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Creative thinking

Why read this? : Creative thinking helps your business grow. We share how it helps you stand out from competitors. How it improves your customer experience. And how you use it in developing brand assets. Learn how the right culture and processes put creative thinking at the heart of your business. Read this to start thinking creatively about creative thinking.

Creative thinking

How this guide raises your game.

1. Understand why and how creative thinking grows your business. 

2. How to encourage, enable and execute creative thinking.

3. Learn more about idea generation, screening and testing.

The core purpose of marketing is to understand customer needs, and meet them better than your competitors.

Market research helps you work out what customer needs are. But, you need creative thinking to work out how to solve those needs better than competitors. 

For marketers, creative thinking how you generate new ideas to better solve customer needs.

But it’s also about how to identify which ideas are most likely to succeed. And how and where you use those ideas in the customer experience and brand activation.

In this guide, we cover the role creative thinking should play in your business. How does it help drive the success of your business? And how do you set up your business to encourage, enable and execute great creative thinking? 

Yellow post it with illustration of a lightbulb pinned to a wooden pin board

Ready to test your knowledge?

What’s your starting level of knowledge about creative thinking?

Take the 2 minute, 5 question Three-brains creative thinking quiz and see how much you know about creative thinking already.

Why creative thinking matters for your business

For businesses, creative thinking has 3 key benefits. Think of these as the 3-D benefits of creative thinking.

Firstly, there’s how you use it to differentiate your brand identity from your competitors. Creative thinking helps you stand out, so customers know who you are. 

Then there’s how you use it to drive the customer experience. Use creative thinking to put yourself in the shoes of customers and generate ideas to improve their interactions with your brand. 

And finally, you need creative thinking to develop brand activation assets. All the words, images, videos, stories, designs and other assets that bring your brand to life.   

Creative thinking slide showing three benefits - differentiate from competitors, drive customer experience, develop brand assets

Differentiation of brand identity

Differentiation is an important part of your brand’s positioning you develop during the segmentation, targeting and positioning process.

The benefit you deliver to the target audience, backed up by your reason why and reason to believe creates a point of difference that makes you stand out from your competitors. By definition, you can’t have a point of difference that’s the same as your competitors. 

Creative thinking helps you identify ideas that bring to life this point of difference. It’s a key part of your brand identity. 

Whether you’ve identified your brand as the biggest, fastest, tastiest or coolest brand, you need creative thinking to bring the point of difference to life.

3 steps of the process - Segmentation - divide the total marketing, targeting - pick the most attractive, positioning - build your brand

Creative thinking helps you persuade and influence your customers to choose your brand over competitors. 

Creative thinking also helps you be the first to do new things. This gives you a strong competitive advantage by being the “first mover”. Customers remember brands that did something new first better than those who followed. 

In this case creative thinking covers both how you deliver on that point of difference though ideas, and what it actually looks like through your brand activation. 

Drive the customer experience

Of course, the target audience never actually sees your documented brand identity. They never see your brand wheel or brand diamond.

They only see the brand identity in terms of how it’s brought to life at the different touchpoints of the customer experience journey. These are the points where they interact with the brand.

From the brand point of view, these are usually the key parts of the marketing mix like the product, the price, the place and the promotion. 

The customer experiences your brand identity though the outputs of the marketing mix.

Customer Experience Journey Map

They see it in your advertising, on your website and in sales promotions for example. But you need to apply creative thinking to each of these areas to plan what you’ll say and do, to bring the brand identity to life. You need to apply creative thinking to make sure what you say and do is relevant to the target audience and stands out from competitors.

Creative thinking helps you solve customer needs and problems in new ways. And doing that is what drives sales and grows your business. 

Develop brand assets

Creative thinking also has to convert into creative action. If creative thinking never makes it out of your head, or from a workshop post-it to an actual tangible “thing” the customer can see, hear, smell, taste or touch, then it has no impact. 

Creative thinking is the start point of all brand asset creation including writing, graphic design, photography and video content. It’s used in each of these process to improve the novelty, distinctiveness and impact of each brand asset. 

It comes through in key brand activation activity like your advertising, website, packaging and sales promotions.  

