All-natural, Organic Problem-Solving


We are often taught stages, steps, and flows for design or content development. While there is a need for structure and well-defined processes, there must be room for more organic thinking and unexpected rework.

Working in an in-house Creative Services department, there were a few key projects that allowed for time and required proper process.

However, more often than not projects would go something like this:

“So, just went over our sales numbers. Business for X market is down. We just negotiated some media buys for a campaign. Publisher deadline is this Friday EOD”

“CEO is coming in this week and wants to rebrand some of the restaurants at the resort, can you give us a list of names and concepts?”

As much as I and the designers would whine about the quick turnaround, sometimes our best work came from that on-the-fly approach; ideas had to happen fast and often with little direction. We were given market data and had to make it happen.

This is when more organic ways of thinking were effective and helped generate exceptional work.

So when there is no time or sometimes even a need for long processes, what do you do?

For starters, steal ideas.

Hear me out.

A few months ago I decided to organize my nightstand. Tucked in the corner of the drawer was a small square book titled Steal Like an Artist. I decided to open it up and give it a read.

Quotes from famous artists jumped off the page…

“Art is theft.” Pablo Picasso

“The only art I ever study is stuff I can steal from.” David Bowie

“It is better to take what does not belong to you than to let it lie neglected.” Mark Twain

“Modern Art = I could do that + Yeah, but you didn’t.” Craig Damrauer

Aside from highlighting the thoughts of artists, author Austin Kleon writes about the “Genealogy of Ideas–” this concept that nothing is original and that humans, like ideas, are a ‘remix’ of the original. We, ourselves, are a new version of our parents and ancestors. Stealing ideas is about studying the very best examples of work like art, literature, music, product design, (pretty much any medium), and rethinking it.

When I write, for example, I listen to music not just to get me in the mood but also for lyrics,  tone, and rhythm I can take from to put in my work.

Use What’s in The Box

Not to be confused with the box you’re supposed to think your way out of, this is the box that you have to fit into because in real life you have parameters –a three-word headline, a 40-character post, a $100 budget, brand colors, publishing regulations, we have to work within constraints. Exceptional problem-solvers use the cards that are dealt and make magic happen.

Use those limitations as a guide.

Nudge Boundaries and Revise

Yeah, so you had a bit of an out-there idea, present it as an option. Intuition still has value in business and definitely a place in design–use it wisely, not blindly.

You know you’ve successfully nudged boundaries when you get an ‘I like where you’re going, just work it out a bit more.’ That means you’re onto something great.

I have yet to go with a first draft or even roll with the team’s first idea. Critique and rework are where awesome ideas are born. And often the work that goes out is a push, pull, and revise until you have the winning concept.

Just go for it!

You didn’t hear this from me as a project manager, but sometimes we plan so much that by the time we are done with the planning, things have shifted or priorities have changed and we never get to the execution part. And that’s probably my biggest pet peeve with process and decision-making bottlenecks. Go for it and adjust along the way. Now more than ever, we have the data and tools to adapt in real-time.

It’s why Kindergarteners beat MBA grads at building marshmallow towers.

This isn’t a throw structured thinking out the window – it’s an incorporate more organic approaches to creative problem-solving and evaluate what does and doesn’t require linear process and steps.

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