Effective daydreaming: Brian Slade on why objectivity drives creativity

It’s a beautiful thing when client and creative teams hit that sweet spot between nailing the brief and exceeding expectations. So what does it take to create this result? At first it may appear a hit and miss process. The client and creative team combination may appear to get it right one day and then the next, not so much. But I don’t think it’s so much hit and miss; it’s more staying focused and being objective, open and not feeling the need to make your own personal mark.

Over the years, I’ve relished the need to collaborate. Projects today tend to be much more complex and as such require the input of multiple skills. Audiences have matured, channels are more diverse and the demands on the dollar spend are far more rigorous than ever before. So listening with an objective mind is crucial.

The brief should never be underestimated and should not be a one-way transaction. It’s a real opportunity for the client and creative thinking to combine in formulating not only what the problem is, but also how it can collectively be solved. The focus should always be on the idea rather than the execution. It should, however, set clear objectives, targets and budget outlines with a timeline that has some semblance of sanity. 

Once the brief is birthed and set loose, the mind can get to work. There are a lot of innate and learnt inspiration-finding techniques that can appear really curious and questionable to the analytical mind. These can range from re-conceptualising the problem, creating psychological distance from the challenge, through to the research-proven power of creative daydreaming or as Walt Disney termed it, ‘imagineering’. I don’t believe these techniques are the sole preserve of the creative team either. The more objective thinking applied, from all invested in the project, the better the end result.
Re-conceptualising is the ability to objectively sit back and examine the problem in different ways rather than following a linear path to a cut and dried solution. It means focusing on possibilities not overtly obvious with a playfulness of mind that appreciates that not everything is known. Once this is done you can use quick and simple user testing and research to hone the thinking and concentrate on the execution.

Facts and data (generally linear and literal) become balanced and woven with ideas that aren’t solely rational, creating new scenarios and narratives. To the pragmatic and analytical thinker this can initially appear off-topic, unclear or irrelevant, but with objective listening and clear communication a fresh understanding can be found and great creative cut-through achieved.
Putting psychological distance between you and a problem is similar to having the luxury of a timeline that allows for putting the problem aside and coming back to it afresh. The difference is that if you can master the technique of stepping back and thinking about the task from a distance rather than staying right in the thick of it, you can fast track the creative process and save yourself a whole lot of time! 

Research supports creative daydreaming as a valid incubation process but what is less talked about is the fact that you can only effectively daydream if you’ve put the hard yards in and clearly understand what you’re trying to solve. Otherwise it’s just dreaming. So make sure you know what you’re doing!

Getting the ‘right people in the room’ at every stage is invaluable. The client and its sales team know its product and its audience so much better than the creative team. Harnessing this collective knowledge is so beneficial. The way I like to work is taking the opportunity to not only talk with those who are ultimately going to be making the decision but also run through rough concept ideas and sketches. These can then be stretched further with collective input, saving endless ‘Chinese whispers’, frustrating interpretations and wasted budget.

This sweet spot continues to be appreciated by our client the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). Holding its biennial international conference in New Zealand this year, it had stuck to the strength of a shared vision, resisted the temptation to kill the creative spark with arbitrary tinkering and seen collaboration as key to its success with a strong ability to listen objectively.


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