How to encourage, enable and execute creative thinking

Creative thinking can be a challenge in many businesses

While most businesses like the “idea” of creative thinking, the “practice” is usually much tougher. There can often be many barriers to creative thinking

Most business activities focus on routines and efficiencies. The important day to day processes like operations, supply chain and finance rely on predictability and certainty to drive efficiencies. 

Creative thinking is the opposite of that. Creative thinking means disrupting existing and inventing new routines. It’s not about efficiency, it’s about effectiveness.

Person holding light bulb with blurred out light effect in the background

There’s no direct relation between the time and effort you put in to creative thinking, and what you get out of it. In fact, often you have to discard many ideas you generate through creative thinking. This feels inefficient and wasteful to many people.

Creative thinking lacks predictability and certainty. To be great at creative thinking, you need to take some risks and accept there will be failures as well as successes. This can be confronting for many people.

What creative thinking adds to your business

Creative thinking doesn’t replace routine and efficiencies, but it drops in as harmonious counter-point to those sorts of activities. Like the yang to business efficiency’s yin.

It makes businesses more rounded in their approach when they can do both. 

And in fact, they aren’t always mutually exclusive. You can apply creative thinking to operational efficiency problems to find ways to be more efficient. To do things better. 

And when you apply efficiency to how you do creative thinking, you reduce some of the chaotic nature of creative thinking. You can apply efficient ways of working to make it a more ingrained and repeatable process in your business.

Creative thinking - operational efficiency

To encourage, enable and execute creative thinking in your business, there’s three areas you need to consider. 

Firstly, you need to build the right culture. This helps people see creative thinking as a positive part of your business.  You need a clear way to generate, screen and test ideas so that you have a steady pipeline of creative thinking feeding into your business. And finally, you need to connect the creative thinking to other processes in your business, so it drives your brand identity and customer experience.

Creative Culture

The culture of your business is in simple terms how things get done. 

In actual fact, it’s a complex mix of what it looks and feels like in your business. 

It’s the values, routines and habits that happen, that makes your business what it is. You can’t really touch it, but you know it’s there.

And you know when it’s working and when it’s not. 

Company culture is a big topic in its own right. So for this guide, we’re only going to focus on where to apply culture to improve creative thinking in your business.

Diagram with culture written in the centre and eight spokes - people, organisation, values, reward, leadership, environment, standards and policies, systems and resources

We’ve grouped these cultural factors into 3 areas, out of 8 culture areas you could look at.

Firstly, people. In particular how you organise people, and reward and motivate them to be creative. Then leadership. And how leaders in the business need to drive behaviours, standards and processes that make creative thinking easier. And lastly, environment. The more physical and tangible elements that you can use to bring creative thinking to life.

People, organisation and rewards

When some people hear the word “creative”, they automatically think of people who’re artistic. People who’re good at creative skills like writing or photography. If they can’t do these skills, they think they’re “not creative”. But in actual fact, we ARE all creative, just in different ways. 

It doesn’t help that marketing agencies have specific “creative” teams who provide those skills. And it’s easy to think that creativity is something only specialist people do. And as per our article on creative reviews, this can often lead to challenging and frustrating meetings. Creative approvals and creative evaluations are hard. 

But here’s the thing. 

You do need to learn and practice to be good at those creative skills like writing, graphic design and photography. Not everybody wants to do that. But creative thinking happens before any of those skills come into play. And it’s something anyone can do if they put their mind to it.

In fact, we’d go further and say, it’s something that everyone in your business should do. If you look at the most successful creative-led businesses like Pixar (see this creative approval article for example) they encourage creative thinking to come from ALL parts of the business.

When you have teams of people with wide and diverse ranges of experience and styles, you broaden the potential scope and range of your business thinking.

Ideally, you want to hire and encourage people and teams who are open-minded and curious. If everybody thinks the same way, you limit the diversity of creative thinking.

Toy doll Woody from Toy Story lying on the floor

That means avoiding or screening out people who’re the opposite. Nothing kills new ideas faster than people with fixed opinions. Watch out for people who don’t listen to alternative views. These type of people just create barriers to creativity(you’ll also find examples of similar people in our articles on barriers to marketing and e-Commerce). 

