CREATIVITY wins you business
A compelling value proposition will give you growth in 2023. That means conceiving ideas, working them up and delivering them. It’s a creative process. Get it right and you’ll be memorable from the cocktail bar to the boardroom, not forgetting Zoom.
Unless you have a unique widget, creativity is what cuts through. Nothing “sells itself” and selling is a process, not an event. Jumping the shark by pan handling prospects at 7pm on a slow Tuesday over warm white wine is unlikely to succeed; the same goes for the stone-cold email or boiler-plate LinkedIn message.
Here you will pick up key building blocks that will connect your right brain to your big left one and spark compelling content. And your appreciation of the ethereal will provide ballast when creative types bamboozle you with snazzy digital storyboards.
BEING VISIONARY: THE BIGGEST PICTURE
In Bear Run Pennsylvania, Frank Lloyd Wright topped out his architectural career with the best dwelling house ever built. Wright was 70 when he handed the keys to Fallingwater to the Kaufman family, who would live over the waterfall rather than see it from their lounge window. This would be number one if I had a bucket-list. You know one of his works, the Guggenheim New York (a Modern Art Museum that looks like a multi-storey car park).
Like Steve Jobs throwing PDAs with pencils against the wall, saying he had five pointers in each hand, Wright knew what his clients wanted: huge concrete slabs built directly over the waterfall.
Had he lived as long as Wright, we would have more Jobs quotes like, “a doctor can bury his mistakes; an architect must plant vines.”
Wright and Jobs took their time and ran head-long towards the impossible: I will build on the solid rock directly over the waterfall; I want to poke the screen when I type.
Think of big picture thinking as a long-term project; a new way of thinking. Learn to enjoy it. Go to places you’ve never been, watch and read new stuff, take another route, order a different main course, deliberate and daydream, have a notepad and a Sharpie handy, take up life-drawing, see three answers to everything (don’t say them out loud in Tesco).
DIVERGENT THINKING: BRAINSTORMING YOUR VALUE PROPOSITION
How you demonstrate value starts with the biggest picture, or it should. Too often, even when it does, the creative window narrows immediately. Fear of failure kicks in, deadlines loom and the need to get an answer overwhelms. Resist these siren calls, whether in your own head or from the pragmatist in the corner.
Keep divergent thinking alive longer. There will be plenty of time for you, or other left-brainers, to get a red pen out. Hold them off for a while: have a one-metre cane handy for this (don’t do that, HR will call).
Chances are you’re not a visionary and you may be more conscientious than creative but, just as creatives need to read management accounts, a little creativity with your analytics is a no brainer. Here are a few ways you can encourage creative thinking from a group:
Rattling round the room: Get your team together with almond croissants and good coffee. Ideally offsite somewhere nice; have two flipcharts and big pens. Set a task, say: how we change our clients’ lives in 2023. Give them two minutes to note a few ideas, then rattle round the room getting ideas. Say you want one every 10 seconds and pass if folk get stuck.
You have 30 seconds: ask everyone to submit a 30 second video, saying why clients buy. Show them later and pick up the key benefits that come up.
Knowing me, knowing you: Put your team in pairs and have them interview one another on how you add value. Get them to pitch their colleague’s views to the team in under a minute.
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: Have three stations in different corners of the room. Have groups write up what is good, bad or ugly about your proposition. After a break have them highlight strategic issues on Post Its, putting their ideas anonymously on a sheet. Now you know what the big issues are.
Team Talks: Give groups half an hour, a key theme, a flipchart and a pen to come up with their ideas for a way forward in a key area; have them come back and make a 90 second pitch. Encourage poems, songs and insist that everyone be involved in the final presentation.
Tell Me A Story: This is one to do solo, though it works in groups, too. Pick a favourite work subject; throw ten ideas against the wall on Post Its; look at them; pick three; throw some ideas down about each on separate in your wee red book; have a wee red book; any old rubbish, just go for it; imagine you were in a lift and Richard Branson came in; he asks you to pitch to him; do that, in 30 seconds; outrageously.
Getting Personal: Do the above, but with hobbies and interests (great for honing small talk now networking is back).
The eureka moment is a myth, really. Recently dead Burt Bacharach spoke of finding a fragment of a lyric or a riff or something happening that would set him off. It was never anything dramatic. It might come in the bath but if it does your notebook will get wrinkly. Best work from home that day.
