Creative Collaboration: Be Constructive

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Being constructive is at the heart of professional creativity. It's all about making a series of informed choices and decisions that move you toward a goal or a solution. Negativity can come from the client, or it can come from within the creative team itself. Here are some ways to stay focused on constructive efforts and avoid negative traps.

One very helpful method comes from the world of improvisational comedy. They use a great method called "Yes, and." Essentially, it means that each new step of an exchange must be accepted and added to. Whatever one actor introduces to the improvised play, the other actors must accept and add to. This keeps the forward momentum going. In creative collaborations, I've observed that using the "Yes, and" method allows the better ideas float to the top while weaker ideas tend to drop away. It definitely keeps the process from getting bogged down with negatives. This is the opposite of those kinds of meetings where you hear things like "yes, but," or "we already tried that and it doesn't work," or just plain old "that won't work."

Walt Disney developed a similar technique called "Plussing." The idea is that no matter how good your idea is, keep trying to improve or "plus" it. It's another great way to keep a creative a project moving toward success.

Another negative trap to avoid is defining creative assignments on what not to do rather than what to do. A well-thought-out creative brief should provide a clear target to constructively move toward. While it's true that a good brief may include notes about things to avoid, they should not be the main focus of the brief. If you tell someone to not think of an elephant, of course that's exactly what they do. It's almost impossible not to. It's much better to provide guidance for what to move toward.

When giving feedback, it is important to provide information that the creative team can respond to constructively. It's of almost no value to give an "I don't like it" kind of note. It just leaves the team feeling confused and de-motivated. On the other hand, explaining why something is not liked (or liked) can provide valuable clues for the team to respond to constructively.

The creative team members also need to do their part to take feedback constructively. When a team has been hard at work on a project and the client's feedback is less than stellar, it can be hard to take, but it's important to use that feedback constructively to improve the work. That feedback is golden if you are truly focused on delivering the best possible final solutions. One common scenario is when the client's feedback involves some sort of new information that has come to light, or when the circumstances for the assignment have changed. It's important to embrace this new information to be able to deliver the best final solution. There may be a need for additional charges when this happens, but that's a different issue.

Adversity, criticism, and dissatisfaction can actually be turned into positive motivation. It is information that can ultimately make a project more successful. When I was developing the ZOOOOS interactive video system which utilizes a universal remote control, my colleague Brian Ring was very concerned that setting up a universal remote was a major hassle for consumers. It irritated me that he was so concerned about that aspect when I wanted to move on to other issues that I thought were more important. My feeling of irritation turned into motivation to solve that problem. As a result, we developed a completely new method for setting up a universal remote that was worthy of an additional patent - and our product was that much better for it.

A can-do attitude goes a long way toward getting things done. Negative attitudes can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is not to say that a Pollyanna approach should be used. Real problems should be recognized for what they are, so that appropriate measures can be taken to deal with them effectively. For example, I once had a client, Joe, who always made a change to whatever we presented whether the change was needed or not. Joe just had to make his mark on every project. Our solution was to include a non-essential element in every presentation that Joe could change. We thought of this as his bone of contention, and we called it "Joe's bone" in his honor. This enabled us to complete those projects without frivolous changes and Joe got to make his mark.

Please share your comments on my blog, or contact me directly. And please, ask for my help. More to come: watch here for future installments.

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