To create great ideas, it’s usually an on-going, iterative process. You need to challenge, build and refine your own and other people’s ideas.

Kirton Adaptive Innovation model styles

In some businesses we’ve worked with, we’ve seen the Kirton Adaptive Innovation (KAI) model work really well to drive creative thinking. It’s based on a questionnaire, where you answer around 20 questions about your preferred “innovation” working style. The way you answer these questions gives you a “score” that predicts how you like to work from an innovation or creative thinking point of view.

We’ve found this model works really well, as it states right at the start that everyone is creative, They are just creative in different ways.


The innovation spectrum has two extremes and most people sit somewhere between the two extremes. At one extreme, are “adaptors”, whose preferred creative thinking style is to make things better. 

Adaptors like to look at continuous improvement of existing models. They are able to drive a large number of small, but incremental improvements. This approach to creative thinking is sometimes called the “Volkswagen approach”. 

Innovators / Disruptors

At the other end of the spectrum, are the “innovators”. This is a slightly confusing title, and it would probably make more sense to call this group, the ‘disruptors’.

This type of creative thinker focusses on how to do things differently. They have little time for existing models. They look to find “one big idea”.

And this “big idea” will be a breakthrough and game changing innovation. This type of approach is sometimes called the “Apple approach”.

But here’s the thing about the model we like most.

Half open and lit up apple macbook on a glossy beige table

It’s that in the world of creative thinking, you need both creative thinking styles. It’s not either / or, but both. Because each type of creative thinker brings both positives and negatives to the creative thinking game.

Though small, incremental changes might not sound as exciting, they can drive sustained growth. They bring steady improvements over a long period of time. They may provide less “big successes”, but they provide a regular and stable stream of growth opportunities.

The innovative disrupters, on the other hand, may produce more exciting “big bang” innovations. But they’re also more likely to produce disastrous “big failures” too. They generate more ideas. But they often don’t follow up on them. They’re bad at focussing and implementing. They often move on to the next big idea, before they’ve completed the last one.

So, while you do need them in your business, you also need the balance of adaptive thinkers too. 

Team set-up

Team set-up varies from business to business. You may have fixed teams who work on on-going parts of the business. Or you may have more flexible teams who come together on specific projects. Either way, it’s important to think about how that team will work together. 

It’s good to have a mix of the different Kirton styles we covered above. But also think about other team styles tools like the Myers-Briggs personality styles tool. Think about different team role tools like Belbin for example, when you put creative thinking teams together. 

Myers-Briggs (and also Insights) is a personality questionnaire based on psychological principles from Carl Jung. It covers areas like whether people are more extrovert or introvert. And whether they are more thought or feeling driven. 

You want a balance of different styles so that overall, the team is more diverse. The leader, as we’ll come on to, needs to also consider how to best manage the different styles in the team.

Belbin is another working style type questionnaire, but which focusses more on how individuals like to work in teams. So, some people’s preference is to generate lots of ideas (called plants) for example. Others prefer to evaluate and analyse the ideas of others (called monitor evaluators). There are nine different roles in total.

It’s a great tool to help find the right team mix. And this can help improve the range and quality of creative thinking. 

Rewards and motivation

Finally, when it comes to people and teams to drive creative thinking, it’s also important to consider how you reward and motivate people to think creatively.

Most business reward staff based on performance against Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These usually relate to specific tasks or functions. 

If you’re rewarded on hitting a KPI, you naturally favour tasks or functions that make those KPIs achievable. They focus on tasks and functions they are likely to hit.

But this leads to avoiding projects that have higher risks. You end up with creative thinking that focusses on safer, more predictable solutions. This isn’t helpful.

Five piles of different types of coins - appears to be 1,2,5,10 and 20 cent euros

So, as part of your creative thinking culture, you should also consider how to incentivise or motivate people to take more calculated risks when it comes to creative thinking. It’s a big part of being a leader of a creative-led culture to recognise, reward and motivate people to push the boundaries on creative thinking.

This could be as simple as rewards or bonuses for any ideas which add to the company sales or profitability. But it’s often worth asking people and teams directly what they’d want or need to be more inspired to do creative thinking. It’s not always financial rewards. Recognition and new learning opportunities can also be motivating.

