Earlier this week I was on the phone with a colleague who had a perplexing design problem. She wanted some advice, and prefaced it by saying, “I know I am not a creative, but….” I stopped her immediately. Sure, she isn’t a designer by trade and I don’t know of her artistic talents, but I reassured her that she is a person, like all of us, who has the capacity and responsibility to be “creative.” We discussed her ideas and confirmed that her original solution was the right approach. 

Here we are in the final weeks of summer - a time to slow down a bit and gear up for the start of September, always a time for things fresh and new. I find myself thinking about the loads we carry at work, about freeing ourselves to think more unencumbered, and liberating ourselves to think more creatively. I challenge my colleagues all the time when I hear them express doubts about their capacity to be creative. We all have the ability to think creatively. Yet many carry around personal barriers preventing themselves from participating in the creative process.

Everyone in the agency world has a role to play today when it comes to creative thinking. I truly stand by this. Personally, it helps lighten the burdens I could have as a creative director by allowing me to not feel the responsibility of always coming up with new ideas - especially when we all have a mixed track record in this regard. 

So, in thinking ahead to the proverbial beginning of fall, I thought of four ways to lessen what we carry in terms of creative thinking. 

1. Lessen the burden of "I'm not creative"

We all have the means to think creatively – and we all do creative things every day. Given the right parameters of a brief and with the right level of understanding and empathy, we can all think of “what could be.” I have often found that best ideas start with people without creative in their title. Smart people who are curious, are great triggers for the creative process. We all can think creatively…we just need to empower more people to do it more often. 

2. Lessen the burden of what you already know

Creatives and non-creatives alike have long been dismayed by doubts like “they would never do this” pronounced at the beginning of an idea process. It creates negativity from the onset and diminishes the liberation that creativity is supposed to bring about. Yet for me, what hinders my thinking most is just basing my thoughts on what I already know, without allowing myself to embellish it with the discovery of what I don’t. At times, we’re so busy being smart that we lose the ability to be truly open and lose the openness to find the joy in being wrong. Creative thinking should certainly begin with a crisply articulated strategy. But an insight leading to a strategy is supposed to foster the fresh illumination of an objective reality. We need more fresh illumination in our processes.

3. Lessen the burden of how you were taught

I’ve said it many times... I hate brainstorms. I particularly hate brainstorms squeezed into unrealistic windows where we frown on debate and opt for “quantity over quality.” Developing ideas take equal doses of curiosity, discipline and freedom, and conducting brainstorms in a 1990s fashion seems quaint at best. Creative thinking takes time. It doesn’t require a conference room. Diversity of thinking is good, but it doesn’t mean 10 people sitting in a room, it can be two people sitting in a park. Our world is constantly changing and our process for developing ideas should change with it. 

4. Lose the burden of being right

To quote my fabulous colleague Isabel Kassabian, “Clients don’t want to be educated, they want to be inspired and entertained” just as when I, as a “consumer,” don’t want a brand or company to educate - or worse - empower me. Ideas are about liberation. Ideas are about emotion. Ideas are about humanity. We have so many tools today to help us be smarter, to help us target better, to help us measure better. Yet, our best ideas do well when we inspire more and boast less. Ideas don’t fit neatly into boxes; nor do we as people. And there are probably a lot of ideas out there to be created that are “right,” but will they resonate? 

So, lighten your load of self-doubt and consider more of what could be. Dream big ideas. Consider what would intrigue you enough to pause and think more deeply about something. Starting today and into this fall, I plan to carry a lighter load and feel more productive and more creative in the process.

Howard Pulchin

Howard Pulchin, global creative director, is the lead of APCO Worldwide's global creative practice, and is based in New York. Read More