enlightened by the idea that process is essential to creative.

As a business, Penquin has adopted multiple ways of developing conceptual thinking and creative work for our clients, but we have never formalised the process for fear that it would stunt the creative thinking and try to box us in. Piera Gelardi and Laura Crimmons both gave brilliant insights at the #Inbound17 conference, hosted by Hubspot. In both of their talks they spoke about creative process and how essential it is to finding the lightbulb moment and the creative execution of ideas.

The illustration below is a diagram frequently used for the creative process. Whilst the steps in the process are accurate, there isn’t time attributed to each step and the diagram doesn’t suggest that often we have to go back some steps in order to go forward.

Creative process illustration

For me, this diagram below feels like a better refinement of the process. Laura Crimmons gave a spot on description of how typical brainstorms happen with creative people. Generally, all teams are called into a meeting for the purpose of the brainstorm. The session is essentially a briefing so that all participants can understand the client’s requirements. The room then tends to sit in silence and waits for the first person to speak and come up with the right idea. In most cases, one or two ideas – that are pretty average – will emerge from the session with the understanding that they will be further explored. The problem is that we then try to squeeze the life out of the idea to suit the client brief and for the most part, it’s essentially the death of the great idea.

Creative process

What I really like about this diagram is that it emphasises just how much time is spent identifying the problem. This doesn’t mean the client’s problem, this means based on the client’s brief, what are the problems, challenges and needs of the end user. Once we understand the need, we can then delve into that to verify the thinking and determine, where, how and who we should be targeting. This requires research, it means delving into the market, getting your hands dirty and really figuring out what makes people tick and what is likely going to inspire them to take action.

Then we let the ideas flow – a brainstorming session should only be scheduled once some really good thought starters or insights from the research can be brought to the session. It’s pivotal to remember that people are inspired by different things, and that the same stimulus may inspire different ideas in different ways. Look at the people included in the brainstorming session, and tailor your session to them - visuals, text, apps, paper or different methodologies may inspire people in different ways. Keep that in mind when developing the session. Both Piera and Laura then spoke about the process of the brainstorming session and that this applies no matter if you are presenting to an existing client, a new client, a boss, a colleague or any other business solution you are proposing.

First off, no ideas are bad or wrong. In fact both ladies recommended that you start with the absolute, most horrific, unthinkable ideas first. This generally gets the room laughing which encourages participation and quite often, the complete opposite of a bad idea is a really good idea. Phrases like ‘that won’t work’, ‘It’s not going to be in budget’, ‘Client will never go for that’ and ‘We don’t have enough time’ should be completely banned from the brainstorm – in fact Piera says her team have a buzzer and anytime a nay-sayer pipes up, they get buzzed for negativity. Once you have some ideas, then leave the room. Leave the room with a couple of ideas, don’t narrow yourselves down too soon. Again the picture above shows that the link between ideas and brainstorming should flow back and forth between each other – this process will whittle out the weaker ideas and elevate the stronger ones.

Once there are at least two strong ideas, then it’s time to design. Here is where you turn the ideas into visual magic. Design is not a one day event, it takes time to turn an idea into art and the most challenging part is that the art needs to illicit a reaction from it’s audience. To do this, the magic needs time to think through, create, evolve, craft and bring it to brilliance. I have always loved the Dr Seuss quote: ‘Think left and think right, think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!’

So to play on that, I really believe that thinks become things and they can become the best versions of themselves if they are given the time they deserve.

The next stage would be to regroup. Regrouping let’s the team explore the ideas, craft them and build on them into more channels, more opportunities and smarter ways to communicate them, so they can best visually represent solving the need of the target audience .

At this stage, even though the ideas have been researched prior, insights have been formed, ideas and brainstorms have flowed and the creative design has happened, we often jump too soon into the client presentation. Without testing and evaluating the ideas, we charge head first into getting approval. The problem here is that you are relying on a handful of individuals to represent a much greater audience with many diverse emotions, thoughts and needs. We need to get better at validating our thinking. Brene Brown, a keynote speaker at the #Inbound17 conference, spoke about having a Brain Trust. This is a validation team really. A group of diverse individuals that she goes to that inspire her, challenge her and validate her ideas. In some cases this can be a fictitious team of people, but ideally having a group that is your sounding board, that can push you and that can give you direction is a great way to ensure your ideas are sound. Furthermore, there are many tools for surveying groups of people – be it face to face or in a digital environment. Use the tools, get the feedback, all criticism should be welcomed, it’s the only way we learn, it’s the only way we improve and it’s the only way we make the work we do exceptional.


Now that the process is done, the ideas have been vetted and you are proud with a piece of work that you have created, then present it to your clients and do this with confidence and conviction. It’s very hard to say no when the story you tell is more than just gut feel or assumption, but is backed up through research and a robust evaluation.

If you need any help working on the process and creating something brilliant, contact us and we will help you strategise. 

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Topics: Strategy

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