Here’s What You Don’t Know

Whether fuelling discovery or initiating retreat, the unknown has long been a driving force in our world, continuously motivating our actions.

The creative industry is no stranger to this influence.

Without the existence of a ‘best’ or ‘correct’ answer to act as justification for our work, we’re often left to fend for the authenticity of our vision in a world where subjective critique and audience reaction form a Venn-like overlap.

This lack of a universal truth, coupled with highly collaborative environments where our work is constantly judged, leads many creatives the world round to adopt a defensive stance during the creation process.

Delayed deliveries during feedback rounds, belaboured credential slides when pitching and watermarks disclaiming WIP pasted on each and every export are just a few of the symptoms our incessant need to avoid projecting anything less than a mastery of our discipline begets.

How then, can we overcome this posturing given the frequency with which we are asked to produce in areas we often have no prior experience in?

Despite often feeling as though our work is misunderstood or improperly judged, we do hold a good degree of power over the creative process; the means to assuage the concerns of those external to the process before they place us on our heels and ultimately into a combative situation.

As creatives, we understand the uncomfortableness of not knowing whether a gut instinct, intuition from prior experience or what we come to learn through the discovery process will lead to the desired result. Yet, as with all industries, our work is not created within a vacuum but rather in the presence and under the blessing of the stakeholders and managers of risk and therefore we must consider the effect this reality has on them.

The simple acknowledgement of this reality can help us to understand that the most direct and challenging feedback we receive from across the table originates from a similar place as our own: A fear of the unknown.

As budding creative professionals how can we aim to remedy this fear, on both ends, and begin to close the rift? How can we earn the confidence of those around us so that our creative process can remain as intact and organic as possible?

Young creatives often feel the key to instilling confidence in those around them is coupled with a mastery of all areas within their discipline. This often has the opposite of the desired effect as their continual promises to deliver on any project within their reach inevitably falls short of expectations leaving their peers and managers with doubt and distrust.

Alternatively, when observing seasoned creative professionals, one of their most identifying traits is not only the humility with which they conduct themselves but the comfortability with which they admit their lack of knowledge in various areas while still retaining the confidence of those around them in their ability to deliver.

This is not simply a result of first selling themselves short in order to over deliver but rather in their ability to very clearly communicate what their immediate skills are and what they are able adapt to, given various parameters.

Very clearly communicating the difference between these up front helps absolve the mystery around the process, helping those external to it have a better understanding of it. This also sets you up better for feedback rounds in the future in contrast to if you had simply said “Yes, no problem, that I can do” when in fact it is something that would require research, testing and learning prior to creation.

We can further empathise and see the need for this by simply looking at collaboration within the creative process itself, whether with colleagues or across borders with external teams sitting in a local office. The longer a relationship exists, the more organic the process becomes. Every relationship is built on a foundation of trust, and trust begins with familiarity and understanding.

As the head of creative at Opera I work daily with local teams around the world in order to localise campaigns. My role in this process is to find the heart of the story we are trying to tell, and to defend that while at the same time releasing many parts of the process to local experts whose job it is to then take that core and adapt it in ways that are more able to reach local audiences.

This often requires the uncomfortable acceptance of creative executions that feel entirely counter-intuitive or in poor taste when in fact they are the truest representation of that narrative given market context.

“…a place of humility in our skill sets as well as clarity regarding our understanding…”

As creatives we must strive to approach our projects from both a place of humility in our skill sets as well as clarity regarding our understanding, while finding partners who are are able to do the same.

In doing so we can transform what was once a fear inducing, uncomfortable experience to an overall healthier creative process, ultimately producing a stronger creative result unencumbered by fear or posturing.