Innovation is the secret of success in business. Especially in a creative agency like mine. This is how we do it.

Dicembre 6, 20234 Minuti

Creativity is a cognitive process that can be learned and developed and like any other skill, the more you do it the better you become at it. Coming up with new ideas is not some innate talent residing in the right half of the brain, it requires a combination of both analytical and conceptual thinking. It’s a process that involves several skills that seem to be common to all the great innovators of our time.

The first and perhaps most important one is association, the ability to put together what might seem like unrelated things to generate new ideas. As Steve Jobs often said «Creativity is connecting things». It’s based on how our brain works. We don’t store information in categories like an encyclopedia, we accumulate knowledge through associations relating to our past experiences. If I ask ten people to tell me the first thing that comes to mind if I say “dog” I will get ten different answers. One might think about a cuddly poodleand another might be remembering being bitten by one when they were a child. Knowledge and observation helps us to develop new associations. In my studio I encourage my designers to take time before starting a project to go for a walk, look around, leaf through a book. Most of all I encourage collaboration. We often start projects with several designers involved working independently for a few days and then coming together to share their own points of view. The breadth and diversity is often amazing and this shared input produces ideas that no single person working in isolation could have achieved.

The second is about challenging the status quo. As Peter Drucker said, «The important and difficult job is never about finding the right answers, it’s about asking the right questions». Why? Why not? And above all, What if? We sometimes get briefed by clients who are asking for us to execute a project in a certain way when they really should be simply defining the problem. Great designers are problem solvers and ironically some of our best work has been done on projects with enormous constraints.

We work hard to help marketing departments clearly define the purpose behind what they sell. If you can’t tell us why you make it, how are we supposed to convince customers to prefer it? A great question to ask is «if you were prohibited from selling this product to your current customers, what else could your brand do to make money?». Observation is the third element. That includes not just the purchasing process but the role a product might play in the lives of its consumers. Michele Ferrero used to pass hours in supermarkets, especially during area tests of new products just watching people. We all go to supermarkets to look at the shelves and do store checks. But if you want real insight, stop at an aisle for twenty minutes and observe the shoppers.

Security might think you’re a bit suspicious but you’ll gain a lot of insight into customer behavior. It’s a part of Toyota’s philosophy “genchi genbustu” – go to the place and see for yourself.

The last one is to ignore the fear of failure. As my hero Thomas Edison famously said «I haven’t failed, I’ve just discovered 10,000 ways that don’t work». Try new things. Experiment. It is much easier to take a crazy new idea and make it more acceptable than it is to take a mediocre one and make it meaningful. And it’s a lot more fun.

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Drew Smith

An award winning designer and an expert in consumer brand management, NPD and packaging design with over twenty years of experience. Canadian by birth, he has been the Creative Director of several leading international consultancies and is a graduate of Art Center College of Design and Sheridan College, School of Visual Arts.