As creatives, we need to change the way we ideate. And contrary to popular belief, the impetus for that change didn’t start with the pandemic.

Long before COVID, creatives knew the time was right to update our processes, incorporate work-life balance into our workflows, and engage our teams differently. The shutdowns of 2020 just accelerated and solidified that knowledge.

If you’ve been in the industry for a while, you’re probably not surprised to hear this. The days of brainstorming at whiteboards or waiting breathlessly for a killer idea went by the wayside long ago. But change isn’t easy, even for innovators and creators. That’s why it’s so important to start making shifts one step at a time, beginning with the way agencies get creative work done.

New Era, New Creative Needs

Creativity has moved online, which is good. However, all those web-based file transfers and virtual storyboards aren’t offering anything revolutionary to the actual creative process. They’re just leveraging digital technologies to mimic the in-person processes that no longer work. Creatives may be cranking out some amazing stuff while working from home faster than ever, yet they’re still facing the possibility of burnout.

Why burnout? Executives and managers have figured out that telework can be more productive. So they’re asking their creatives to submit exceptional work quickly and inexpensively. This is a nosedive toward mass resignations, especially as creatives lose their inspiration. When timelines get tighter, budgets get leaner, and output expectations skyrocket, great employees tend to clock out mentally, then physically.

In other words, everyone’s just following the same creative process roadmap as before. They’re just doing it at 2x, 5x, or 10x speed. In the good old days, creatives could spend time doodling ideas, making concept statements, composing mood boards, and doing other activities, all for a single campaign that wowed clients.

That’s not how things work anymore. Trying to keep up with the idea that every result has to be a groundbreaking concept doesn’t make sense. It only puts undue pressure on creatives. The winning formula for long-term creative agency success involves performance marketing. It involves understanding a client’s business and crafting work that truly connects with customers — and ultimately turns into measurable outcomes while still upholding amazing craft and great ideas.

Perfecting the Creative Process

So how do we as an industry overhaul the creative process so that it’s fresh and modernized? How do we get creatives’ grooves back so they can collaborate and ideate?

It’s a step-by-step dance of inspiration, perspiration, dedication, and motivation. And away we go.

Seek Appropriate Inspiration for the SOW

When tackling any type of creative work, you need a spark. Not to borrow from a well-worn analogy, but it’s like starting a fire. The fire will never get going until you introduce a catalyzing element that will set everything ablaze.

Creatives have many opportunities to find inspiration thanks to the internet. A good starting point is to check out competitive work in the clients’ space. Researching what competitors produce helps give a baseline of what works and what doesn’t.

The key to making inspiration more functional for the 2020s is to ditch the leisurely approach. Time-blocking 30 minutes to nose around digitally for inspiring ideas or do something inspiring like jamming out to favorite songs averts the “lost down the rabbit hole” phenomenon. At the same time, it sets the stage for the imagination to wander.

Get the Mind-Body Connection Working

Creatives can’t afford to sit around all day. That’s not a method for movement or production. Sure, they can get into “churn and burn” modes. Nevertheless, they can’t hold onto a feverish pace forever.

My suggestion? Creative teams should be urged to get moving. This could mean going out for a run, walking some stairs—burpees, anyone?—a bike ride, doing some yoga or stretching, or cranking out a set of jumping jacks. After being uninspired for 30 minutes, it feels good to shake everything up physically.

This is far easier for creatives who work from the privacy of their homes, of course. Still, even in-office creatives could dash up and down the stairs a couple of times. Remember: Coffee is a great accelerator, but nothing beats the adrenaline kick of movement and activity.

Dive In and Do the Hard Work

After getting inspiration and forcing a bit of perspiration, creatives should get down to business. Once again, time-blocking work may be a preferred way to go about getting everything accomplished. Some people do well when they set up mini “sprints” and use their phone alarms to indicate stopping points.

The mind can’t concentrate forever, so all dedicated work requires occasional timeouts. These creative pauses could be to talk with a colleague or just take a breather. For telecommuters, they’re opportunities to toss a load of laundry into the washing machine or eat a snack.

To be sure, it can be very difficult to stick with the work, particularly if the project is large or complex. By chunking all tasks into bite-sized pieces, creatives can master the art of slogging through the experience. Additionally, they’ll improve their ability to harness focus when needed. Many famous artists and writers, including Ernest Hemingway, were prolific because they adhered to strict schedules and concentrated when necessary.

Offer Self-Guided Rewards as Motivation

Creatives can’t expect their companies to lavish them with trinkets, money, or praise. They must find motivation from within, which means promising themselves the “carrots” that matter.

For instance, one creative team member might be motivated by the promise of going to a sushi restaurant after the completion of a creative assignment. Another creative may like the idea of sleeping in for an hour the next day, as long as all other responsibilities have been handled.

Being able to motivate oneself will be critical for creatives in the coming years. That’s not to say managers shouldn’t praise their employees. They should. Yet workers can’t wait around to be motivated through external means. They must find ways to pat themselves on the back for well-done jobs.

If creativity is the foundation of your occupation, you owe it to yourself to implement some changes now. And if you’re an employer of creatives, you can’t expect to hold onto the creative process that worked years ago. Instead, get a little innovative. Make pivots. You’ll still amaze clients—and you won’t risk losing your high performers.

Nic Climer

Nic Climer is the Executive Creative Director for RAPP and an accomplished creative leader with more than 20 years of traditional and digital experience.

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