Think Like They Think to Do What We Do: The Creative Strategy Framework

The man in the maze. The concept of a business strategy, analytics, search for solutions, the search output. Labyrinth of colorful wooden blocks, tetris.

By Douglas Davis

Though clients request our services for a variety of reasons, they show up with different forms of the exact same request: “Solve my problem”. This article based on the Creative Strategy and the Business of Design, discusses the importance of creativity in a business discussion’s final outcome’s success.


Chances are that you’ve heard the quote “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” but that’s actually not what the Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka said. When this was translated into English from German, it turns out that the word “greater” was substituted for his original word choice, “other”. According to Dr. Russ Dewey’s textbook Psychology: An Introduction, “Koffka did not like that translation. He firmly corrected students who substituted ‘greater’ for ‘other’” (Heider, 1977). “This is not a principle of addition”, he said. The statement as originally worded was supposed to mean that the whole had an independent existence in the perceptual system.

At its best, what is inspired by the strategic entertains, educates, and resonates with its target on a deeper level than just buying and selling.

“[T]he whole is ‘other’ than the sum of its parts.” It seems to me that Koffka’s observations were the clearest explanation for the magic that happens in the creative process when all the individual elements are leveraged correctly. Something other happens. I guess you could argue that the butterfly is greater than the caterpillar, but it seems to me that argument would miss the magic of the caterpillar turning into the butterfly. At its best, what is inspired by the strategic entertains, educates, and resonates with its target on a deeper level than just buying and selling. The work we create, whether visual or verbal, is magic inspired by the sum of its parts. To harness that inspiration, this chapter will focus on the organisation and quality of those parts.


Finding Order in Chaos: Context

Designers work in various levels of order and chaos. And yes, a large percentage of that chaos is internal. It seems to come with the gift of creativity. However, the external chaos is a combination of the do-it-now culture we work in and the people we work with. A creative project kickoff can range anywhere from a very organised formal briefing to a haphazard, vague Word document attached to an e-mail. I’ve often left briefing meetings with either too much or irrelevant information – but have never left with all the information. And even then, all the information must be whittled down to the right information. Yet the expectation on us all is basically the same: Make it pretty by the deadline.

The best part of this is that even if a group of creatives starts with the same information, each person’s creative process will be different in some way. For example, I struggled with the fact that I didn’t like structure, yet felt overwhelmed when trying to digest all the information I’d gathered to address the business and marketing considerations with creativity. I felt disorganised and inefficient, which left me panicked and tensed as sand poured downward toward my deadline. I needed a framework to help me organise the content that would inspire my work – something that would allow me the freedom to take risks with the relevant information.

So while in my Competitive Strategy course at NYU one day, Direct Marketing 2012 Hall of Fame inductee Dr. Marjorie Kalter challenged any one of us to step to the whiteboard and offer a strategic recommendation. After looking around a bit, I stood up and what I’ve named the creative strategy framework is what came out.

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About the Author

davis-webBrooklyn-based Douglas Davis enjoys being one of the variety of voices needed in front of and behind the concept, strategy or execution. His first book, Creative Strategy and the Business of Design was just published June 2016. Douglas is an Associate Professor within the Communication Design Department at New York City College of Technology and an adjunct in the Branding and Integrated Communications (BIC) program at the City College in New York City.



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