Zero Waste Creativity.

How often do you say to yourself about a brief, a trip or a meeting, ‘what a total waste of time’? Maddeningly often I suspect. And even when a project does come to fruition I’ll wager it was the result of many many meetings, many many ideas presented, many ideas ritually sacrificed at research groups and multiple rounds of changes. It’s the world we live in. But why?

Last year some of us were lucky enough to meet Mark Dwight founder of Rickshaw Bags at the San Francisco Creative Social. He previously ran Timbuktu bags but came to the conclusion that there was a better way to make bags. (No one ever used the clips). He makes zero waste bike messenger bags. He gave all of us one. It’s great. It’s super strong, lightweight, looks kinda cool. It works. It’s a damn site better than the Rag & Bone messenger bag I bought at a sample sale with it’s clunky brass buckle, uncomfortable leather strap and wax material that picks up dust and hair like Lindsey Lohan picks up tickets.

At the weekend I saw a story in the New York Times about Zero Waste jeans. There is definitely a movement in the fashion world to eliminate waste and an aesthetic that has come from that. See this piece by Mark Liu.

Which got me thinking about the idea of Zero Waste Creativity. What is it? I’m not sure, it‘s definitely pie in the sky at the moment but it could go something like this.

Currently we are all programmed to ‘over deliver’. This is seen as a ‘good’ thing. We present five ideas when only one will ever run. We agree to multiple rounds of changes because we want to collaborate. We agree to let some ideas die in testing so others may live.

We do these things because we can – and no one has told us different. In New York many people have their utility bills included in their rent. So in the summer they leave the air conditioning on all day, even all week if they go on vacation. If questioned they would almost certainly admit it’s a waste but they do it anyway – because they can.

What if we came to an agreement with clients that we would try for a zero waste creative policy? The process could be something like this.

The Brief. Many times we take it upon ourselves to work on a brief before it’s even been agreed. We want to appear eager. Frequently the brief will change over time, rendering earlier work redundant. What if we agreed to spending a full day really thrashing out a brief that everyone is agreed on. A day seems like a lot of time but it’s not compared to weeks of revisions, second guessing, changes of mind and grumpiness over lost ideas.

The Idea. Once a brief is signed off agency and client mutually agree to see the best ideas only. Ideas that will actually be made, not tossed aside as ‘nice to haves’. For the sake of clarity lets say we agree on running one idea but it works for any number. The Agency spend their time making one idea truly brilliant, rather than five mediocre ideas. They know they have to make it brilliant because there is no fall back. They have the time to look at every angle and answer the brief properly rather than just spewing some ideas out to see what sticks.

Review Process. Client buys that one idea – because it’s great, it’s been well thought out and it comes from the mutually defined brief. Both parties would agree to just one round of changes as this would focus thoughts on exactly what needs to be changed. We’ve all had that feeling that people feel pressured to say something, to change things because they can (like the air conditioning). So, the right changes are made and agreement is reached. No endless rounds of navel glazing that frequently end up where they started in the first place or, more likely, with inferior work.

The result would be a piece of work that everyone feels invested in, but also feels good about. In the same way that people feel good about recycling, driving a Prius or having a zero waste messenger bag. Longer term, both agency and client will get more work done, make more money (through being more efficient), be more happy (through not wasting time) and – I’m certain – produce much better work.

Clearly this is all based on trust and a strong client agency relationship (that works both ways) and just a theory – but why not start an experiment on a piece of business?

Zero Waste Creativity. What have you got to lose?