Creative Brief Secret Sauce: Take a break


If you’re not familiar with how the human brain conjures an idea, read James Webb Young’s brilliant and tiny tome dating to the 1940s: A Technique for Producing Ideas (my edition has a foreword by Bill Bernbach).

It’s Old School, that is to say — it’s timeless. It’s about 40 pages, so you should finish it in an hour (I’m an addicted highlighter and slow reader, so I needed two).

Young identifies the five steps our brains follow to produce an idea, and every creative person in any field of creativity will understand and affirm this technique.

Step #3 is the critical and most important point on the journey. It will unsettle HR people planet wide:

Take a break.

Ideas do not appear out of thin air or by magic. It may seem that way, but the opposite is true. Ideas result only after you do two important things first: gather information, and think.

You think a lot. You think until you can’t think any longer. Until your brain starts to become a noodle. Smart and experienced creatives know when they over think.

That’s when they stop thinking.

They take a break.

This is when the unconscious mind takes over. This is when creativity fires its engines and ideas emerge.

Here’s where brilliant briefs come in, too. Ideally, the brief lives up to its name and fits on a single page. I revel in the reactions of my workshop attendees after we labor for a few hours and produce a first-draft brief of about 100-125 words.

Creatives claim they want more, more, more, more information. What they crave instead is relevant, inspiring information. Quantity, no. Quality, yes. If it’s done well, the 100 word brief kicks them in the pants and they can’t help but start riffing on the brief.

But the big, fresh ideas don’t happen right away. Creatives know they have to take the journey.

Information first. Think second. Take a break, third.

And then it happens. The Ah-Ha! moment. This is Webb’s Step #4.

Marketers, brand and product folks, C-suite people too often fail to put value on these parts of the process: Thinking. Taking a break.

Meaning, giving creative people the time they need.

Including creative brief writers. Especially creative brief writers.

The brief is the first step in the creative process. Get it wrong here, and everything falls apart.

Brief writing takes time. It needs plenty of Steps 1 and 2 and 3 in Young’s 5-step process. You can’t get to the fresh thinking that comes after taking a break without the time to think.

Senior people do this better than juniors, by the way. That should be obvious. They’ve had years of experience. Years of practice. They are better brief writers. They are better creatives.

You can’t force an idea. It matters not one whit what your timetable is. Ideas take time.

As a production manager reminded me recently: Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.

Give creative brief writing and creatives what your brand deserves:

Time to take a break.

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