The Four Roles in the Creative Process

Blank. This describes your paper and your stare. Your deadline is quickly approaching, but you don’t have a solid idea yet. You get up, walk around, have a snack, and do a quick creep on Facebook before you’re ready to work again. Still, nothing. You groan as you put your head down, feeling the defeat of your problem still unsolved.

Haven’t we all been there? Whether it’s for a report due to your supervisor, the witty messaging for a Facebook post or the next big idea for a great advertising campaign, sometimes we all go through a creative block.

In his book, “A Kick in the Seat of the Pants,” Roger Von Oech writes about four different roles needed in the creative process. Sometimes our creative block may just come from us being “set in our ways” and needing a “kick in the pants” to try something new.

1. Explorer

As an Explorer, you are searching for information. Nothing is off limits in this stage of the creative process. You need to know your objective, but you are looking for lots of ideas. Don’t overlook the obvious. Take the time to pay attention to the small things. Look into other fields and see what insight they may have to help solve the problem. Early in the creative process, it can be hard to overcome the fear of “getting less than an A.” It’s easy to get caught up in waiting for the perfect idea that we never move forward. As Von Oech says, “slay a dragon” and be willing to fail. Look for fun to inspire you. Break the rules and look at things backwards. Most importantly, write down your ideas, whatever they are, so they are preserved for later.

2. Artist

In this stage as Artist, your job is to manipulate bits of information. When we were children, we all proudly acknowledged our artistic abilities. As we grew older; however, we got the idea only a chosen few get the titles of Artist. And while you may or may not get a paycheck for your art, you still have the ability to change patterns and experiment with your work. You have the ability to probe the world in a unique way. Channeling the Artist can help give life to your ideas.

Begin by imagining. Dream big. What have you not seen done? Consider connecting two ideas that are unrelated. Be willing to look at something outside of social norms. The artist will take the information gathered as Explorer and manipulate it into something useful. Eliminate rules and restrictions you put on your own thinking. Lastly, incubate. This is one of the most underutilized techniques as an Artist, often due to deadlines. But find time to be quiet and still, and see what you come up with.

3. Judge

This is the critical role. It’s time to see if your idea is worth implementing. You are now taking a step back and asking, “What if it fails? What assumptions am I making? What are my cultural biases?” This critical look at the work helps you decide if you are meeting your objective or need further time for development. As Judge, you must make your decision and trust your instincts.

4. Warrior

As Warrior, you carry your idea into action. You have moved from “what if” to “what is.” With passion and courage, you put your plan together and get going – leaving all excuses behind. Just as a Warrior is equipped with a strong shield, so too must you develop a thick skin. You must be willing to defend your idea, but also be willing to take criticism. Confidently proceed with your idea and apply it to the problem. Lastly, remember to savor your victories and learn from your defeats.

Applying the Creative Process

In the past, our interactive department used creative problem-solving to make a connection between the popular movie saga, Twilight, and a client’s website that allows individuals to give back to their favorite charity while they shop. To increase fans on Facebook for the client, our team created a Facebook ad playing off the recent premiere of “Breaking Dawn: Part 2.”

During the Explorer phase, the team used the pop culture event as inspiration. As Artists, they were able to make a connection between the movie and our client to create a unique idea – instead of picking between Team Edward and Team Jacob, the ad encouraged viewers to support #teamredcross or #teamhumanesociety, to promote Superstorm Sandy relief. As Judge, the staff evaluated their idea and agreed it would help meet their objective. Then as Warrior, they carried the idea into action. This simple ad garnered an impressive 1,541 new likes on Facebook in one week. By looking to something fun for inspiration, eliminating any self-imposed rules and skillfully executing an idea, the team was able to bring two unrelated subjects together into a creative and useful idea that generated results for the client.

You may go through these roles of the creative process without even realizing it. Or you may jump back and forth between two or go out of order at times. The important thing is to not let a momentary defeat keep you from delivering on your creative potential. In an advertising agency (or any other business), creativity is everyone’s responsibility, not just the creative department. So, consider adopting these four roles the next time you are tasked to creatively solve a problem and see what unique ideas develop.