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Creative Criteria

Before you go into a brainstorm of any type, you should ask yourself an important question:  what ‘creative criteria’ are you going to use to choose the best idea?

Unlike other scientific measurement (a barometer, Richter Scale, yard stick, speedometer, glucose monitor, density index), creativity and its output – ideas – have no standardised basis of measurement.

Since there’s no universal constant or benchmark to measure creativity or ideas, everyone evaluates ideas differently, based on individual perceptions and perspectives. The problem becomes more acute when there’s agreement between different parties. How can two people determine the best idea? How will they choose? Democracy? Seniority? Fists?

I once had a very annoying client who loved to say: “Oh, I’ll know a good idea when I see it.”

The honest truth is this:  No, you won’t.

You’ll be distracted with other priorities. You’ll make an emotional decision without any objectivity. You’ll be down with a head cold or focused on family holidays. You’ll be blinded by your own ego … er, brilliance … that you won’t see the forest from the trees.

At the end of a brainstorm, it’s extremely easy to select a ‘best idea’ based on its emotional impact, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good business decision. To ensure you are making the right choice, you want to start by understanding what creative criteria to use so your decision is both rational and emotional.

Or, as one of my favourite business mentors told me:  You’ll make a better decision when you know how you’re making that decision.

Examples of Creative Criteria

Here are examples of creative criteria to use as thought starters prior to your next brainstorm. Edit, adapt and brainstorm others which suit your situation, organisation, industry or environment. Get other (senior) people to agree with you so there’s mutual agreement before the brainstorm begins.

The idea must …

  • Help to achieve the business result or (fill in the blank) objective – for example, a “department” objective
  • Address / impact / defuse / combat a (fill in the blank) issue
  • Demonstrate a return on investment
    • On a side note: this means you’ll need to have evaluation measures agreed-upon in advance
  • Educate the target audience to better understand your campaign messages
  • Stimulate real-time trial or loyalty, to ask for a product by name
  • Gather demographic information from the target audience – for example, the idea incorporates on-the-spot, sign-up booths, kiosks, write-in offers
  • Be moveable – for example, the idea can be moved from market to market, between shopping centers, can be set up at town meetings, the lobby of Parliament
  • Generate clicks on social media accounts
  • Be a one-off event – in other words, you spend your money in ‘one big bang’
  • Be compelling – literally, it engages the target audience by asking them to participate
  • Physically demonstrate your brand’s attributes
  • Attract media attention (be ‘media-genic’) – or, NOT attract media attention
  • Occur during a specific time period – for example, launches the day of a new product roll-out, XX weeks prior to a vote, XX weeks prior to the Christmas holidays
  • Complement other activities of the organisation – e.g., recruitment, advertising, operations, sales initiatives
  • Cause your competition to sit up and take notice – but again, be specific

What happens if you don’t know what criteria you need?

I’ve had a number of clients who looked at me with that “deer in the headlights” look when I asked what criteria we should use. IN their defense, it’s a tricky question … sort of like asking an unanswerable question.

Try this question instead:  Describe the idea to me, but don’t tell me what the idea is.

In some cases, I’ve used the question as a sort of pre-brainstorm discussion to better understand what the client wants to do, so I know the ideas will actually help address the business problem.

Tips on Choosing Creative Criteria

Make your criteria specific and measurable.

Don’t choose too many criteria. It will make brainstorming impossible to find one idea that fits every criteria. You need some “breathing room” to allow your creative thinking to run wild. Generally, 4-6 criteria is best.

Do not start a brainstorm by sharing the criteria with participants. If you tell people you’re only interested in ideas which meet the criteria of Square, Blue and Leather – trust me, you’ve just ruined your brainstorm by paralysing their creativity.

At the end of the brainstorm, don’t judge the ideas by yourself. Instead, show participants the criteria and collaborate with them to judge which of all ideas best fit the requirements.

What creative criteria have you used to clarify when finishing your brainstorm?  Please add your examples, comments or below.

FYI:  This post is the first in a series on Finishing a Brainstorm. Its original title was “Clarify” (as in clarify the criteria), followed by two subsequent steps: Amplify and Verify.

Also, this topic is parallel to a dreaded brainstorm affliction called Creative Churn.

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