Global Marketing
Management Consultants
Global Marketing
Management Consultants
Global Marketing
Management Consultants

A reminder that creative thinking can turn the world on its head

This post is by Darren Woolley, Founder of TrinityP3With his background as analytical scientist and creative problem solver, Darren brings unique insights and learnings to the marketing process. He is considered a global thought leader on agency remuneration, search and selection and relationship optimisation.

We spend so much of our time assessing, benchmarking and negotiating agency fees that sometimes it is easy to get lost in the numbers and overlook what is actually at the heart of what we are working on. That is the ability to solve business and communication problems using creative or lateral thinking.

It is easy to think about the outputs of advertising agencies as simply the electronic and printed collateral of a sales machine – television, digital and printed flotsam and jetsam of the marketing communications process. But at its best, agencies have the ability to solve complicated business, marketing and sales problems with communications.

More specifically creative communications. Sometimes entertaining, or informative, or challenging, or confronting or all of the above. But again at their best, not boring.

I was reminded of the challenges of thinking laterally or creatively when solving a problem when my wife shared with me this test reportedly given to Elementary School students in Hong Kong to test their aptitude for solving problems.

The students were given 20 seconds to solve this problem. There are six parking spaces marked with a numeric progression. The problem is to solve the unknown parking space number under the motor vehicle in the second space from the right.

The report said that six year olds would solve this problem in less than 7 seconds, but that as the test subjects became older and more educated the time to solve the problem became longer.

How long does it take to solve a problem

I have written and spoken previously on how long it takes to come up with a big idea. And how the current remuneration model that pays for ideas by the hour (like paying for books by the kilogram) is flawed. But this exercise got me thinking about what it takes to solve a problem creatively.

Usually I refer to my favourite book on this topic: “A technique for producing ideas” by James Webb Young.

James Webb Young’s five steps are:

  1. Gather Raw Materials
  2. Digest Materials
  3. Internalise Materials Unconsciously
  4. The Eureka (Or Ah-ha) Moment
  5. Bring Ideas to Life (Making them real)

Natural child-like curiosity

But I think that beyond the process, the example also shows us that there is a requirement to keep that child-like curiosity alive. Notice how it was reported that the older and more educated the test subjects, the longer it took to solve the problem.

This could be due to the fact we are more inclined to overcomplicate the problem, rather then finding the simplest, but sometime the least obvious solution. It could also be, as Sir Ken Robinson points out, that the current and traditional education process is inclined to kill creativity, rather than develop it.

In my experience, one of the attributes of great creative agencies, is the ability to develop and maintain an environment which nurtures and encourages this child-like curiosity in a business setting and with a commercial focus.

The responsibility of all parties

I am often amazed at marketers who think that creativity is something they can simply outsource to the agency and pay for with the agency fees. But the problem is they are abdicating their responsibility in the creative process.

I am not saying that creativity is a group effort, but even from James Webb Young’s process above, you can see there are important roles marketers can and should play.

Who knows the problem better than the marketer briefing the agency, yet time and time again we see agency briefs that are either too sparse in information or too prescriptive in direction being prepared by the marketer, either because they are too time poor, lazy or know no better.

Too little information or access to the information and the creative problem solver cannot gather and digest the information they need. Too prescriptive and you shut down the curiosity required to internalise the material for that Eureka moment.

To my mind, the role of the marketer in the creative process is to:

  1. Participate with the agency in defining the problem to be solved.
  2. Provide the agency and especially the creative people with access to gather information and knowledge
  3. Allow enough time to digest that information and internalise it to allow for the Eureka moment
  4. Finally, participate in the evaluation of the idea in a way that nurtures the concept

Rock Logic versus Water Logic

On this last point, I first read about Edward De Bono’s Rock and Water logic in his book “I am Right, You are Wrong” when published in 1992. In it he proposes that the traditional Western logic approach is like a rock, hard and unyielding.

When an idea is created, the process is in effect, like placing the idea in the centre of a circle and each person gets to take out their rock and bash it against the idea to see if they can damage or destroy it. If the idea breaks it is not strong enough and therefore the group rejects it.

His alternative is a more Eastern or water logic approach. When the idea is created it is like water. The role of those around the idea is to add to the idea with more water. It is an additive or creative approach rather than a destructive approach with the rock.

What I particularly like about this metaphor is that drops of water together form a trickle, then more together form a stream and eventually a river. Now you could think of the Grand Canyon as simply a result of  a huge number of drops of water going to work over several million years.

The same water approach should be taken with creative solutions to the brief. Rather then smashing it with the rock to see if it is strong enough, simply add to the strength of the ideas to make it even stronger and more powerful.

The solution to the problem above?

Did you solve it?

To find out you simply have to turn the problem on its head.


The answer is 87.

Did you solve the problem?

Either way, I hope together we can solve the problem of nurturing greater creative thinking into business.

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    Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email:

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