Creativity cannot always be easily Managed

Sometimes the ideas and ways to present them don't come so easy. To a certain extent, with the pressure of deadlines and living up to client expectations, and using the numerous methods of encouraging lateral thinking that have been developed, you can force them and you then hope one or two of them suffice. You may even be happy enough with the results. But there's a good chance they are not the very best you could have come up with. Left to your own less efficient devices, you probably would have eventually chanced upon much better ideas and more exciting ways of presenting them.

Thinking is often represented as an active process: hand wrapped around chin, looking into the middle distance with a furrowed brow; that kind of thing. But the kind of ideas that sometimes really work magic come quite passively, when you least expect them, when you're doing something else miles away from the client's brief (browsing the internet, for instance).

You also have to be quite immersed in the brief, in the client company's products and services to get the best ideas. You have to be almost living the product, feel like it's your "baby", to make sure your mind cares enough about it to turn it around inside often enough and in the right way to produce the ideas. How do you charge for that immersion? We bill a minimum of two hours for the initial phase of reading and note-taking for most jobs; but when you're lying awake at night thinking about the next big thing in toothpaste and wondering how best to get across the benefits of the fact that you only need to spray it on, or when you're out flying a kite with the kids on the beach and suddenly you realise it would make a great metaphor for the new flexi-mortgage your client is developing, HOW DO YOU ACCOUNT FOR IT?
Businesses that sell their creativity need to find suitable ways to charge for it. Some, like Penhire, do so based on the time it takes; but that method only goes so far - the client doesn't want to pay for you to sit there, indefinitely, thinking about their product. The hourly rate can be set at a level that reflects how good you are creatively. (Ours is quite high: we hope justifiably.) But, of course, you sometimes end up producing the ideas that contribute most to the brief when you're not "on the clock". Other systems range from flat fees estimating the value of the work to the client, performance related bonus structures, and even equity-based relationships.

Whatever way you bill, the best situation is when the client appreciates that the great ideas don't always come on demand.

(On time-based billing, "It creates a commodified view of time. Lawyers report thinking about what billable rate would be appropriate for coaching their kids' soccer games. It's a way of thinking that almost guarantees misery. Lawyers and accountants and other hourly types no longer see work as something with intrinsic interest and pleasure, and even when they're not at work, they're always thinking about the opportunity cost of taking time off." CNN Money, By Jeffrey Pfeffer, Business 2.0 Magazine columnist
March 15 2007)

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