Creative Director Creative Business Leadership

What is the most important ingredient of creativity?


By Sam Anderson, Network Editor

June 10, 2022 | 8 min read

For The Drum’s Creativity in Focus Deep Dive, we asked seven creative leaders from The Drum Network a very simple question: what’s the one essential ingredient in the all-too mysterious recipe for creativity?

Jarred ingredients, including pasta and spices

Agency creatives tell us their one essential ingredient for creativity / Jasmin Sessler via Unsplash

Graeme Noble, chief creative officer at TMW Unlimited, part of Unlimited: let it stew

The essential ingredient? Marinade.

We usually know if an idea is going to taste good when we know the recipe works.

So once you have your precious raw materials, they need time to develop, to marinade for a day. No overcooking (that can be worse than serving raw) but let the ingredients of your idea get to know each other and develop deeper flavors. Not just an ‘overnight test’; let the idea go to the back of the mind and resurface richer and more powerful. Don’t sit at a desk watching it. Let it gradually melt together to take you in directions you didn’t see the first time.

Don’t let fancy side dishes detract from your creation. Serve your client a slice of that pie and finish with a cool glass of something. Only then will creativity thrive and become truly integrated into consumers’ minds.

Mathilda Holmqvist, creative director at Nucco: do it your way

There’s no secret to good work. There’s no piece of tech or skill you’ve missed out on that’s keeping you from making great work.

Every approach can be the right approach, as long as it works for you. Doing research, going for walks, brainstorming... These are all good strategies.

For me, it’s trusting the process. I’m confident that if I put pen to paper (digital or real) something will come out. And if I keep working on it, editing, and looking at it again the next morning, usually something interesting will start taking shape. At this point an excitement to see what it could become sets in and the work is carried forward by curiosity.

With age I’m also embracing how much I enjoy this process. It amazes me that we can start out with nothing and a few hours (or days, or weeks) later there’ll be something that didn’t exist before. We made it happen. To do ground-breaking work, the first step is to start making the work. You’ll find your own way to it.

Nix Boulton, art director at AgencyUK: empathy

Empathy is king. For me, it's the linchpin of creativity and the industry is not always conducive to it. Where empathy is allowed to flourish, so does creativity.

Someone once told me, “the most important thing to solving a problem is to frame it well”. That’s always stuck. Applying empathy before defining a problem is critical; deciding not only what the problem is, but who has it.

To find solutions as creatives, we need to understand how people make decisions. Using an empathetic approach helps us understand how others experience the world. To determine what will resonate, we must draw out their feelings, needs and motivators. It’s not always about doing what someone thinks they want; surprise can be key. Listen to their reaction, sense it and find resonance in unexpected places.

After defining the problem, empathy is our communication tool; the interface that allows us to communicate through any medium with consumers, and even when presenting ideas to clients. Without true empathy, if authenticity is faked, it’ll fall flat.

Sam Piper, group creative lead at Kairos Group: the last 10%

Key to a stronger, more compelling and considered approach to any asset creation is defined in the last 10%. Many creatives can take a project to 90%; some achieve truly ground-breaking content by identifying and considering the last 10%.

It’s here you need to find what others don’t: the kerning adjustment, the alignment of elements, a tweak to text hierarchy, a crop to frame, or finding that fraction of a second to allow something to simmer. It’s what you do as a creative and a leader right here that can truly elevate the project.

As a creative leader, I’m responsible for encouraging the team to express themselves, foster an environment of collaboration, and question the brief. And to push even further in the last 10%.

The role is to marshal the creative process, mentor and grow creative team members, help find the details in the last 10% to achieve a more considered approach. Hold these ‘smaller’ granular details to the highest standards, be obsessive about them, and you’ll achieve ground-breaking results.

Anna Jorysz, display and creative director, Incubeta: let it happen

Don’t try too hard to be creative. Thinking outside of the box has its place but sometimes the simplest ideas, executed well, can break new ground. Conversely, when you set out explicitly to do something new or innovative you can easily lose sight of your audience and their response.

Creativity as a digital marketer should start and finish with the customer. Creativity for its own sake might win awards, but effectiveness comes from the initial insight and the clarity and directness of your response. Sometimes keeping it simple and finding a new spin on a tried-and-tested concept requires far more creativity than coming up with something new and shiny.

Nick Jekyll, creative director at Paradise: map it out

If I had to depict one essential ingredient that makes up the creativity mix it would be the storyboarding concept. I don’t mean anything sexy. I’m talking about those almost illegible sketches and notes littered across the desk pre-project. That’s where I do my best thinking.

In a world surrounded by tech, apps and media all designed to streamline workflow digitally, I always find myself with a pen and paper in hand and my first ideas and top-line thoughts sketched out old-school.

Collaboration, discussion, research and relationships are all worthy complementary ingredients, but every time I design a logo, write a pitch, detail a video concept or map out a brand strategy, I find that they always echo back to one hastily written idea from the start.

Map out ideas, write them down, storyboard your concept and thinking, and have a map to follow.

James Robinson, chief creative officer, North America, Momentum Worldwide: who’s satisfied with just one ingredient?

Here are five.

First, ask the dumb questions. Originality often lies in an insight so obvious and undeniable that everyone else has overlooked it. Keep asking until it reveals itself.

Second, know the rules of the medium, the category and the product. Then break them in the smartest way possible.

Third, believe, believe, believe. Every ground-breaking idea had 100 people who tried to make it simpler or safer or “more buyable”… and a few who chose not to listen.

Fourth, preach and convert. Find your few. Make them believe as strongly as you do.

Finally, hold the line. Ground-breaking ideas are not born. They are dragged over the finish line by an exhausted, yet ecstatic, team. And there’s no feeling quite like it.

To keep up to date with all our coverage head over to the Creativity in Focus hub and register for updates on Cannes-Do.

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