Sorry, tiger... this position has been filled.

You’re presenting creative work to a client. Jitters fade as rapport builds. You’re feeling the flow. Then tragedy strikes. The guy who snuck into the room late, after introductions, interjects with a nugget of insight. It’s one of those things that would have been incredibly helpful to know weeks ago. But them’s the breaks.  An impromptu brainstorming session erupts.

Like licking a 9 volt battery, your mind jolts with a brilliant idea. 

  1. You open your mouth 
  2. Prepare to wow the group with your intellect and quick-thinking 
  3. Then you stop… 
  4. You close your mouth because you’re starting to weird people out 
  5. You jot the idea in your notebook — capturing it without voicing it
  6. Then you return to the discussion
  7. Congratulations, your self control has earned you a gold star

Why keep a creative thought to yourself?

Unless the meeting is a working session, there’s usually little need to deliver anything off the cuff. 

“But you’re a professional problem solver, aren’t you? You have a concealed carry of post-its and sharpies.” 

The trap is in trying to solve a problem that you assume you understand. Instead, shift back into design thinking mode – start asking questions to uncover the issue at hand. This is a far better approach than providing a solution in the moment. After all, your comment may end up diluting or potentially opposing the overall strategic recommendation. Furthermore, you’ve likely relied on your team’s expertise to present quality work up until now. To play the hero now, is to betray the folks back at the office. 

That last point may sound a bit harsh. But understand that thinking on your feet is more about your ego than helping the client. It’s the desire to look good. To impress. To win the praise. Think about it... does your team benefit at all from this behavior? What about the project?

The danger here (I’m unfortunately speaking from experience) is that you end up swaying the client into a bad decision that will haunt the project. Most clients would prefer a great solution rather than a quick answer. So, keep those ideas to yourself until after the presentation. 

Instead of solving problems, gather information...   

  • Ask a flurry of clarifying questions 
  • Restate the problem 
  • Say things like, “Let us put our heads together and come back with a solution.” 

I promise it will yield better results. Even if the idea you had in the moment is the one that ends up being the solution, your restraint respects your team (win) and the process (win) in order to serve the client well (win). And yes, it still feels good too. 

Note: While the title of this post addresses designers, the contents applies to any client facing creative professional – account folks, project managers, writers and developers.