What is a Creative’s Most Valuable Skill?


In my last blog post, I ended with a teaser that in this next post, we’d be exploring the skill our Creative Lead finds most key to his success.  Whereas listening is invaluable to me as a strategist, for this post we asked Vann Graves, FL+G’s CCO, what the most important soft skill is to him when figuring out how to get the world to hear what our clients want, or need, to say.


As I primed Vann for this post, I proposed he start reflecting on his “soft skills” by thinking about something he always tells me when we are reviewing work as a team. “You’re thinking too rationally”, or “that’s a strategy line, not a ‘creative’ one.”  But what, really, does that mean? To me, there’s a skill that those statements suggest he has mastered.  For instance, I have a hard time differentiating a strategic line from a creative one. Once I’ve narrowed down the research to a specific insight or direction, I tend to want to keep something like a tagline or campaign line tight, within that insight. As a creative, however, I see Vann wanting to do the opposite, taking things a little further.


Clearly, Vann and I rely on different skills. Our minds work differently, seemingly in different directions. I want to rein things in; Vann wants to push the boundaries. So how does he do this? What’s his “most important skill”, you ask?!


Before we get to that, I did some research on the above observation and the difference between creative and strategic thinking. The type of divergence Vann and I experience is actually a documented “thing”. According to Andy Eklund, strategic and creative thinking are both opposite and complementary ways of approaching a problem. In his post “Creativity versus Strategy: The Hour Glass Figure”, Eklud writes, “strategic thinking and creative thinking … have a different purpose.” Strategic thinking is akin to “Convergent Thinking”, where “information from different sources and knowledge come together, begins to agree, and comes to a common view, opinion or decision.” Creative thinking, on the other hand, is “Divergent Thinking:  where information is dispersed, destroyed, re-imagined, re-combined with other information to create something new or unique.” He explains this using a diagram of an hourglass:

Knowing this, let’s get to “the big reveal”...  What is it that has enabled the creative output upon which Vann has built his career? Vann’s answer: his “ability to look at creative through a strategic lens”.  As we talked about what this meant, Vann noted that strategy creates parameters. While some may find parameters limiting, he said it’s when he uses those to his advantage that he has the most success. Inspiration actually strikes hardest when figuring out how to work creatively within boundaries. While he’s known many creative types to want to do “cool or hip” work without a strategic foundation, he’s also seen how that work turns into a singular tactic, and not a true, long-term campaign.


If we take this and refer back to Eklund’s diagram, Vann’s skill ultimately lies in keeping the hourglass shape symmetrical. He knows when an idea starts to go too far, creating a disparity or an imbalance in the hourglass. His skill is in knowing when to stop moving away from the central insight, and to use that sense to create memorable, unique, smart work with the legs to carry a brand forward.