Bringing creativity to medical communications: A process, not a point in time

Every time I attempt ‘creativity’, it goes all wrong. It even happened with this blog post. I opened a blank Word doc late one afternoon, slapped a label – ‘Structure of creativity’ – at the top, and waited for inspiration to hit.

Then I kept waiting. Tried drinking some water (note: hydration is not the same thing as inspiration). Started getting frustrated.

And then thought, ‘What advice would I give a fellow medical writer in this situation?’ and realised I was following absolutely none of it. (The fact that writers are their own worst enemies transcends space and time.) So I stopped waiting and jotted down that advice, and – magically – it created a structure that made creativity a doddle.

Tip 1: Inspiration is not the same thing as creativity

Because inspiration doesn’t start with a blank page – procrastination does. Every piece of work, whether it’s writing a blog post or a symposium agenda, all the way to developing a communications strategy, requires a set of complex decision-making. And when you stare down all those decisions, big and small, cognitive overload can result, leaving you feeling ‘frozen’.

To break through the mental ice, you can jot down some notes, summarise some research, pull up a template or a previous example.  Look around you, read what other people are saying – just think generally about what has actually grabbed your attention recently. Inspiration is everywhere, but the one place it is not is on a blank page.

Tip 2: Let your structure be your springboard

After leveraging the open mindset, it’s time to start analysing. This is where you pinpoint what has grabbed your attention or the themes that arise consistently. Make a list of these factors, and ask: Why are they so effective? Why do these themes keep coming up, and not others?

Once you’ve understood the rationale, you have the underpinnings of your next great idea. Because creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Rather, it’s the product of drawing on what you have – joining up your technical expertise (job skills) with new practices – to meet the specific challenge in front of you.

Think of it like a recipe for a casserole, a dish with lots of parts that all have to come out right individually for the whole to be delicious: the recipe merely provides a structure that allows the flexibility to make changes for a fresh twist or to meet a particular need.

Tip 3: Problem-solving/making connections is the real creativity

Broadly, consider the various kinds of medical education, publications and communications you do, including everyday emails with clients and key opinion leaders. Or look at the specific brief or piece of work you need to tackle. Whether the problem in front of you is big or small, this is where the thing that looks like imagination takes place.

It’s just a matter of making connections between your sources of inspiration and the problem you’re trying to solve. The structure doesn’t bind you to replication, but gives you the path forward to creation. The prolific, oft-lauded director Martin Scorcese had a great take on this topic when talking about director’s cuts:

“The director’s cut is the film that’s released — unless it’s been taken away from the director by the financiers and the studio. [The director] has made their decisions based on the process they were going through at the time. There could be money issues, there could be somebody that dies [while making] the picture, the studio changes heads and the next person hates it. Sometimes [a director says], ‘I wish I could go back and put it all back together.’ All these things happen. But I do think once the die is cast, you have to go with it and say, ‘That’s the movie I made under those circumstances.’”

In medical communications, our work is often bound by clients’ internal processes, budget, digital platform capabilities, audience preferences, scientific accuracy, codes such as ABPI – the list goes on. Creativity doesn’t focus on tearing down those constraints, but on finding new ways to work with them and make something compelling.

Tip 4: Do the work

Just buckle down and write the thing/assemble the pitch/create the strategy, in the way that works for you. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to be done, so you can build and iterate and innovate on what exists. That’s it. That’s the tip.

Tip 5: Share and test

Put it out there in the world. Be able to substantiate the rationale. Show your co-workers how you did it. Take on feedback, from clients, audiences and peers. Figure out the themes that arise about your own work, refine and apply to the next big thing. That’s how what started as a creative idea becomes best practice.

Let’s breathe new life into medical communications

This is what works for me – and it’s a process that’s always evolving. There are plenty more resources out there; just google ‘creativity framework’. More specifically in writing, Pixar’s much-circulated 22 rules of storytelling demonstrate just how many different ways a formula can support creativity.

If you want to set yourself a 15-minute challenge to freshen up your approach to a problem, here’s a quick way to do it:

  • Think generally about what has actually grabbed your attention recently
  • Pinpoint the particular aspect that grabbed your attention
  • Ask: Why was this so effective?
  • Consider the various kinds of medical education, publications and communications you do, including everyday emails!
  • Apply the principles and add a fresh twist for how you can improve delivery or the deliverable

That’s what we did at a recent internal Bedrock workshop and it worked a treat, generating various ideas and tactics to meet challenges. Try the 15-minute challenge, see what happens. And if you’d like to learn more about how we embed our freethinking value into everything Bedrock does, check out our current openings and drop us a line.