What’s not a myth is seeking inspiration and that could be anything. Over the years in pitching workshops a snazzy diagram, interesting chart, flip comment, outrageous idea or someone shy being surprisingly brilliant have helped win clients hundreds of millions in contracts.
SLOWLY DOES IT: 17 ITERATIONS
You have a number and will be in central London on 23 April, 2023, with colour-coordinated Lycra. But right now it’s mid- February and you have winter miles to do. Ideas are ten-a-penny, most float off on the breeze and are never seen again. Like marathon running, the real work starts long before you get the ribboned medal. Pick your winners and work on them.
The architect’s clients don’t see hundreds of sketches that finished on the floor, dead-end plans in the bin and there was much to do after Jobs gave his colleagues the fingers. The stories of Fallingwater and Gorilla Glass are a good read from many reasons. Vision is the sexiest theme, dedication less glamorous but no less important.
When your prospects are compelled by an effortless 30 seconds at an online conference, or three motivational minutes summing up a pitch, they don’t care it’s not off the cuff. They won’t know unless you’re reading it off a card but don’t do that (though you can have notes behind the camera).
CONVERGENT THINKING: TIME TO FOCUS
Iterations get you closer to Nirvana and will inspire still more ideas, which is a good thing as nothing needs to be set in concrete too early. But you need to know when to stop sketching and and start converging. Frank Lloyd Wright, literally, poured tonnes of concrete over a site of rare natural beauty, where all you need is a compelling value proposition that will turn prospects hearts and minds your way. So chill out, but move towards constructing something tangible.
If you like the pens and flipchart phase too much, set a time limit on the divergent thinking or you’ll end up with a whole lot of nothing. If discomfort comes too early when it’s open-ended, live with it a while longer and go pick up the Sharpie before you turn on the PC.
That Excel spreadsheet is easy to construct (it’s just rectangles) but if the formula’s wrong, well, you’re toast.
This part of creativity is likely to be a team game and it will be feisty. If it doesn’t get hot and sweaty and sweary you’re probably doing it wrong. These are big, important ideas; there will be competing strategies; people have skin in the game; externals will creep in (unless you’re a budding Lucien Freud, in your attic pleasing yourself); you will take tiny forward steps and then leap backwards when reality bites.
Get comfy with uncertainty as you start to focus or you’ll settle with bland fare, probably on a slide, that will inevitably become “the deck”.
DELIVERING CREATIVITY - 30 : 3 : 30
You may not be a visionary but knowing the principles of blue-sky thinking will make you a better delegate in crucial workshops. You may not be creative but can inject creativity into your value proposition, so it connects emotionally. You may not be a natural storyteller (few are) but, like Excel, you can learn.
Can you say it six different ways in 30 seconds? How about three minutes, on the Zoom, with no screen sharing? Do you have a compelling 30-minute workshop that will have 100 delegates checking your Linked In profile, not their Ocado order?
This is where Wright’s in situ concrete slabs hit the sandstone, fauna and fast-flowing water of Bear Run. This is where your finger hits the screen and magic happens.
Work on being articulate and compelling, it’s the best trait you can gift yourself. This will not happen by accident. Find your way to bring your value proposition to life.
Convergent thinking is how you bring your value proposition home. There is a Francis Bacon triptych in the Tate I still don’t fully understand (Bacon’s lips were, are, forever sealed) but so what? It’s in the Tate and can be forever mysterious. Your value proposition can’t be a mystery. Creatives need conscientious types, because you need clarity of purpose and clarity in delivery.
For the half hour knock-em-dead seminar, focus on the destination and have three themes: that’s a long way from blue sky thinking but this is practical creativity. And there will be three themes, since three is the magic number. Ask Aristotle, who will tell you about Ethos (character), Pathos (persuasive storytelling) and Logos (knowing your shit).
If it can’t be distilled to three you may nudge up to five, but before you deliver go for a lie down and try for a triptych.
How do you create a compelling, creative narrative that can be delivered at will? Open your mind, change how you see things, resist narrowing too soon; practise, polish, get it out there; fail, forgive yourself, try again; start with one story, aim for 25, always be iterating.