The problem is not understanding the problem


Clients and agencies have applied an urgency to understanding the problem – largely by not doing it at all.

It was 5pm on a Friday night in Belgrade when Lea got to her feet.

We were in the final phase of an intense eight hour Creativity Exchange workshop with four teams from Kreativa presenting back their ideas on an exciting opportunity the agency had received just a couple of days before. There was nervous expectation in the air but also a palpable sense of the teams willing each other on.

During the morning we’d covered a range of topics, among them our shared experiences of where ideas come from; inspirational clients or brands, client briefs, agency briefs and the role the working environment and culture plays in it.

As the session developed one of the points we discussed at length was Clarification – in particular interrogating the problem (or challenge as you may prefer) that a client gives an agency to solve, usually through communications.

It was interesting to note the parallels and divergences on other subjects, but clarifying the problem rang a bell for both the Serbian participants and yours truly. Healthy debate ensued and potential paths to resolve this were discussed. After all, Kreativa is an exciting, forward-thinking agency on a mission to progress creatively.

I’ve noted in recent times that as the speed of implementation has increased through digital, clients and agencies have applied a similar urgency to understanding the problem – largely by not doing it at all.

Because the solutions to any issue could be manifold, choosing what to do, at speed, appears to be where the time is spent. Why it’s being done is increasingly unchallenged. The result is that objectives end up being loose with alarming consequences for effectiveness; the lure of the shiny new tech solution blinds common sense; and just what role the solution offers the lives of a time-poor, largely disinterested audience is forgotten.

Just get to a solution and get it out, fast.

That’s a problem for everyone concerned. What problem are we solving? What impact will that have on the lives of the audience? What impact will that have on the brand? How will it contribute to growth?

We do ourselves a disservice by allowing this to become the status quo. If we value our role as marketers and creative people then we should aim higher and solve problems for real people, living real lives with solutions that are useful, interesting or entertaining. That’s where the real value is.

There should be total clarity between client and agency about that before solutions are presented if creativity is to deliver the competitive advantage it promises.

Prior to our workshop we’d interrogated the new brief. It was full of exciting features but no perceived need, because there was no problem to solve. So there were no foot and hand holds that help you grapple towards a creative idea.

We had limited time to spend on the problems that could be solved by the brief. But every minute of that was critical. It reminded me of an Einstein quote. When asked how he would spend his time if he had one hour left to save the world, he replied, “I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and then five minutes solving it”.

So we created two propositions rooted in human need that ultimately led to rapid idea generation with bigger, bolder routes from a diverse group of participants. After a focussed and fierce evaluation the teams presented back 16 interesting ideas from, I’d guess, 50+ that were created. Seven of these selected by the group for further development. And only two, what may be termed ‘traditional’ creatives, were present.

Lea completed her short idea presentation to a hushed room. I choked a bit – it was powerful stuff. Spontaneous applause followed. Her simple but beautifully delivered rationale packed one hell of an emotional punch.

Amazing what you can achieve once you understand the problem you’re trying to solve.

Creativity Exchange is the Firehaus training and mentoring product for brand and agency teams. We have a range of workshops available or can tailor sessions based on specific requirements. Get in touch to find out more. We don’t bite, but we are on Fire.

Ian Bates