Leadership, standards and processes

Whether creative thinking “works” or not in a business often comes down the leadership team. It’s important they are clear on the direction they set.

If the leadership team truly recognises the value of creative thinking, and acts in a way that supports it, it’s far more likely that the business will deliver great creative thinking. 

This can cover areas like creative evaluation and approvals. The leadership team should set out clearly how ideas progress in the business. They need to make clear who can make decisions on new ideas. What are the criteria that drive decision-making? It’s important to establish transparency. It’s also important to anticipate that there will be disputes and conflicts.

Conflict is actually a good thing when it comes to creative thinking, as long as it is constructive. Better ideas come from challenge and build sessions as people try to refine and improve on existing ideas. 

It’s important for leaders to think about team make-up and team ways of working. It’s been said that a great team can always fix a bad idea, but a bad team will kill a great idea.  

So, for example, if the team skews towards the adaptive side, it’s important to recognise that there’s value in this. But that these teams shouldn’t be afraid to push the boundaries further sometimes. 

And vice versa, if the team skews towards the disruptive side, it’s important to remind them that smaller, more incremental, safer ideas can also still add value. 

Standards and processes

Leaders should consider when, where and how creative thinking ideas move though the business. How and where is feedback given for example? And how do leaders expect the feedback to be used.

There’s a great example from Pixar, that we cover in our article on business writing where they set up a “Brains Trust” to review new ideas. This is a small group of highly experienced and expert professionals in the business, who’ve been through the creative process many times before. They give constructive feedback at early stages of the idea. But importantly, they have no power of veto or authority over the idea.

This is quite different from most businesses. Often, approvals are done by formal committees who come together at “stage” or “hurdle” meetings. And ideas don’t move forward unless they’ve hit certain criteria. The aim of these meetings is often to prevent ideas moving forward rather than focussing on how to make them better. 

As we’ll cover in our section on Idea Screening, not every creative thinking idea should make it to launch. But it’s important to consider how and where ideas do get killed off. It can be very demotivating for teams who have spent time and effort to come up with an idea to have it hit internal approval barriers. 

It’s important to have clear standards of what “good” creative thinking looks like. And to have the right leaders involved in the process who can keep their eye on the end goal. And the end goal is to build connections with the target audience and amplify the impact of the marketing plan and brand activation. 

70-20-10 creative thinking and innovation investment

In some businesses, we’ve seen this translate into a 70-20-10 rule in terms of which type of creative thinking ideas they will support. Ideas are grouped based on how risky they are, and budgets are allocated based on the degree of risk. 

So 70% of spend goes on “safe” innovations with more immediate returns.

20% goes on more mid-term innovations that have a higher level of risk and reward.

And, 10% is saved for the most long-term and disruptive innovations that will either boldly succeed or boldly fail. 

Person holding 6 hundred dollar bills in front of them which have been set alight

The aim of the leadership team should not be to prevent risks, but to make it safe to take them. They should consider how to put diverse teams together from different parts of the business that will drive more innovative creative thinking.

These teams should have common and interdependent goals around solving customer needs.

There should be some rules, so that the process is not chaotic. But not so many rules that the teams feel too constricted. In fact, constrained thinking where you rule out certain creative thinking directions can often lead to more creative and less obvious solutions.

Environment and atmosphere 

The final cultural area to consider for creative thinking relates to where and when creative thinking happens.

Consider whether your workspace is suited to creative thinking. If you are putting teams together, can they collaborate easily?

If they need to run a workshop, is there a space that will help creative thinking?

Creative thinking areas need to make sure teams can’t be disturbed (or disturb others). And the ambiance of the room needs to encourage creative thinking. 

Many open rainbow coloured umbrellas

Open spaces, more informal seating and access to whiteboards, flip charts, marker pens for example can all help with creative thinking, when teams come together.

But what about those less formal times when idea come together?

The nature of creative thinking means it can’t always be scheduled, as ideas can come at any time. Google for example famously allows its teams to spend a day a week working on their own innovation projects and trusts its teams to do the other work as needed. This can be very motivating and inspiring to run with new ideas.

