(REVISED ESSAY) On Thursday, June 8 at 1:30pm, I’m presenting a webinar about this technique. I promise not to suck. (Register here.) 

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Creativity happens best, in my opinion, when we’re presented with a problem, not a solution.

I am not a strategist but in my experience, I think the best briefs set things up as problems, not solutions.

Think of the brief as a wall.

Getting over this wall requires creativity. … I can go over the wall – with a rope, a ladder. I can go under it with a shovel, through it with a bulldozer, go around the world and come up on the wall from the other side, or maybe just beam down on the other side with Spock. There are all kinds of possibilities.

Or, on the other hand, I can be presented with a brief about the lovely piece of land on the other side of the wall. Which is how I think most briefs read. “Please do an ad about the fine ten-square-yard patch of lawn.”

Well, I’m sure it’s a fine chunk of winter rye on the other side; thick and green, the envy of the entire block. But what’s on the other side of the wall is a solution, not a problem, and so it’s boring. It’s boring because it’s like a crossword puzzle that’s already been filled out. As a creative I always wondered, where do I go with briefs like this?

I’d rather work with a brief that is about the wall; about the problem.

One could argue the hypothetical lawn could be turned into something creatively dazzling. It can, yes — (just shut up, I’m on a roll) — but I’ll dig in my heels here to make a point. When you start with a problem, you have the beginning of story. And story is a bigger, better place to work towards than just some happy ad about some happy thing.

As you may recall from Mrs. Hansen’s 11th-grade English class, all drama is conflict. Sometimes it’s a protagonist versus an antagonist. Sometimes it’s love versus loneliness, or Crest versus cavities. But there’s always a “versus” and it’s that versus which drives the story.

What’s interesting to note here is how stories never start with a “happy ending.” A good thing, because happy endings aren’t interesting. It’s the beginnings, where the problems are, that make us lean in. I’ll wager if you pulled in hours late to a movie, you wouldn’t walk up and buy a ticket just to catch the last scene and the end credits. The movie stars riding off into the sunset (or over the nice lawn), that scene is almost always the least interesting part of any movie.

Unfortunately, many continue to think the purpose of a brief is to provide creatives with the information they’ll need to film the happy ending.

I’m not positive I’m right about this. But I suspect most creatives would agree it’s easier to create something interesting when you’re presented with a problem and not a solution.

That’s my 2¢. What’s yours?