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You can start using an innovative decision-making strategy

by Kim Harrison

Consultant, Author and Principal of

As public relations professionals we are usually obliged to depend on our own creativity. We are not a service industry like advertising in which account executives receive a client brief they relay to their ‘creative department.’ PR firms and in-house staff usually don’t have this luxury, although in-house staff can appoint consultants to propose creative ideas – at a cost. Instead, we have to be all-rounders in managing the work and being creative as well.

However, in my experience, people who are good at PR management are not strong at creativity, and vice versa. Those who are good at both are rare.

All this makes our work more demanding because we are constantly under pressure to produce new ideas. Further pressure is generated from directions such as the Holmes Report's Creativity newsletter, “a regular digest of content from our Creativity channel, which is dedicated to showcasing some of the most innovative public relations work the industry has to offer.” The Holmes Report has been regularly beating PR firms over the head with criticism about their lack of creativity in marketing PR campaigns compared with ad agencies.

Personally, I think some of this criticism actually originates from ad people trying to score points against PR firms who may be competing against them for clients. Interestingly, one of my former colleagues, who is an officer-bearer with the International Advertising Association, admits quite openly that the two disciplines of advertising and PR have little in common – but that is another story.

So how do we lift our creativity? The award-winning team at Inventium in Melbourne, Australia, advocate a way to lift creativity. The Inventium consultants make their living from being creative and driving innovation, so their advice is invaluable:

Creativity lies at the heart of innovation. One of the most popular ways to generate creative ideas is through brainstorming. Typically a lot of the emphasis in brainstorming sessions lies within the idea generation phase. The more ideas we come up with the better right? Not really. Generating a lot of creative ideas is fantastic, but it will have little to no impact on your organisation if you don’t select the best idea. What's the point of coming up with brilliant ideas if you decide to move an average idea forward? The implications of your choice are huge. But how do you select the best idea?

People typically fall into two categories: List Believers or Sleepers. List Believers love making lists. They like thinking about a problem long and hard and write a list of pros and cons. Sleepers like ‘to sleep on it’. They think about the problem before going to bed and wake up with a fresh solution in their mind. So who is right? What strategy to adopt?

In decision-making literature the difference between writing a list and sleeping on a problem is the difference between conscious and unconscious thought. Conscious thought refers to the task-relevant cognitive processes that you are consciously aware of while attending to a task. Unconscious thought is the opposite. Unconscious thought pulls on the unconscious mind. As we go through our daily life the unconscious mind extracts decision rules. Our accumulated life wisdom is stored in the unconscious mind. To fully access all the information and wisdom we have built up on the decision at hand, we need to access our unconscious mind.

Accordingly, conscious thought and unconscious thought are each preferable under different circumstances. Conscious thought leads to good choices in simple matters. When faced by a complex decision where multiple variables need to be taken into account, unconscious thought has superior capability. Unconscious thought pulls from the unconscious mind, which has the ability to integrate, to process and to weigh multiple factors correctly. When a lot of information needs to be weighed up, use your unconscious thought. It will improve the quality of your decision.
Here are three steps that will get you on the right track when you have to make a challenging (work related or personal!) decision:

  1. Consider the options. This sounds obvious, but is crucial. Make sure you do extensive research and understand in depth what is involved in every idea/option.
  2. Sleep on it! Or (if you are in a meeting and don't have that luxury) distract yourself for 5-10 minutes. Research has shown that distracting yourself for a minimum of 5 minutes is effective in activating the unconscious mind. Make sure you are so distracted you do not think about the decision at hand.
  3. Make your decision.

This process also applies to any writing activity. In a sense, editing is decision-making – about the use of words – and in my experience I find it is much better to draft some text and then come back to it later, preferably no earlier than the next day, to edit it into a more brilliant form, rather than press ahead and use it immediately.

Research also points to the fact that creativity doesn't benefit from adrenaline, eg last-minute writing of tenders, assignments and similar. Delayed reflection certainly does create a better result than caffeine or pressure of deadlines. So take the pause that refreshes!

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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