In actual fact, this is one area where small start ups have an advantage over bigger players. Bigger organisations tend to have more formal processes, meetings and work spaces. These can go against creative thinking. There can be a perception that creative thinking sessions are not “real” work.

In smaller businesses, with less rules, less structure, it can be easier to set up a more creative environment and encourage a culture of experimentation.

Creative hotspot

Can you for example develop a creative hotspot in your office where people can come together for creative thinking? What about an ideas wall? Or regular stand-up informal updates on new ideas and what’s going on around the business in terms of creative thinking?

Think about things like the colours in your premises. Do they encourage people to think creatively? What about music? Music can affect moods, feelings and emotions and helps people relax or gain energy. This can be built in to your creative thinking processes. 

If your premises can’t support this, consider the use of off-site locations. In fact, off-site locations work well in many situations. The change of scene puts people in a different creative thinking frame of mind. 

You should encourage teams to ‘get out more’.

Often when the brain gets stuck trying to solve a problem, a simple change of scene can help. Go for a walk or a run, visit a new coffee shop or sit in a different part of the office.

This can often help jolt the brain in to new ways of thinking.

Finally, consider how best to use technology when it comes to creative thinking. How will you capture ideas, store them and evaluate them?

In workshops, it’s common to avoid the use of technology as screens can get in the way of interactions between people. But at other parts of the creative thinking process, technology helps with researching ideas and sharing them. 

If you have an intranet for example, should you have an area that supports and captures creative thinking? Can you make notebook apps available to the team and encourage them to keep a creative thinking journal or ideas list?


While culture is what creates the space for creative thinking to happen, it’s ideas that are the lifeblood of creative thinking. But coming up with ideas is not always a straightforward or simple process, so how and where do you start? 

We recommend the first step you take is to clearly define the problem which needs to be solved. If it’s a business issue related to a consumer need, it’s worth setting out the problem as a question to be answered.

You should try to frame this problem / question in a positive way and it’s worth starting the question with “How to …”

So “How to persuade more customers in (customer group) to try more (your product)?” is a good problem definition. Or “How to switch (customer group) from choosing (competitor) to (your product)?” 

It is also worth making sure you are clear on what the real problem is. Not “losing sales” but “convincing customers of the need for (benefit)” for example.

It’s common to use the technique of creative problem solving with the word “Why” to diagnose underlying problems at this stage. This is where you interrogate a problem by asking the word “why” at least five times until you get to the root cause of the problem.

Get more playful

It’s often said that we lose our creativity as we get older. Our minds become more fixed and closed as we enter adulthood.

Many creative experts suggest looking back to childhood and the world of play as a great place to be more inspired when it comes to creativity.

A lot of common creative techniques originate from the world of childhood behaviour. This includes the previously mentioned 5 Why’s technique.

But there are many other similar techniques that can help you get in a more creative mood.

Young child holding a blue paint tube and squeezing it out

Creativity is often driven by curiosity and a lack of knowledge of what the answer is. Asking ‘naive’ questions or thinking through the problem from the point of view of someone who isn’t an expert can often lead you to new solutions.

Example – write a future headline

As an example, one brand we worked with was trying to set out its 5 year brand vision.

That’s actually quite challenging to articulate or even imagine. So we set them the task of writing the vision in the form of a future headline. We asked them to mimic the style of various newspapers, magazines and online sites.

So what would a tabloid writer say about your brand in five years time? What would a sports journalist write? What would the press manager of your biggest customer write in their in-house magazine?

When you take away the existing pre-conceptions of what the brand is and see it from a very different perspective you help to build a creative thinking mentality.

Man calmly reading a newspaper while it's on fire

Knowledge and data is good, but don’t drown in it

Obviously, the more you know about customers, competitors and the category, the more likely you are to avoid wrong answers.

But there is a point where you can get “stuck” by having too much marketing data. This analysis paralysis can kill creative thinking. It can create too many options and drown people in presentations and spreadsheets.

Before you start to generate ideas, it’s important to identity what are the key bits of knowledge and data that’ll help.

And which won’t.

