I’m a copywriter who gets paid to come up with ways to make people think about things differently. In order to do my job, I have to think “creatively.” I’ve won awards, shifted perception, and moved product. Anyway, with the advent of social media, I’ve met a lot of other people who do my job. And while everyone seems to take different paths to creative problem solving, the one thing the people I admire most have in common is that they embrace efficiency.

We don’t like to waste time. We think smart from the outset.

The best tool for a creative problem solver is an accurate, relevant, and thorough creative brief. Simply stated, a creative brief is a detailed outline of the problem, along with a specific goal. The more detailed the brief, the more efficient the creative process. And oh yes, did I mention accurate? Everything in the brief has to be dead-on true. When it’s not, the solutions don’t work.

Outside vs. Inside (the Box)

There’s a saying in business, mostly by people who don’t work in the creative fields, that you have to “think outside the box” to find the best, most creative solutions to problems. Only, every time I hear someone say “think outside the box” I cringe. Why? Because it’s stupid. And inefficient. In fact, just the opposite is true. You have to think inside the box to discover solutions.

Think of it this way—every problem is a box. The box is built on the data (the creative brief). When you think outside of it, you’re not even remotely solving the problem. Outside the box ideas might seem like “high creative” but if the idea doesn’t sell, it’s not creative. I don’t care how many tattoos your art director has on his arm. 

Thinking outside the box is the conceptual equivalent of throwing as much shit against the wall to see what sticks. And shit, in general, is a terrible strategy. Our most precious resource in life is time. Don’t waste it. And if you have to write a thousand ideas to find one, you might want to reconsider your career. As you read through a creative brief, relevant solutions should start appearing before your minds’s eye. Let those ideas take you down the right path.

No, creative problem solving starts with building a better box, and then thinking within that. When the data is correct, and the goal is clear, every solution you generate by exploring the limits of the box can solve any problem you’re faced with. Ever.

Inside the box thinking doesn’t mean that you can’t be creative with your solutions, either. Indeed, my most effective work has always been clever appeals to a very specific audience. And if these messages didn’t resonate with you, then you weren’t the audience.

I wish I could tell you that the trick to creative problem solving was some magic spell or elixir, but it’s not. Creativity isn’t an exclusive club where you need the right tattoos and piercings to enter. All you need is a box.

Endeavor to be surgical in your approach to problem-solving. The creativity will take care of itself.

lexus1lexus2lexus3The print ads above were part of a campaign I wrote for Lexus which won a ton of awards and sold every vehicle allotted to the dealer–before the actual launch of the car.  


Jim Mitchem

On Being a Writer

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.