Strategy doesn’t spark new ideas – that’s the point!

How do people come up with great ideas? Do they systematically work themselves through the target group description and the business strategy via the marketing plan and then come up with that one earth shattering creative solution that makes the brand a classic and the business an instant success? Of course not.
Actually, there’s a myth floating around stating that if you have a great strategy you’ll get great ideas for implementing it but that is simply not true. Instead, strategy is the filter that lets a bunch of random and loosely connected ideas and insights emerge as a coherent and forceful set of actions in the real world. This is what makes strategy so important. It’s what sets the direction and shape of the impact the organisation creates in the world. But ideas are created in a totally different part of the universe. They need brains and stimulation.
Have a look at this diagram I made:
Creative and strategy
1. Brains need stimuli to work well. Some of the best stimuli is often found in the background material that was produced when developing the strategy. Use this, but reduce it to a good brief. It’s not the data but the insights that matter! All prior knowledge and experience is also a great help. The notion that young people are more creative is pure bullshit, they are simply less self critical and that is a fantastic asset when trying to come up with ideas.
2. Brains are the main thing here, and anything that makes them operate better is valuable. Make brains feel safe (no, not helmets, it’s about confidence!). Don’t rely solely on brainstorming. It doesn’t work for everybody, and you get a better spectrum of ideas if you vary the circumstances. Alternate between rushing and taking time to think, between going solo and working together, between writing and doodling, use projective techniques (e.g. write a letter to Ronald McDonald or the King of Sweden explaining why your brand is so right for him), etc.
3. Ideas change when expressed. Sometimes what felt great in your mind look pathetic when stated on paper. That’s OK. Save it anyway. You just created great stimuli for another time or another person. It’s better to get 1000 half-assed ideas down on record and choose later, than to be self-critical and end up with a poor set to choose from. Collecting and cross-stimulating idea spawning brains is terribly important and one of the main reasons for having Creative Directors in advertising agencies. Someone needs to have this role in every team. Actually, everybody should do it but someone needs to be responsible. After getting it all on paper, put it in a place where it can be accessed, and make sure ideas go forward in the process.
4. Now, finally, the role of strategy is to function as a screen to filter and format whole batches of ideas into a shape that gives them mutual support and creates an impact on the world that reflects the values, visions, ambitions and goals that the organisation stand for. The really great brands and organisations of the world manage to do this, and because the ideas that get implemented share a core of strategic alignment they support eachother and creates a “gestalt” that we usually think of as a personality or a philosophy when viewed from the outside.
So, do strategy first and use it as a screen in the final descision making, but never expect strategy to replace the creative process. You need both and in the correct order. And that’s all it’s to it.