Aim to be concise. If there are ideas which definitely won’t work for legal or other reasons, make sure this is clear. If some ideas have been tried before and failed, share these. But focus on key lessons learned from these experiences. Don’t dwell too much on the details. 

The creative thinking process

There are many books you can read on creativity and creative thinking.

One of the best known authors in this area was Edward De Bono. He proposes a couple of different techniques including the Six Hats approach which we cover elsewhere. But for this guide, we’ll touch briefly on his suggested approach from his book Lateral Thinking*.

In this he outlines four types of creative thinking tools. Firstly, idea-generating tools to break current thinking patterns. Then focus tools to review the idea search area. Next harvest tools to create more value from ideas. And finally, treatment tools to build in real-world constraints.

In reality, most businesses operate this as a three-step process.

For example in our marketing innovation guide, we share examples of how this overall process works to launch new products and services. But from a creative thinking point of view, it’s the first three steps which require the most creative thinking. 

The first step is an idea generation or ideation session to get the most number of potential ideas out. 

The second step is then an idea screening. This is a refinement process to get to the one or more ideas which have the greatest chance of success. 

Marketing innovation process - formal approach to screening and approval

At this stage, there’s often the start of a business case, which secures the resources to test the idea with customers. You use market research to gather customer feedback. From this, you make the idea stronger and more relevant.

Step 1 – Idea generation

Most people would recognise this as ‘brainstormingA group of people come together to generate multiple ideas of how to solve a problem.

The name brainstorming dates back to 1942 when advertising executive Alex F. Osborn first coined it.

There are many ways to run brainstorming sessions.

We recommend you identify someone as the role of facilitator to own the process of running such a session. Make it clear their role is to manage the process.

Their purpose is to make sure everyone gets an opportunity to participate and that the process is followed and the required outcomes delivered. 

hand holding a black marker over a blank paper page with other marker pens and ruler

Example idea generation activities

When you have articulated the problem, some examples of how you could generate multiple ideas from different perspectives include :-

  • How would “x” do it? Where “X” might be a celebrity, a politician, a competitor, an alien, a member of your family and so on. It doesn’t really matter who the “x” is too much. But for example, how would “Donald Trump” sell more dog food? Or how would “your grandmother” attract more visitors to your cafe for example? This can generate new and outside the box thinking.
  • Pictures and word associations – Often, people can articulate ideas with visuals better than they can with words. So another option is to ask brainstorming participants to take images out of magazines or from websites. Then ask them to use these to make a collage or mood board to come up with a different solution. Or you can pick say five random words – zoo, dog, disco, shirt, glasses – and ask teams to give an answer to the problem by telling a story that has to use those words.
  • Use opposites – Let’s say your creative challenge is how to attract customers to a new store opening. Rather than come up with ideas straight away, you could tackle the problem from the opposite point of view. Say ‘what if we wanted to keep people away’? This might spark different ideas about what you could do to solve the original actual problem of building appeal for the opening. 
  • Vary the attributes – Depending on the product or service, you could also look at the adjectives that describe the product and see if the lens on the problem changes if you play around with them. What if it was bigger or smaller? What if it was faster or slower? How about if we made it men-only or women-only?

Quantity counts

These are only a few examples, there are many other brainstorming techniques  you can use when running creative thinking sessions. 

The key point at this stage is to aim for many ideas.. Quantity counts here, not quality. You filter the ideas for quality later. There’s no judging ideas at this point. (in the Six Hats approach, this is called Green Hat thinking). 

At this stage, there are no bad ideas. In fact the more ridiculous or outrageous the better. The idea is that when you generate more ideas, you spark ideas in others.

When one of your idea generation methods starts to run out of steam, take a quick break. And then come back and use another method. 

It can be a tiring process to come up with many new ideas. Make sure you manage time and energy levels. 

Keep reminding those involved, that somewhere among all those ideas, there will be a winning idea.

Workshop post its generic contents

Step 2 – Idea screening

The next step is to screen or filter out the ideas.

Look for common themes that come out from the ideas in step 1. 

Start to group ideas that sound similar together. Ask the team who came up with the ideas to do a preliminary vote on which ideas sound most exciting or engaging to them. Identify any ideas which sound risky or challenging. (in the Six Hats approach, this would be Yellow Hat thinking which looks for benefits, and Black Hat thinking which looks for risks). 

