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Creatively, Strategic

It’s oxymoronic. You know it when you see it. Some people like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos just have it. Most of us spend our whole careers striving towards it. It’s that elusive spark of genius that’s simply brilliant: it turns a category on its head, changes the rules of the game – or dramatically redefines the destiny of a brand. For sure, it’s a rare thing that even rigor and inspiration alone can’t guarantee.

I call it being creatively strategic. It’s a bit like having a split personality disorder. And to get there requires a different kind of thinking that often defies conventional wisdom.

It makes you wonder – if there’s a way for any of us mere mortals to practice creative strategic thinking? Well, in applying the right techniques and by trying a different approach, maybe there is.

But to start out, forget about any approach that’s based on linear sequential thinking. Apply mind-bending techniques, lateral thinking solutions, even random chaos theory – and it’s just possible that being creatively strategic could be within your reach. To get there, perhaps try one or more of the following approaches and see if they work for you:

Don’t Stop When You’re Feeling Groggy

Feeling tired? Cranky? Then get thinking, because you just might be at your creative best. Research by Wieth and Zacks has shown when you’re groggy, your mind is most highly creative – and more likely to yield imaginative insight. As the inventors at Menlo Park who worked for Thomas Edison might also possibly testify – that the “light-bulb moment” could strike at the twilight of exhaustion. But it doesn’t mean you have to work yourself to death to get there – merely open you mind when your brain is on the verge of feeling tired, close yor eyes, and in that moment of pre-sleepiness, you might just come up with a creative solution to that daunting business problem.

Reimagine, Who You Compete Against

Don’t frame your brand story versus the direct competition. Apply blue ocean theory and you can reimagine the category you compete in to find an ownable space that redefines your brand. Case in point: Coca-cola doesn’t compete in the carbonated soft drink business – or just provide effervescent fun. When reimagined in a world of optimism, Coca-Cola refreshes the world with happiness and serves a higher purpose to exist in a highly positive beverage category of one. As Coke is increasing dominance through “open happiness” – Pepsi is losing it’s fizz (pun intended.)

Think Like A Kid

Unleash your inhibitions, see the world with a new sense of naiveté, and explore your inner child to reveal a different perspective that’s simply liberated from the logic of your overly studied mind. Be a kid again, and you look at problem solving with a new set of divergent skills and open-minded wonder. Psychologists have demonstrated that the 5-year old mind has expanded horizons and intuitive skills. As an examle, look at Skittles as a kid and not a grown-up – and you get a more colorful and vibrant view of the brand that’s not just candy, but an unadulterated and wierdly raindbow-inspired child like fun experience.

Study Human Behavior, Not Consumption

Humans make decisions that are influenced by their values, attitudes, passion points, and behavioral motivations. Therefore, just focusing on how people consume brands is a highly myopic view of the connections opportunity. Open up your perspective to observe people and their behavior, in how they consume life – and it will illuminate new insight. For example, being able to observe a behavioral shift in the ownership continuum from owning to sharing, has helped Zip Cars identify a new opportunity for short-term car sharing that the likes of Avis and Hertz just didn’t see.

Look At The World Like An Alien

The people who have extensively traveled – are generally more creative and able to look at things from a different perspective. They can borrow learning from the places they’ve visited and apply knowledge from different cultures to enhance creative problem solving. Try thinking like an alien whose just landed on Earth for the first time – and you can enhance your creative thinking powers. Just ask Howard Schulz who was inspired by a coffee shop in Verona, Italy and then proceeded to build the Starbucks empire after seeing a untapped need for the quality coffee house experience in the US market.

So why not give it a shot? See if any of these methods work for you the next time you have a BHAG of a brand problem to deal with. In your hour of need perhaps resist the temptation to overly logic your way out of a corner. Rather, don’t just be analytically strategic, but get creatively strategic – and you might just find that you create a little piece of genius that will forever be remembered.

  1. October 10, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    Stephen, your article was like a trip through my career. “Don’t stop when you’re feeling groggy” reminds me of an experience at an ad agency in NYC in 1986. My creative director had a poster on his wall of a man working over his creative desk late night in a dark room with just one light shining on his desk with the quote “When the going gets tough, the tough get creative. Fast forward to four years ago when I was to develop a brand name for our global toddler business; with over 200 names generated and twenty tested (quant and qual) and no-one in the company could agree on a name, I struggled, until mid-night one night when I was asking myself, what is toddler, what is universal, what is toddler – and it hit me. Absolute case of 1) thinking like a kid (or better, like a toddler), 2) letting your mind wander for the solution, and 3) how toddlers consume life. While working at Coke, we reimagined a new way of looking at consumers and shoppers. You make great points -for I have truly lived them.

  2. October 10, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    Mark: many thanks for your great comments. Your personal experiences through out your career demonstrate how hard and yet how successful you can be, when practicing creative strategic thinking. You’re operating in a really cool space that’s at the intersection of rigor and genius. Amen, to your re-imagining efforts at Coca-Cola. And here’s to hoping that more people get what we’re talking about.

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