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We hear it all the time. Companies asking their teams and partners to think outside the box. To bring on the big creative ideas that get people to sit up and take notice. The ideas that go viral and secure instant fame and recognition.

But what many companies don't realize – the only way to get there is to first define the box you want your creative teams to work within.

For any brand looking to unlock that killer creative idea, the first step needs to be defining your box – delivering a well thought out creative brief that helps define the parameters, customer insights, and overall objectives the creative team can work within. The contents inside the box will differ for every company, but it's the foundation on which you establish the common guardrails and becomes the starting point for ideation.

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So what's in the box? Many factors go into the makeup of the box – brand identity, brand values, history, culture, and the community in which you play. It's everything your brand is and stands for, properly defined, and understood by your team.

Understanding is key. Your brand identity, indeed the contents of your box, need to be widely understood within your organization. It's not enough for executives and senior leadership to know what makes up the box. Every employee throughout your organization should be educated about what's in the box.

Only once the box is defined and that knowledge is shared throughout your organization can you truly start to encourage creativity. Otherwise, ideas are born from confusion and will not be anchored to your brand. Dreaming up creative ideas is great, but if they aren't rooted in your brand values, they don't serve their purpose.

To begin the creative process, empower everyone to find their place inside the box. Get a variety of skill sets and a mix of colleagues from various disciplines in on the planning so it can be tackled from different perspectives.

Brainstorms can take place in many forms, with groups both big and small, in-person or through email. But be sure to encourage an open and collaborative environment where ideas can come from anywhere and thinking big is encouraged.

The biggest and boldest ideas are not necessarily the best ones. The real question should be: does this idea work for your brand? This is where the anchor your box provides comes into action. An idea may be creative, but without the solid foundation it is untethered and risks being off-track. It may backfire.

For example, many brands hit a home run with one successful campaign and attempt to leverage the momentum with a sequel. In these cases, the ideas often fall flat once executed because the true purpose has been lost. You must be able to draw a direct line from each idea back to the box, not necessarily to a previous idea or campaign.

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The same goes for finding inspiration from industry trends or recent wins – there is nothing wrong with learning from the success of others, but it isn't big ideas that win. Smart ideas are the ones which are rooted in the box and always connect back to the brand.

Don't be so quick to rush from the warm embrace of the box. In our rush to uncover that next creative idea, we are often too busy thinking outside the box.

Sometimes, we need to give some thought to what's in the box before the creativity can flow freely.

Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

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