Wednesday 5 February 2020

The idea assembly line

Tl;dr Coming up with insights is the first stage of the creative process, so planners shouldn't do it without creatives. It doubles the work and creates a subpar product.

Ideas have become the pins in Adam Smith’s eighteenth century assembly line. The creative process has been chopped up and divided across departments.

Stephen King, the planner, not the creepy clown guy, was onto something when he said the creative process is like Francis Bacon’s scientific method.

They’re both journeys of discovery. You start with observations (insights), then you hypothesise (ideas), and then you stress-test (reviews).

The ‘idea’ assembly line takes the first step of the journey - observation - from the creatives, and gives it to planners, who then pass them down the line to creatives to come up with the ideas. 

But creatives simply can’t inherit an insight. It’s part of the process we can’t outsource, because it’s an integral building block to coming up with the idea.

John Lennon sums it up nicely: "You can't paint a picture on dirty paper, you need a clean sheet". By having someone else do part of the process, creatives start with dirty paper.

A planner’s role isn’t to do part of the creative’s job, so they certainly shouldn't be doing the insight stage without creatives. At the very least, insights should be worked on together.

When planners do concept insights independently, it results in the work spending more time away from the creatives; resulting in a rushed, subpar product.

Worse, because creatives can’t begin the process halfway through, they invariably redo the work, coming up with new insights - unbilled and afterhours.

It’s like being in a relay team, but the first runner is a fish, and when they finally pass the baton, the second runner is actually at the start, anyway.

Of course a planner has a valuable role to play, interrogating a client brief before it reaches creative, but that should lead to the start of the creative process; not start it.

If we need to get from A to B, a strategy outlines what A and B are; an idea is the route we take to get there. In other words, ideas are how we’re going to tactically achieve a strategy.

Yet, all too often creatives can get hemmed in by a planner’s idea - sold to client - masquerading as strategy. In that case, not only has the process been started, but its first step is set in stone.

We can’t treat ideas like a widget on an assembly line. It’s reductive to the creative process; it wastes everyone’s time, effort and sanity, and worst of all, it treats ideas like a commodity. 

Christopher Ott

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