“You miss 100% of shots you don’t take.”

Hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky said these words. The line is both axiomatic and a tautology, but a necessary reminder to all of us.

I use it here as a cudgel to berate creative brief writers: It’s all or nothing, baby. Too many creative briefs are shots not taken.

I’ve read many paeans to the late Dan Wieden but one resonated with me more than any other: Wieden created an environment at Wieden+Kennedy that allowed people to fail. Dan Wieden encouraged people to fail.

I don’t mean he wanted them to not succeed. Quite the contrary. He believed that to succeed, to stretch to your outermost creative potential, you must fail first.

As a creative leader, Wieden knew that he could help you if you reached too far and fell down. He could not help you, or he was limited in his ability to help, if you gave only 50%, if you failed because you didn’t try hard enough.

I have heard many a creative director say to me or a creative colleague when one of us would present ideas, “Well, it’s half an idea.” That’s a gentle way of saying, Go back to try again and this time do your job.

Concepting, like writing, is about putting everything into your effort without regard to consequences. Hemingway was famous for saying, “Writing is easy. All you do is sit at your typewriter and bleed.” A creative director’s job is to push their creatives to their best thinking and hope for something outstanding, maybe even over the top. It’s easier to pull back something way out there than to push someone to deliver more. Another axiom to tattoo on your forehead.

When timid or untrained brief writers begin a new brief, they don’t see the document as an opportunity to fail upward. Instead, they view the document as an arduous and necessary evil they must endure.

This is another reason why creative briefs fail, an addendum to my essay from two weeks ago.

The creative brief is the first step in the creative process. It must be as creative as the creative you hope your creative partners deliver. If it isn’t creative, if it does not inspire, it’s not a shot wasted. It’s a shot not taken.

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