Not unlike the series of posts from last summer/fall when I wrote “something” for 56 straight days as a birthday challenge to myself, what’s happening here now, starting yesterday, is a series of mostly daily posts in which I’ll work through some training materials I’m developing/refining. These posts will include almost nothing to connect them to current events or news, so they’ll open with an intro that’s something like this:
Today and for the next several days, my tiny little ordinary life will offer some perspective on creative process. Also, I’m going to write/post without much revision, so you should expect typos and unfinished thoughts.
I’ll start this part of the series with two very short stories.
I have a physician friend who spent most of his professional life as a specialist but who trained, early in his career, as a generalist. In those early years he tended to a wide range of medical situations, because medicine and medical training looked remarkably different in the 60s and 70s from what it looks like now.
One day, well into his tenure as a specialist, my friend was called in for a consult on a case that stumped a patient’s primary care team. They’d tried countless treatment approaches with little success, and one of the persistent complications had to do with my friend’s particular area of expertise. When he examined the patient and the case notes, my friend offered the care team a surprising and unexpected answer: The underlying cause of all the trouble, in his assessment, was a spider bite. He recognized it from his early days of more general practice, before specialization and sub-specialization wrought their brand of havoc. If they treated that root cause, my friend suggested, then the patient would likely improve dramatically and quickly.
He was right.
In my very brief stint working as an account manager for an advertising agency, I learned there was an invisible firewall between the “creatives” and the “suits,” that latter word being a term that art directors, designers, and copywriters assigned to all the account people.
The creatives were the geniuses; the suits were the order takers. In this (completely dysfunctional) hierarchy, I was an order taker. If I tried to talk shop with the creative folks, they were quick to shut me out, though they did it politely most of the time. My job was to get information from the client, to frame the work, clarify the objectives. Their job was to take that information and produce something wildly creative in response.
In between my order taking and their creative genius was a magic document called the creative brief.
The specialist who owned the process of writing that magical creative brief and handing the baton to the genius team was the account director. What did one need in order to be an account director and write a killer creative brief? An MBA, of course. Only people with MBAs could do the job properly.
Only, of course, that last part was complete corporate bullshit.
Do you know who can learn to write a killer creative brief? Pretty much anyone who’s willing to put in the work of learning, practicing, and honing the skill.
The point of these two short stories is that the cult of specialization can get in the way of good, beneficial progress. Territorialism and rigid hierarchy are antithetical to being in relationship with others.
A related point is that a framework of commonly accepted pieces of information can bridge an otherwise unnatural separation and lead to a better outcome.
A third, more specific point (and the one that will carry us forward for the next several days), is that creative thinking, a creative approach to problem-solving, can be guided by a process that might not seem all that creative on its own. The process of framing a problem (reviewing a patient’s case notes, for example, or gathering information from a client about a marketing challenge) is a discipline that anyone can learn, with or without an MBA or other specialized degree.
The template that we’ll use for developing this skill is my version of the creative brief. As a companion guide, I’m going to use the curriculum I wrote when I taught this particular skill to trade show and event managers from around the world.
I’m posting the base document here, below, for reference. Tomorrow we’ll begin working through the framework, line by line. We’ll apply the template to situations that may seem surprising — making dinner, evaluating career changes, working through high-stakes relationships, etc.
It’ll be fun, I promise. So I’ll hope to see you back here, tomorrow.