Overcome creative complexity with these six powerful mindsets.

From “Dynamic Dreamer” to “A.I. Co-Creator”.

If you worked in the “digital” creative department of an ad agency in the early 2000s, you probably made websites, microsites, banner ads, Facebook apps and something called digital video. Some of your work turned into gold. Most of it turned into wallpaper. The tech was new. You were at the nexus of fringe and failure. It wasn’t always comfortable. But you were out front. And the gains, when they came, were epic.

If you’re working in the creative department of a “data” agency today, you’re probably experiencing a similar set of conditions. Data-driven creative has a reputation for being intrusive and garbage-y. Most of the great work is still being done in the mainstream departments. And the complexity at the heart of data’s biggest opportunities is still a barrier to entry for a lot of otherwise-great creative minds.

From seeing what worked in digital then, and what’s working in data today, it seems likely that creative success is linked to mindset. Make that mindsets – six of them – oriented to overcoming complexity through experimentation, curiosity and optimism about the future.

So, when the ambition of creativity comes to the obstacle of complexity, here are six mindsets that’ll help:

#1. The “Garbage into Gold” mindset.
Some of the spammy-iest, most annoying things on the Internet are the result of data-driven marketing. Like: Retargeting ads for products you already bought. CRM email programs that make their brands feel desperate and needy. (Ian, we miss you!) Auto-generated websites that put a gauntlet of ads between the reader and low-value list content. Yes. 100% garbage. The “Garbage into Gold” mindset reframes even misused tactics as raw material to be put to use for more noble purposes: big ideas, brand and storytelling.

#2. The “Dynamic Dreamer” mindset.
A traditional approach to advertising creative assumes a point at which all elements become fixed. The Dynamic Dreamer mindset builds change into the idea itself. An album that shifts tempo depending on how many people are streaming. A TV ad that switches cast depending on who’s watching. OOH that runs different headlines and background images depending on the day’s weather and the shoe brand you’re wearing’s stock price. This mindset embraces fluidity, ideates in dynamics, then doesn’t stop believing it’s possible until the best creative producer we can find tells us it can’t be done.

#3. The “Push Past the Give-Up Point” mindset.
Complexity is a pharma-grade buzzkill. And it goes by many names, including: user journey, segmentation, programmatic, wireframes and analytics. There’s often a point on the path to great digital and data-driven work where it gets tempting to stop caring. It’s too hard. Too unfamiliar. Too much learning curve. Feels like math. I’m just a copywriter… Why bother? That’s the give-up point. That’s also the point where all the boring work is happening. What we’ve seen is that when creative people push further… Dig deeper to understand the hardest parts. Ask the questions we’re worried we won’t understand the answers to. That’s where it gets interesting, and where the big creative wins are hanging out.

#4. The “Data Pioneer” mindset.
Spotify’s amazing “Thanks, 2016” campaign is a good, non-scary example of data that’s hidden in plain sight. Any creative person could have thought to use insights from subscriber playlists. The Data Pioneer mindset doesn’t wait for good data to be handed down from on high (strategy). Instead it asks, “What’s something interesting we could measure? What’s a novel way to measure it? And what could we do with the data once we have it?” So, what could we do with the number of leaves on a tree… Drivers who look directly at stop signs… People who’ve been to all three of Home Depot, Home Hardware and Home Sense during the first week of December… If you can think it, you can measure it. Often without violating privacy law.

#5. The “Systems” mindset.
Steven Johnson made the case for ideas as networks. That once the conditions are met it’s just a matter of time before someone has the idea. It’s what accounts for the phenomenon of “simultaneous invention” (where the same idea blips into existence at the exact same time, oceans apart). The Systems mindset is tuned to the power of networks and systems and platforms and modules and templates to unlock big ideas at scale.

#6. The “A.I. Co-Creator” mindset.
It’s pretty easy to imagine a world where an algorithm spits out better headlines than a copywriter. The A.I. Co-Creator mindset isn’t defensive about this. The opposite: It’s excited to collaborate with artificial intelligences to craft mind-blowing frameworks that allow our creativity to scale beyond human capacity.

What seems clear is that today’s data opportunity is nearly identical in character to yesterday’s digital opportunity. It’s the opportunity to shape the rules for how our industry is going to work through the next decade and beyond, and to forge success on the anvil of difficulty and risk.

The job isn’t to know how it all works before jumping in. It’s to know that you don’t know, but to jump in anyway. And come to think of it, that’s probably the most powerful mindset of any of them.

Ian Mackenzie is Executive Creative Director of FCB/SIX in Toronto, Canada.
Image by
Patrick Stolk-Ramaker.