Creativity is a skill that feels like magic to the uninitiated. It’s a shame so many people are scared to be magicians—it’s mostly imagination.

I call myself creative.

I do so because I’ve spent the better part of 25 years finding solutions to problems that stump other people. To me, others can’t see the solution in front of them. Screaming. In 3D.

In my high school yearbook, it reads, “Whatever you want; whatever you need; whatever you need done; it’s not a problem. I’m the problem solver.”

I kid you not.

Who talks like that?

Today, I help people imagine the future they want and create the path to get there. I harness the power of creative design to capture audiences and stand out in a noisy world. As a Branding Sage, I deliver the most relevant strategy and creative designs for brands of all sizes to find the growth and recognition they’re seeking. And I create some really kick-ass stuff along the way.

Alignment

Before we start, let’s get things straight.

Your creativity and my creativity are the same.

Your creativity and my creativity are completely different.

Both are true.

Where We Come From

In the creative world, we know coming up with new and exciting ideas is the fun part. That’s why we went into this business. More than a few times I’ve answered phone calls from strangers asking how to get into marketing, design or advertising. They claim to “Always come up with great ideas” and “Even their friends think so.”

Strangers want to jump in with both feet and see where it gets them. They offer to come up with a headline or two — or send over photos from their phone to see if the shots are any good. They haven’t done the work to elevate the skill of creativity to a career. I’m not even talking about degrees or certifications, neither of which feels necessary in the age of YouTube videos and peer-to-peer growth and influencer groups — one can pick up 10,000 hours of professional-level creativity training pretty quickly today.

Professionals

Learning the creative process requires time and an investment in self. Creativity requires research and understanding. Creativity involves interpreting and synthesizing massive amounts of information into a coherent story. I’ve participated in a design sprints and brainstorms, but real creativity means building trust with clients and respect in expertise. Without research and understanding, creativity alone won’t produce a viable solution to a client’s problems — and that is the goal for professional creativity.

Let’s imagine a crazy example.

Let us say you’ve been hired as a creative for a senator’s baby shower. (If your personal reality is far from this scenario, try to imagine as best you can.)

You might take a different approach if the event took place in an election year —possibly promoting a gala celebration versus a family-only event. If you were hired by the senator’s campaign team, you might have a better clue about the soiree’s style. You might play up wholesome family values, the glorious USA, and community. Suddenly, this sounds like a huge affair! At the very least, it requires a massive room, balloons, streamers, and punch. The event might be considered a community celebration!

What about a non-election year? Perhaps you’ve been hired to imagine an intimate family event. And what does that look like? Some close friends, and a warm fireplace? Maybe you could arrange a celebrity chef for dinner, followed by cake and coffee.

The challenge is to discover the purpose behind the baby shower, and not get stuck on the event itself.

The Difference

The difference is in the audience and the messages being conveyed.

One message says, “Vote for me. I have a family and so do you. Let’s build our children’s future together.” It’s hokey, political, sales-y and way over the top. Sometimes, in life, that’s what you have to do. It’s expected.

The other message says, “Hello friends and family. Relax. Share our joy. And let’s keep it low-key.”

The message is shared through the experienced story. The stories we tell others, the stories we tell ourselves, and the stories others tell us.

By carefully crafting those stories, creative strategy connects a brand’s view of the world with an audience to convey a specific message.

Back to Trust

Trust is very important.

Branding, at its core, wants to diversify solutions. We want to find solutions that are different from anything else out there.

Simultaneously, the solutions we create are based on the purpose, message and values we wish to portray. Which means there are likely trends, rules, understandings, guidelines, secret handshakes, lapel pins, and whatnot.

The delivery — the tone and tenor / look and feel — might vary depending on the audience, customers, guest list, timing, and experience. My clients trust that I’ve taken all of the variables into account to present them with solutions that are — not only viable and creative but — outstanding.

An outstanding solution is one that is different and designed for uniqueness.

They can be risky and exciting.

These types of solutions are remembered.

These types of solutions need trust by all parties involved to pull it off.

Branding and the Status Quo

The majority of creative firms offer their own take on strategy. That is, they create a plan that can be carried throughout their specific work. While there’s hundreds of ways to create strategy, some return on investment varies in value. Graphic designers are notorious for delivering work that reflects their own personal tastes. Photographers may capture beautiful photos and miss the opportunity to reinforce a brand narrative. Marketers might get too focussed on a media plan to drive sales — spending less time on effective feature/benefit/value messaging for their target customer. No option presented in those professions solves a problem for the client because the problem was not listed at the outset.

So let’s pretend again.

The problem we wish to solve for the senator’s gala?

Get more voters on her side.

How might you imagine that solution?

The Strategic Solution

Understanding the problem is only half of the key to creating a successful creative strategy. The problem will inevitably involve other people; so an audience is the second half.

In the baby shower example, the small and intimate home gathering would never work for a community-building election-year event because it might send the wrong message. Similarly, the giant event might be fun for a small family and friends get-together, but it would be much less likely to get votes. Further, it could seem like an over-expenditure of money to the community, causing bad brand-building for the senator.

The right creative solutions fit the audience and the problem being solved.

The Creative Mind

The skill of creativity is built through both wide and deep exploration. Once we know the problem, we start research. This involves looking up similar brands, work, events, or people and analyzing what makes them successful. The creative process involves exploring trends and speaking with audiences to gain an authentic perspective.

And it involves a hint of inspiration with a dash of unique perspective.

How to Explore

Wide exploration involves listing a range of topics and brainstorming tangential ideas. A mind map often captures these type of ideas that grow outwards and interconnect.

Words, images, smells, and sounds can be included to build the depth of the thinking, for example, a Jazz band for the election-year gala shower.

Concentrating on a single topic and examining more about it is an example of deep exploration. How does the jazz band look? How many members might they have? Is there space at a venue? What does the music sound like? In the course of an event, when is the band silent? When do they strike up the music? As you can see, the deeper you go, the more you start to create an experience in your head centered around that topic. In the act of exploring that experience, you start to tell a story — the story of the event for each guest that night. The story of how they meet the senator, how they all feel like part of her family, and how she won their vote.

Where does this go?

In creative strategy, we’re crafting sensory-rich stories that help people, businesses, and brands connect with each other. Stories are how people communicate. Sitting in a cave around a roaring fire, we’ve shared stories longer than there’s been written language.

Creativity combines the skills of research and understanding — people, places, and cultures — as well as exploration and fortitude. It involves finding answers to create a desired outcome amid millions of possibilities. Creativity combines multiple ideas to create new, novel solutions that stand out in an overwhelming crowd of same-ness. Creativity includes curiosity about psychology, science, travel, and relationships. And creativity is a driving factor in finding new solutions for business today.

Creativity is the process of alignment in the name of building your perfect solution.