26 June 2011

If you want to change the future, the way to do it is to be the change you want to see and not just accept things as they appear to be

I consider myself to be an innovator. I have represented the creative industries virtually all my working life.

Creative people and firms inspire me particularly those that push the boundaries; those that are right brain thinkers and use it to bring simplicity to complex issues; those that use wit & who understand irony. And those with written and visual creative talents who make the world & its information easier to understand; content rich and aesthetically pleasing, on and off-line.

Without creativity life would be more confusing and would look, sound and feel dull. Products and services would suffer. Quality of life would suffer. And brand differentiation would be very hard to achieve.

For that reason, I have often pondered why too many businesses still struggle to understand & value the role of creativity. I can’t say for sure that I know the answer but I think that it may lie in the difference between left brain and right brain creative thinkers.

Incompatibility of left and right brain thinkers – listen, can you smell something?

The left brain thinkers prefer linear and base their decisions on orderly, straight line processes that move towards what appears to them to be a conclusion they can justify & accept. As such they tend to be outside their comfort zone when faced with the assumptive based multi-directional thinking of right brained creative people who tend to see the whole picture first and work their way backwards.

The problem this creates between the two parties is that creative firms often struggle to verbally articulate their thinking, their skills and the value they bring to business in a logical fashion that the other party gets with enough certainty to trust it and buy into it. Creative individuals communicate more comfortably in visual formats. Whilst visual communication can assist the other party to better understand, it can still fail to demonstrate the core creative thinking inherent in an idea and thereby can result in value judgement not being associated to the thinking but instead contained to subjective judgement of aesthetics and execution. 

This may go some way to explaining why the creative industries often feel so misunderstood and under-valued. And it may explain why those who do not earn their living from idea generation and creativity hold a belief that ideas per se have no real value until they are fully articulated in such a detailed manner that enables the buyer to draw a conclusion and assure themselves that it is the solution to their communication needs. And even when they reach that point, they may not appreciate nor value the time; thinking and skill that resulted in the right solution.

It also could be the frustrating reason why businesses still demand free creative pitching that some creative firms, despite the futility & cost to them, still agree to. Yet, free pitching serves neither party well.

Free pitching strangles free thinking

A business that does not give the creative party the benefit of free thinking to enable deep consideration of the problem (or opportunity) and holistic vision to work backwards to the solution, is unlikely to be able to judge results on any other basis than subjective aesthetics. Arriving at a creative solution to an often complex communication problem is a process that involves enquiry afforded by a good relationship, understanding and synthesis of information and a good deal of thinking time and implementation skill.  

In the UK alone, 26% of all free pitches do not result in any appointment.  Even those that do can lead to disappointing conclusions, fall-outs and bad relationships when the creative party, even though appointed, is still not valued or trusted with the commitment, freedom and time required to meet the client expectations. The whole relationship becomes based on commodity supplier rather than collaborative partnership underpinned by a shared vision.

As such both businesses can end up a lot worse off than they would have been had they never met.

Boil the ocean briefs lead to unrealistic expectations

A business with an uncertain strategy and or looking for a quick fix can also be guilty of preparing what I would refer to as a ‘boil the ocean’ brief. Full of data, irrelevant information and over ambitious goals where the real ‘nugget’ of information or crux of the problem gets buried alive. Little wonder then that free pitching is so unsuccessful for both parties.  

Businesses need to spend a lot more time on building relationships, selecting, evaluating and appointing their creative agencies.  Desist in boil the ocean brief and allow creative teams far more freedom to explore, enquire, synthesis, distil and find the gold. You will deserve and receive much better results.

And agencies need to spend a lot more time investing in (ironically) more creative ways to demonstrate their thinking and creative talents.   

I deliberately used an example infographic to illustrate this piece. Not just because infographics are an upward trend where dry statistics, a data set & one mighty question is answered in a visual context that time-starved people can rapidly get, but because it reinforces whilst satisfies the left/right brain divide perfectly and demonstrates the value creative thinking and execution brings to a business.  

Most organisations who sought to communicate the answer to the ‘Where is all the water?’ question would most likely have issued a boil the ocean brief and pre-determined the creative format such as a brochure; a video, a TV commercial or other creative treatment. They most likely would have asked several agencies to pitch for that business.

It is proven that pre-determined formats and free creative pitching can restrict creativity and result in both parties falling short of a non-complex and powerful communication solution.  

An open mind and a less is more Brief which conveys an end vision not the barriers to it is more likely to creatively reward your business than running a free pitch requesting pre-determined communication formats.

So, if you want to change the future, the way to do it is to be the change you want to see and not just accept things as they appear to be.

That statement should resonate with both left and right brain thinkers. If the left communicate their vision rather than the obstacles standing in front of it, the right brain thinkers will understand the bigger picture to work back from. Creativity can empower a business if it harnesses it and values it in the right way. 

So don’t waste your time and money or that of the creative industries’ on free-pitching. Spend it more wisely on finding and building a visionary, unrestricted relationship with the best creative firm your money can buy and use it to positively change the future of your business.


About the author – Maxine Horn, CEO, Creative Barcode

Before launching Creative Barcode Maxine founded and ran British Design Innovation (BDI), the trade association for designers and innovators from 1993 to January 2011.  She initiated Creative Barcode and hand-picked the co-creation team in 2009 and led the soft launch in September 2010. With over 20 years’ experience in the design, innovation and knowledge transfer sectors of the creative industries, she is a member of the UKIPO B2B Strategy Group, a pioneer of Open Innovation and an acknowledged opinion-former and author. Maxine was a runner-up in the First Women Awards 2010 for business pioneers.

About Creative Barcode

Creative Barcode is positively changing how knowledge, creativity & innovation is valued, exchanged and procured world-wide between creative industries, academics & brand owners.

Creative Barcode is of mutual benefit to creative firms and brand owners. It assures and indemnifies brand owners of originality and demonstrates a Creators responsibility towards their own and their clients Intellectual Property position.

By default we also aim to significantly reduce time and money wasted on free-pitching and to reduce the vulnerabilities and innovation blocks caused by the misappropriation of commercially articulated ideas.

Creative Barcode is morally supported by the World Intellectual Property Organisation which favours mediation over litigation.

No pre-contract proposal or visual concept should leave your building without its barcode


Maxine Horn
Creative Barcode

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