Yesterday, we discussed the benefits of checklists, but they are not applicable to every situation. Checklists are great when we need to replicate the same behavior every time, but even if they are tailored well and are flexible, sometimes we want more room for creativity.
In these cases, we need a tool that provides mental stimulus and helps shape new ideas. In their book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, Chip and Dan Heath describe what they call a playlist. A playlist, as opposed to a checklist, is a framing tool that fosters new ideas while stopping people from overlooking options. It helps the user look widely for best practices and proven solutions already developed by other organizations.
As a real-world example, the Heaths describes the process used by Dion Hughes and Mark Johnson, who founded the firm Persuasion Arts & Science.
…Dion Hughes said, “We knew that creative people tend to be precious about their ideas and find the ones that they’re passionate about and then invest a lot of emotion into them. And they spend most of their time diving deep into one or two ideas and not a lot of time spreading their wings. So we thought, well, why don’t we do the opposite?” So when Hughes and Johnson are called in by creative directors, they try to send them a dozen possible directions within a week….1
To generate that volume of ideas, they come back to the same playlist of questions again and again. For example, they might ask, What kind of iconography within the brand is useful and what could we build around it? For a UPS project it might be the shield logo or the classic brown UPS driver uniform or the familiar, boxy shape of the delivery truck. Other questions in the playlist include:
• Is there a key color for the brand?
• What is the enemy of this product?
• What would the brand be like if it was the market share leader?
• What if it was an upstart?
• Can you personify the product?2
There’s a brute-force aspect to the strategy used by Hughes and Johnson. They force themselves to consider prescribed questions, one at a time, to generate new options. A “canned” list of stimuli seems to spark fresh insights. What’s particularly surprising is that this brute-force approach can work in advertising, a domain that prizes creativity and novelty. If a playlist can work for advertisers, chances are it can work for you.3
These questions are the key to the functionality of a playlist, but these questions apply to most, if not all of the work Persuasion Arts & Science does. The list is made once and used many times. If there is more variety in the work, multiple different playlists can be utilized.
Playlists strike a nice balance between the deliberate prior thought that goes into a checklist and the flexibility required of more creative endeavors. In both cases, however, there is a certain regimentation that can keep us on task and ensure completeness. There is a lot of value in deliberately setting particular frames of mind when faced with a decision, and we’ll look at a few more of these tomorrow.