Each idea then needs to go through a refinement process where you either discard it, merge it into another idea to create a bigger idea or polish it, to take it forward for testing. 

Which criteria you use to screen ideas depends on your business and your appetite for risk.

If you lean to the more innovative side of the spectrum, you may prefer to take more ideas forward to customers and be happy to have them relatively unpolished. 

But businesses who prefer a more adaptive approach might apply stricter criteria such as we can see in our example from the marketing innovation guide.

Here, the idea needs to be built up and refined before it moves forward. It’s usually up to the idea originator or team leader to complete this sort of information. But they can pull in teams and experts in the business to help. 

Idea generation to idea screening template

Step 3 - Idea testing and refinement

Depending on the nature of the creative thinking idea, and  whether it needs resources like budgets, people or time, the idea might then need a business case. This is especially common in formal innovation and creative thinking processes.

You can read more about what goes into a formal innovation business case in our guide to marketing innovation. But for the purposes of this guide, we’ll cover a few things that might happen at this point.


If the idea is relatively small, and resource has already been set aside to work on “creative thinking”, it may be that the team then develops a prototype to test. This is very common in teams who follow the agile process. Small team create mock-ups or very basic versions of the idea and test these with customers. 

This broadly falls within the scope of market research. It’s likely to be a qualitative style approach to generate first impressions and get feedback. Quantitative research may come later. But this usually requires more budget and therefore a business case.

Live tests and A/B tests

If the idea relates more to advertising or customer experience, there are opportunities to test out the idea “live”. Digital media channels for example let you select very specific audiences. So, you might choose to put an advertising creative idea in front of a small number of people in a specific location. Websites can let you run what are called A/B tests. Here you show different pages to different groups at the same time, and compare and contrast how the pages perform.  

It’s important to think about what you do with customer feedback. It may not always be valid or relevant. You have to consider how customers will respond to the idea if it goes all the way to launch. If test audiences don’t like it, it can be hard to let go of ideas. But ultimately, it’s your target audience who decide if your idea is any good. If something just isn’t working, fix it or let it go. 

You’re looking for that one winning idea which is going to rock your target audience’s world. But you may have to work through many other ideas to find that one.

Creative thinking to action processes

For those ideas that “make it”, the creative thinking then transforms into creative action and brand activation. Customers need to experience the tangible outcomes of the creative thinking. Otherwise it’s all fluffy nonsense. 

This is where the more practical elements of creativity come in. When your creative thinking relates to communications for example, then your creative idea links into creative skills like writing, graphic design, photography and video content. 

But these also then feed into all aspects of your brand activation. So, what your logo and packaging looks like for example depends on creative thinking. Your advertising and media approach depends on creative thinking. The outcomes of creative thinking support customer experience elements like your website, your social media and your blogs for example. 

Conclusion - Creative thinking

Creative thinking is a way to differentiate yourself from competitors by coming up with new and valuable ideas.

It is a way to drive the customer experience by coming up with new and better ways to meet customer needs.

And it’s a large part of your brand identity. Creative thinking is how you start to develop all your tangible brand assets.

But it can be a challenge. Great ideas transform businesses. But nobody wants to be transformed.

Often the better idea, the harder the sell.

Yellow post it with illustration of a lightbulb pinned to a wooden pin board

It’s important to build culture and processes that lead to ideas and great creative thinking. Think about how you encourage people and teams to work creatively. Think about what you need to do to lead creative thinking, and how you set up a creative environment in your business. 

The great advantage you’ll have if you do this is that most other businesses don’t do this. They tend to be conservative and resistant to change. The more creative thinking in your business, the more of a competitive advantage you’ll have.

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Three-Brains and creative skill development

The Three-Brains team know a lot about creative skills. We work with businesses like yours to help you with creative thinking, so you find more and better ideas. 

We can then helps you turn those ideas into action, with creative advice and support in areas like writing, graphic design and brand storytelling

Check out our coaching and consulting services to learn how we can help you. Contact us directly, if there’s specific creative thinking skills you need help with.

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