Approaches vs Executions


In the creative industry, we have a real romanticism around ideas. The belief that a chosen few are born to be divergent thinkers, and should therefore be cherished as geniuses, is rife in our industry.
I’ve never felt this way.
When I was kid I was told I was good at coming up with ideas. Being told I was good at anything back then encouraged me to explore the subject further. And when I was around 18 I came across the work of Edward De Bono, a man renowned for his work around idea generating.
Up to this point, I believed in the notion of thinking until an idea just ‘popped into your head’. But what Edward De Bono taught me was that creative thinking could be systematised.
I never shook this belief. And as I’ve progressed in my career I’ve seen for myself that, when you scratch the surface, many creative pursuits are actually following a system.
Rather than encouraging people to rely on their own mystical greatness, I believe it’s much more pragmatic to encourage people to have a more informed understanding of the powers that be – making idea generating relatively effortless, and innate over time.
The reason I think this way of thinking hasn’t been adopted is because we tend to focus too heavily on executions instead of approaches. Here are a few examples…
Rocky & The Big Short, despite having very different story lines, are both rags to riches stories.
Last year, nearly 700 films were released into cinemas, all of which were executed differently. Of those 700 films, almost all of them will have fitted into one of seven known story plots. After plot, it’s almost guaranteed that the story will have been written to a three-act structure, inside those three act structures you have what are known as beats, which consist of conflicts and resolutions all of which invoke emotional responses that lead from one scene to the next, until you reach a climatic ending. 
In music, the songs No Woman No Cry, by Bob Marley, and With Or Without You, by U2 are both very different songs. But both are made up of the same 4 chords that make up hundreds of other pop songs.
There are known to be around 1300 genres of music. Which is much larger than that of film. However, despite the wide variety of styles of music, almost all songs still use a 9-part structure of an intro, to a verse, to a pre-chorus, to a chorus etc. This structure underpins literally millions of executional iterations.
In advertising, the ads Go Compare, and Clap On Clap Off are both very different executions, but both use repetition as their creative approach.
Of the tens of thousands of ads being produced every year, almost all of them fit into one of roughly 100 approaches – from reversals, exaggeration and scale, to ambassadors, metaphor and repetition. The list goes on.   
Having seen this in practically every creative industry, I truly believe anyone can come up with hundreds of executional ideas once they first understand approaches.
About three years ago, I started experimenting with this belief by running ideas workshops for aspiring creatives. I’d start by explaining the approach, and then ask them to come up with ideas using that approach for a brand. By doing this, I was able to get 13-year old kids coming up with one-off ideas that would rival any idea I’ve seen pitched by some of the best agencies in London.
(I’ll caveat here, that I’m not saying that all good ideas are the right ideas. There’s a very real difference between a good idea and an idea that will result in what you’re trying to achieve. But that, I feel, comes with practice.)
I’ve believed in this for years now. And my ambition is to see if I can apply these techniques myself, and therefore avoid all the politics and hurdles of trying to convince clients to buy into ideas.
I guess only time will tell if I’m able to put this off or not. But I challenge anyone who has read this, to join me in trying.

Ricky Richards