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Harness the power of hacking

How to use hacking techniques to break down a creative brief and test your ideas

Once upon a time, hacking was thought of as an illicit activity for computer nerds (who’d wind up on a government wanted list somewhere). Now, hacking is a mindset you can apply to anything, not just tech. Hacking is about finding creative shortcuts, overcoming limitations, and you can apply it as a technique when approaching a creative brief.

In Creative Superpowers: Equip Yourself for the Age of Creativity, hacking is considered just that, a superpower. Read on for juicy snippets from the book, and tips on how to hack a creative brief, handle challenging briefs, and how you can harness hacking in your quest for a New Blood Awards Pencil.

"The best way to understand what we mean by hacker is to go back to the original definition of ‘to hack’ – to cut with rough or heavy blows. Hacking is about taking a problem and cutting it with repeated blows in order to make it better."

Daniele Fiandaca, Co-founder, Utopia

The briefing process: is the problem the problem?

Before you even have an idea, you have a creative brief asking for a solution. But do you really know what the problem is? Interrogate every piece of information you have, without taking anything for granted. Look beyond the obvious, and don’t assume anything is set in stone. If you reframe the question, you might just come up with a better answer.

If it ain’t broke, it ain’t fixable

Hackers are always looking to make things better, to improve and push until their solution is near flawless. But they don’t just keep polishing. They’ll imagine at least one thing must be broken, which means they start focusing in on what can be changed. That could be behaviour, brand perception, media – it could be anything, but there will always be something.  

"By assuming that one part is broken, you have to find what is broken and then you can focus on fixing it, thus making it better. Hacking is a continuous process, and ultimately reflects a state of mind."

Daniele Fiandaca

So be curious. What happens if you take that away and apply this thinking to the creative briefing process? Is that thing we’ve been doing perfectly fine for the last 20 years actually working? Where’s that creative block really coming from?

Small can be huge

Hacking isn’t about monumental change or complicated ideas. In fact, the most powerful examples of ‘hacking’ really are the simplest things. 

"Florence Nightingale was also a hacker. While she was a nurse treating injured soldiers in Turkey during the Crimean War, she discovered that most of the soldiers who died did so not from their initial wounds but from infection or diseases they acquired in the hospital. As a result she made sure that everyone working there washed their hands frequently and kept everything clean; this led to a dramatic decrease in fatalities."

Daniele Fiandaca

Don’t try to be too clever. The purpose of hacking is to make things happen more effectively, to remove gaps. If you find you’re actually adding gaps, remember these are broken bits you’ll only have to fix later. Think of all those life hacks that have us dumb-struck by how blindingly obvious they are, that’s what you’re going for. If your hacks work, they’ll wow.

Test the hell out of it

You might not normally have thousands of people tackling the same brief as you, but the New Blood Awards are the perfect reason to start hacking. Because what will make your entry different, if you have the same idea as someone else?

You test it. You make yours go that step further, be the one without a niggling oversight or glitch. You iron out every detail, and make sure everything is working as hard as it can be. Don’t be afraid to take it apart and put it back together again. Stronger.

"While hacking is an innate skill set for many, it can also be learned by getting into the habit of challenging yourself to make and test changes in everything you do. Rather than just doing what you did last time, ask yourself how you might make something better."

Daniele Fiandaca

But don’t get testing confused with polishing your execution. Testing is all about fine-tuning the idea. Once the thinking is near flawless, you can start finessing how it looks.

Hack yourself

Now, if you want to get all meta about hacking, shift your focus from the creative brief to your own thinking. Can you hack your own process first, before even tackling the creative brief in front of you? Every tip we've shared can be applied to how you’re working. Do you assume a brainstorm is going to do the trick every time?

Sometimes the best ideas come when you’re taking a break after 10 hours of trying to have them. What if you started that way? 

"Great ideas happen through shifts of focus – or, rather, changing channel from conscious to unconscious thinking. As counter-productive as it might sound, switching off is the way to turn on the idea generation process in the brain. History is littered with moments of inspiration coming when people are taking time off from thinking about the problem they were trying to solve."

Hugh Garry, Director, Storythings

Use yourself as a guinea pig. Which parts of your process might be broken? What small things would make a big difference to you? Test them.

For more on hacking and the other creative superpowers, get yourself a copy of Creative Superpowers: Equip Yourself for the Age of Creativity – edited by Laura Jordan Bambach, Mark Earls, Daniele Fiandaca and Scott Morrison. 

Want to know more about New Blood Awards? Keep your creativity inspired with bi-weekly tips and tricks to help you craft your New Blood Awards entry, as well as career insights, thought leadership, and the latest news and events. Sign up for New Blood news.

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