How to make better creative decisions
Learn strategies to unlock your creative decision-making skills with our Masterclass speaker
Being a good creative leader requires good decision making, but even those well-versed in choosing the best path forwards can struggle to confidently head in the right direction. Sarah Watson, D&AD Team Training session leader speaker and ex-Chairman and Global CSO of advertising company BBH, has spent many years fine-tuning her own decision-making skills.
Much of this, she says, involves understanding the nature of creativity itself — and allowing oneself to feel it, rather than merely think about it objectively. Here, Watson breaks down the ways in which leaders and creative decision makers can tap into their non-cognitive creative responses to better inform their work.
Use emotion to bridge the gap between practicality and creativity
Brand work is highly creative but sometimes creativity can be lost trying to meet the practical demands a client may have. “Brands are intangible assets. We are dealing in the intangible.” Watson explains. However, “in usual client conversations, you're dealing with the tangible. You're dealing with supply chain, you're dealing with timeframes, you're dealing with propositions and products.” The problem with this is that clients and creatives can feel like they’re living in different spaces, with a gulf between them. The trick in bridging this gap, Watson says, is to lean into your feelings.
Often, we view ‘feelings’ as something soft or unserious, contrasting with the rationality of logic and fact. But feelings are a crucial part of the creative process. As a creative, you want your audience to feel. But before the work reaches them, it’s got to hit you first. Sometimes, it might be a difficult or complex feeling; one that makes you go, “I don't understand. I don't know why I like this, but something's happening.” Watson says, if you approach it generously, with an attitude of, “I'm going to let it sink in and see what happens, we're in a whole new position.”
Tap into uncomfortable feelings
What do we mean by paying attention to feelings? For Watson, it’s intimately connected with the way we register things physically. “Great creative work feels different in your body,” she says. “Creative work speaks to so many parts of us beyond the cognitive mind. It inserts the seeds of something new or awakens something dormant.”
This is sometimes touched upon implicitly within the industry, says Watson — for example, in discussions of whether a particular idea is ‘uncomfortable’. Watson explains that creatives can take that feeling and ask, “What do I do with that discomfort? How does it make me feel? Why is it important?” This involves really listening to one’s body. What are the immediate gut reactions? When are they strongest? How willing are you to trust this feeling? “The whole reason we’re being creative in this context is to create new neural pathways.”
Telling us about an exercise she likes doing with groups, to simulate the experience of what it feels like in your body to allow yourself to be changed by creative work, Watson says, “Everyone shares a piece of work that has deeply impacted them in unexpected ways, and we witness each other as we do this — our own ability to be moved mirrored back by a room of peers.”
Don’t bring pre-imposed ideas to creative work
“The work of the leader is to meet the work exactly as it is,” Watson says. “Not the work you’d imagined, not the work you’d projected, but this piece of work at this moment.” Often, people can have a strong idea of what they want — or what they don’t want. But by leaning into non-cognitive processing, you can bypass some of this initial rigidity. “The work that's in front of you is in front of you for a reason. Someone felt that this was going to be valuable.” If you “let it unfold, and flower in its own way,” you’ll give it more room for growth. “So much just ends up on the cutting room floor, before it's had a chance to even breathe.”
In letting things breathe, you’re also acknowledging how creativity functions best. “Creatives live in this space of the blank page, and the unknown, and the emergent. It's a terrifying place to be.” If you can meet them there, rather than bringing in a lot of pre-imposed ideas, “that’s where things come that we've never seen before, out of nowhere.” In doing so, you’re “feeling your way into it, rather than shouting down at it.” Of course, you’ll still have to shape it — or ultimately decide it’s not quite right. But if you can “process situations that are not what you imagined or hoped for, and meet them exactly as they are in this moment,” you’ll unlock new and exciting ways of working.
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