Creative Collaboration.

I have a doctor friend who decided, several years ago, to start taking her own advice: Eat better, exercise more, drink water, and get some sleep.

She’d been preaching this simple self-care, wellness mantra to her patients for as long as she could remember. One day, dissatisfied with her own health and wellbeing, she decided to give it a try. The result was, judging by the look on her face as she told me about the experience, a surprising revelation, like it had somehow never occurred to her to adopt the practice she recommended to others daily.

That’s one story. Here’s another:

Thirty years ago a colleague was working to reduce homelessness in a large metro area. He started a nonprofit to provide two things, at no charge to participants: A mailbox/mailing address, and basic kitchen training. The rationale behind the idea? Kitchen jobs were in high demand, developing basic cooking skills required little or no literacy, and having a mailing address was a standard requirement for getting a job. If he and his team could help people living on the streets find gainful employment, then that employment would lead to economic self-sufficiency that would lead to being housed, etc.

Five years into the work, he deemed the project a failure. The dropout rate was almost 90%. They’d tweaked the program in every way imaginable, to no avail. Finally, one of the dropouts offered a surprising perspective: “I just don’t want to live by anyone else’s rules. I’d rather be on the streets and get to make my own decisions about things.”

What do these stories have to do with creativity in general and the notion of a creative brief specifically?

To get there, let’s start in the world of advertising, which gave birth to the creative brief in the first place.

Clients typically come to advertising agencies for fresh, creative work that will drive business-focused results — a memorable slogan or brand identity, perhaps, or a compelling promotion that will ultimately be measured in tangible metrics such as sales transactions, subscriber base growth, and so on.

The best agencies (meaning, the agencies that consistently deliver results) begin by digging deep to understand the problem from every possible perspective. That memorable slogan or recognizable logo you love? It did not start on a graphic designer’s artboard, I promise you. It likely started with nerds and social scientists, with charts and graphs and census data. The final output that gets labeled “creative work” is the last step in a longer, deeper creative process that guides toward that end.

Creative problem-solving, as I see it (after 35 years “in the work,” as the saying goes), is a unique kind of social contract, one that works best when taking into account the fullest possible range of perspectives.

Starting at the top of the process (“What’s the problem to be solved, and whose problem is it?“), and consciously testing against initial bias and assumptions grounds the work in objective reality outside of any one person’s subjective view. Considering the range of “who benefits, and how” likewise leads to mutual agreement (social contract) that is stronger in the long run.

The TLDR: Good creative advertising is like good matchmaking; everyone’s happy in the end.

So, back to the stories.

What prompted my doctor friend to try her own advice? She saw a not-good trend in her own blood pressure. After years of carrying excess weight, working long hours, and generally not tending to her own health, her blood pressure was rising and she was going to have to start taking medication that she too often prescribed for patients who hadn’t been willing (in her view of things) to make behavioral changes. Facing the choice that she’d so often offered to other people, she saw the problem from a new perspective. That fresh view not only helped her decide to improve her own health, it also changed the way she talked to patients about their health. Instead of a doctor dispensing orders, she became more personally invested as a collaborator in solving health-related problems.

What happened with the kitchen training/mailbox initiative? They reframed the problem. Instead of broadly attempting to “end homelessness,” they more narrowly focused on offering a specific solution (kitchen training and mailbox) to people who were looking for that kind of solution. The 10% of participants who completed the training, got jobs, secured places to live, and began the slow process of re-engaging with the community after living on the streets were the “market” for their solution.

Now pretend, for the sake of a thought experiment, that both my doctor friend and the couple working to end homelessness could hit a reset button and start over. In the do-over, they would spend more time and engage more co-thinkers to develop creative briefs/strategies using a collaborative framework. What might have been different?

I’ll leave this post, like others recently, open-ended, as food for thought: How might any of this apply to a problem you are trying to solve, even if you don’t think of yourself as creative, and even if “advertising” isn’t part of the problem?

Speaking of food…

The farmers markets are opening! The farmers markets are opening!

It’s the beginning of the spring growing season, and many seasonal markets are re-opening or expanding after a winter full of root vegetable stews (not that those aren’t wonderful, but it’s time for a change, yes?).

Even if the local markets don’t yet have all of the true spring goodness (peas, leeks, garlic scapes, asparagus), you can be thinking ahead (or using what’s available at the grocery, even if asparagus trucked from across the country will never taste the same as what’s picked the day before, close to home).

A few ideas for your consideration:

From COOKIE + kate

Perfect Roasted Asparagus

Thai Green Curry with Spring Vegetables

Shaved Asparagus and Quinoa Salad

From Southern Living:

Creamy Pesto and Shrimp Penne with Peas

Oven-Baked Risotto with Ham, Leeks, and Peas

From The Spruce Eats:

Fingerling Potato Salad (can use any fresh spring potatoes)

Garlic Scape Salad Dressing (so you’ll be ready when the time comes)

Enough to get you started? Awesome. Now all you need is…

See you… soon. Yes, we are going to talk about my favorite TikTok moms, and about creative parenting. Wouldn’t want to miss that, would you?