Just-in-Time Creativity

Two successful strategies

When being creative is your job

Where do those clever, innovative ideas you see in communications and marketing come from? How do people take flat and uninspiring content and spin it into something that captures our imagination and urges us to seek more information?

In my career, I’ve had the great pleasure of working with many exceptionally creative people. I‘ve observed and learned from them the best ways to unearth creative thinking. I have two favorite approaches … similar, but with important subtle differences.

Inside out

The first approach is what I call the Observe and Apply Technique, or OAT for short. Quite simply, OAT is a process of looking carefully at everything that is around us to find what is unique to your situation. Then OAT adapts an interesting concept to match your problem or issue.

Here’s an example of how OAT works: A client we were working with was having trouble getting employees to read the corporate newsletter. A study they had conducted showed employees were so disengaged that many literally dropped the publication in the trash before giving it even a cursory review. The client wondered if there was a way for us to have the printed piece stand out to grab the reader’s attention.

Our team took a few days to mull on the challenge. When we reconvened, one of the team members made this observation: 

“Our client is a white-collar business, and most of the employees sit in an office—offices have doors. This week when I was traveling it struck me that most of the doors on my hotel floor had Do Not Disturb signs on them. I thought, what a wonderful way to communicate. What if we took the newsletters, cut a slit in them, and then hung the newsletter on the doors of employees’ offices?  The cost to do this is pretty nominal and the impact is significant.”

This is a classic example of a person paying attention to the elements of a situation, finding something unique or intriguing that had previously been overlooked—everyone had an office—and then finding solutions that better match that problem. That’s inside-out creative thinking. 

Outside in

The other approach to creative ideas I have seen colleagues successfully use is what I call the Echo and Adapt Technique, or EAT. Here the individual echoes something he or she found compelling and applies it to his or her project. 

Here’s generally how it works: think about what you’ve seen over the past three or four days that caught your attention. Was it an image? Or maybe a video clip? What made that image or clip interesting? Once you answer this last question, think of how that element can be adapted to a communication piece you are crafting.

Here’s a real world example of EAT: Do you remember the water bucket challenge from a couple of years ago? And, more recently, the bottle cap removal challenge? The EAT approach taps those viral campaigns to create a “challenge” adapted especially for your communication problem. Your new communication need not be exactly like the original, it merely contains an echo/homage/memory of the original.

There are many tried and true methods and techniques used in business to help employees think creatively. These include formalized brainstorming sessions, retreats to clear your mind and spark innovation, and mixing teams with experienced and inexperienced skills to see what happens. For me, the idea of seeing what is right in front of you and putting it to work in your communication plan has always seemed to generate the most fascinating results.

I hope that you’ll use the OAT and EAT techniques to generate some innovative approaches of your own. 

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