With an ever-increasing focus on the science of marketing—including performance marketing, advanced analytics, and marketing AI—it can be easy to forget about the more artsy side of the equation.

The very best advertising is art, or, at the very least, artful. It has a distinct voice and point of view, a lasting impact on ad and pop culture, and, importantly, a willingness to depart from the tried and true.

When we look at breakout campaigns, it’s not uncommon to think: “How did this get past the drawing board? There are a thousand reasons why this should never have worked.”

For better or worse, the reasons it did work are often difficult to recognize and articulate; to neatly bottle in a case study or award entry. Creativity has a similar problem—it’s nebulous. ROI is tricky to calculate. It can’t always be data-driven.

Creativity is also the best competitive advantage your organization can possess. The most creative employees bring new ideas to the table and dream up new ways of doing things; they fuel innovation and contribute to the development of new products, services, or business models. They’re your most valuable asset.

Fostering a culture of creativity—and translating this to tangible business value—should be a priority for every marketer worth their salt in 2018. Here are five ways to get your team’s creative juices flowing:  

1. Take a leaf out of Elon Musk’s book 🚀

Elon Musk is a diehard fan of ‘first principles thinking’. A first principle is a basic, foundational proposition or assumption that cannot be deduced from any other proposition or assumption.

I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is by analogy. We do things because it’s like something else that was done, or it’s like what other people are doing. [With first principles] you boil things down to the most fundamental truths… and then reason up from there.

Elon Musk

The benefit? Original ideas. Musk often gives the example of the very first automobile: while everyone else was trying to improve horse-drawn carriages, someone looked at the fundamentals of transportation and the combustion engine in order to invent a car.

If you train yourself to think in this way, you innovate in leaps and bounds, rather than making small improvements to something that already exists.

Begin by never taking a brief at face value—boil it down and ask yourself, “What’s the real problem I need to solve here?”  

2. Become obsessed with your customers 🕵️

Behind every creative idea is a great insight, and the best ones stem from an intimate and nuanced understanding of your customers.

To really get under their skin, go beyond standard research methods like surveys and focus groups. Pull from multiple sources (ethnographic research, behavioral analysis), and make sure that the data you’re collecting captures information relevant to decision-making.

Take Fisher & Paykel, a New Zealand whiteware manufacturer. They’re well-known for reinventing the dishwasher with the release of the DishDrawer™ in 1987.

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GM of Industrial Design Mike Jensen says it’s an “ergonomically superior” model as loading or unloading involves one movement instead of two.

The story behind its creation? The team asked thousands of Kiwi couples what they disliked about cleaning the kitchen before watching them wash up after a meal at home; noticing many grimaced when bending down, bumped into each other, or banged their shins on the open dishwasher door. Significantly, these pain points were only observed by the researchers, and not supplied by respondents.

Your customers can learn to work around pain points, and not even recognize them as such—so you must figure these out on their behalf. It’s a tough gig, but remember: when you understand a problem (and the person experiencing it), well, the solution is obvious.  

If you’re serious about building a customer-obsessed culture, this guide by Forbes is a must-read.

3. Stock up your toolbelt 🛠️

Creating content to keep up with customer demand isn’t easy. Creatives often deal with outdated, one-size-fits-all workflows, confusing review and approval processes, and broken communication and collaboration channels. A frustrating formula for writer’s/videographer’s/designer’s block.

Luckily, there’s help out there. Investing in the right tech tools can open up much better ways of working, spark creativity, and keep your team inspired and motivated.

Our favorites are Venngage, which provides beautiful infographic templates to illustrate your brand stories and data. And GoMoodboard, which organizes your thoughts and ideas into easily digestible concepts to help with client and C-suite buy-in. And Lucidchart, which makes project management visual with flowcharts, mind maps, and wireframes. What a time to be alive.

4. Play games 🎲

Creativity is just intelligence having fun, right? These games blur work and play to help produce actionable insights and ready-to-implement ideas:

  • Brainsparker. This app has a lofty mission—to help spark new and brilliant ideas that shift paradigms at work, in life, and in our world, via random flash cards. The ‘absurd questions’ card asks you to describe your problem in words, then to substitute some keywords for synonyms. Instead of trying to “silence the noise”, for example, you may jot down “calm the hiss”. Thinking about a problem even slightly differently can help you come up with a solution.
  • Six Thinking Hats. When you’re stuck, getting out of your own head can work miracles. Edward de Bono’s method encourages you to try on ‘hats’ with metaphorical roles (such as Cautions, Feelings or Facts) and tackle a brief accordingly. On an individual level, it helps you to consider each facet of the problem, and collectively, teams gain a sharper understanding of how each member thinks.
  • Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. These classic divergent thinking tests no longer hold much academic weight, but they’re fun to take. Challenge your colleagues, and see how two Bynder creatives fared in the Unusual Uses test (spoiler alert: not well).   

5. Add a little control to your creativity ✋

A completely open brief may seem like a marketer’s dream, but it can be conducive to lazy thinking rather than good ideas.

Sometimes, constraint breeds creativity. This could be a limited budget and timeframe, or a rule, restriction or method of organization you impose on yourself.

We explored the friendship between creativity and organization in The Art of Organizing, where Amsterdam-based artist Bart Eysink Smeets attempts to reorganize everything in his apartment… creatively. The results speak for themselves.

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Art of Organizing

An organized creative is often better-performing. Organization provides some much-needed structure and focus and minimizes the time spent laboring over admin.

Earlier this year, we partnered with productivity expert Deb Lee, who shared some great tips on conquering clutter at work. Number four is organizing your digital files—trust us, it feels good!

Our digital asset management (DAM) software effortlessly manages the organization, retrieval and distribution of your creative files (documents, videos, logos, images and more), making life sweeter for the whole team.  

Interested in trialling Bynder for 14 days? Click here, and you’ll soon be enjoying more time and headspace to come up with your next million dollar idea.