TriComB2B Blogger - Robin Miller

Time, Color and the Quest for Big Ideas

Robin Miller

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” — Albert Einstein

We love a good deadline; our agency thrives under pressure. You need to hit a tough date on a complex project? We’re pretty darn good at that. But, having a little time to breathe and collaborate isn’t such a bad thing. Let me explain.

As our client base and agency have grown, so has our client services team. This team has been built with smart, energetic people who collaborate closely with clients managing multi-faceted projects. Work is very fast-paced, and we accomplish numerous tasks on multiple projects EVERY DAY. Each day that ends in “y” is just a normal day, because our folks can handle it. Why?

Because they’re as good as Gold.

Taking Home the Gold

Beyond being great people who know how to get things done for their customers, many of them are literally Gold. That is, when given the True Colors® test, they often test Gold (as do I). People who identify as Golds can be characterized as task-oriented rule followers. You know the type at your office. Small talk? Not so much. A long list of specific tasks they need to knock out? Most definitely.

I move quickly. Details are important and so is speed. I love lists. I mean, who doesn’t love a good list of a dozen things to do in a very short period of time?

Well, it turns out, not everyone. There’s a large segment of the population at every workplace that tests quite a bit differently from us Golds. True Colors also identifies three other predominant color types: Blue, Orange and Green. A great workplace needs all of these colors to function well, and understanding how each color works, what they need to be successful, and how they like to communicate is very important.

Feeling Blue

Somewhat on the opposite end of the color spectrum from Gold is Blue, i.e., the huggers. Blues tend to be interested in creating relationships. They are the nurturing romantics of the team who value personal connections. Then there are the Greens, the thinkers. They have traits that help them solve problems through analysis plus a good amount of invention and abstract thinking. And guess what? You’ll find a lot of Blue and Green in a creative team. And even a mix of Orange and Gold too (Oranges are another story altogether). The artists and designers need to be adaptable in different ways. They operate in ways we Golds don’t quite understand — but that’s a good thing.

Just-in-Time Creative? Maybe Not

So, why does all this matter? Let’s consider one of the most common occurrences in the client-agency relationship: the killer deadline. One of the issues with the killer deadline can be the short-circuiting of the very reason you’ve hired the agency in the first place: the quest for creativity and maybe even “THE BIG IDEA”. It turns out that this wonderful rainbow of talents, while perfectly capable of meeting a tough deadline with some really strong work, might not be able to deliver the very best, given difficult time constraints from clients. And that’s not an excuse; it’s science.

According to the Harvard Business Review, while creative ideas can be sparked under pressure, the best creative work happens when the people responsible for ideas have time. The research correlations between time pressures and the ability to think creatively are vivid. One of the key components of creative thinking is a concept Einstein referred to as “combinatorial play”, an idea that refers to allowing some cognitive breathing room so seemingly unrelated ideas collide in interesting ways to create high levels of novelty.

“… research suggests that the success of the combinatorial process depends both on having sufficient time to create the balls to juggle — exploring concepts and learning things that might somehow be useful — and having sufficient time to devote to the actual juggling.”

Under pressure, it can be difficult for creators to achieve the required focus and time they need to collaborate with co-workers to find the best answers. Want some great ideas? Hold a brainstorming meeting on a Friday and see what your creative team comes up with while mowing their lawns over the weekend.

However, the article does point out that absence of time pressure isn’t a panacea for creativity. Other individual work factors such as the feeling of being on Autopilot and general lack of engagement can lead to low creative output, regardless of available time to be creative.

The Best Ideas Take Time

At our agency, we consider our ability to communicate complex concepts with absolute clarity and unexpected, novel creative execution to be the greatest value we can deliver. We’re often capable of producing these ideas under a great deal of time pressures. But admittedly, we’re sometimes left wondering if, given a little more time, whether a better idea or concept would have emerged. Consider this critical recommendation from the Harvard Business Review article:

“Avoid extreme time pressure whenever possible, particularly if you are looking for high levels of learning, exploration, idea generation, and experimentation with new concepts... Complex cognitive processing takes time, and, without some reasonable time for that processing, creativity is almost impossible.”

That’s Nice, but Deadlines Are Deadlines

A reader of this blog could be excused for thinking I’m just being naïve. After all, not everyone works from a formal plan, and almost no one is given the necessary resources to comfortably execute everything they need to get done with time to spare. Executives demand things without warning. Opportunities present themselves on short notice. Deadlines happen, and they generally roll downhill to an internal marketing team or the agency.

What can we do, given these realities? Offsetting the effects of time pressure is essential. That means making sure the people impacted understand the underlying mission and they share the senses that their work is vital and the urgency is real. Give someone a deadline that corresponds with their departure for vacation and you’re not going to get their best thinking. Tell them how they’re work is going to be an important part of an upcoming investor meeting and they’re likely to jump onboard. Also, finding ways to create and protect blocks of time where creative teams can be freed up from the distractions and interruptions of organizational life can be helpful.

In addition to creating the right environment, sharing the right information is essential. Creative teams need to clearly understand the offering, target market, how they engage, and much more to discover the most compelling idea that will motivate an audience to believe in your message and act. Also, make sure you provide the brand standards, templates and other “mandatories” dictated that will save time during execution. (We’ll write another blog on how to capture this information in a concise creative brief at a later date.)

Big Ideas Come in Lots of Colors

One of my favorite outcomes from True Colors assessments is understanding what makes my coworkers tick. What motivates them? How do I best communicate with them? In what environment do they achieve the best results? When you put it all together, every business has a kaleidoscope of personality types who combine their special traits to get things done. Often, you’ll find a concentration of personality types in certain roles and job functions, like the Blue and Green combinations that comprise a lot of creative teams. And certain teams have certain needs if you want to produce the best outcomes. For creatives, if you want their absolute best work, you’re going to need to give them some time. And, if you can’t afford that, you can still create an environment that makes it more likely you’ll get a great result.

See some great creative results here, many of which were created under a lot of deadline pressures. Thankfully, for a few, we had a little more time. 

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