Features | March 21, 2023
Roadblocks, Workarounds and New Paths: Advice for Creative Problem Solving
By Bethany Larrañaga
Branding professionals at every level understand that creativity lays the foundation for success in our industry. Daring new ideas and eye-catching products can sound like a joyride, but what happens when you’re faced with risky decisions, or brake-slamming roadblocks?
For Brand Chain members Nicole Baker (American Solutions for Business), Tracy Lay (SOLV) and Regina Renda (Kick Ass Swag), the answer is to put those creative muscles to use and pave a new path forward.
How do you know when it’s time to take a risk, versus playing it safe?
Tracy Lay: It’s time to take a risk when you’re bored, or when you’re too comfortable. When the potential gain is exciting and the worst-case scenario isn’t going to actually kill you. Risks come in all sizes, and it’s great practice to take little risks every day — trying something new, having a hard conversation, sharing something vulnerable. Even when risks don’t pan out the way you wanted, you gain confidence because hey, you just found another thing you know how to survive.
Nicole Baker: My first priority is to make sure my client is taken care of. If I have a proven solution to meet a client need, I’ll play it safe. If there’s a risk needed to secure a win for the client, I’ll take the risk. My approach is to keep the end result in mind — client satisfaction!
What steps do you follow to prepare for taking a risk or trying a new approach?
Regina Renda: Depending on what type of risk or new approach, I often ask a lot of questions from my peers. I find the communities I belong to are extremely helpful in researching pros and cons. I try my best to make sure I am confident and have a good understanding of what I’m about to jump headfirst into.
NB: I try to think through every outcome, and always make sure I talk to people who are more experienced than me. Peers with different perspectives can point out what I may not have thought of.
TL: I’m a relentless optimist, but weirdly like to imagine what the worst-case scenario might be. That lets me think of a few ways to survive that worst case or even turn it into a win, and makes taking the risk feel much less scary.
Risks come in all sizes, and it’s great practice to take little risks every day — trying something new, having a hard conversation, sharing something vulnerable.
—Tracy Lay, Marketing & eCommerce Team Lead, SOLV
What was a time you took on a risk, whether within a project or your career, and how did it turn out?
NB: When I came to American Solutions for Business, it was a huge risk. I was starting over with most of my clients, so I built up from nothing. While I’ve put in a ton of hard work and sacrificed a lot, so far it’s turned out to be the best decision I could have made for myself. I love having the autonomy to grow my business with the support American provides!
TL: Pitching for my current position as a marketing and ecommerce lead felt risky after 15 years as a graphic designer. I didn’t have formal leadership training or experience, and impostor syndrome would have been happy to keep me safely in the same position forever. But I was itching for a new challenge — staying the same felt more painful than taking the risk! Luckily I have amazing support and mentorship from the executive leadership team here at SOLV.
Spoiler alert: I got the promotion.
Can you share an example of a time you encountered a problem with a client or product, and how you found a solution?
NB: Recently, a customer ordered an award. They approved the proof, but at the event site for the ceremony they weren’t happy with the size and material (even though it’s what they chose and approved). We made a game time decision to source one award with a local trophy shop just to have for photos at their event. I ordered a Lyft for the award and the driver picked it up and drove it to the client with hours to spare before the event. The client was very happy!
TL: Just recently, we had a mix-up with an order for one of our internal Adventure Trek prizes — we intended to order a full-size imprint, but when the product came the imprint was tiny. It wasn't the worst thing in the world, but it looked a bit silly.
With any issue like that, you have options: You can just live with it. You can return the product. Or, you can take the third path and get creative!
My team decided to ask a local decorator to cover up the imprint, and we all love the end result. If you look closely you can see the small imprint behind the tree graphic, but it looks kind of cool! It’s a great reminder that if nothing ever goes “wrong,” you may miss out on unexpected blessings!
RR: Last year my biggest account connected me to their parent company located overseas for a large, six-figure t-shirt order. My apparel supplier did not want to extend temporary credit terms until I received the international wire because they felt the client was not trustworthy. I did not want to lose this order because I knew this was a credible opportunity from a reputable client. I removed the financial roadblocks and found a small t-shirt blank company willing to work with me for the few extra days I needed, and the order turned out perfectly. I took a risk with a different apparel blank partner, who turned out to be a better option because they are smaller and nimble.
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