Who hasn’t sighed in frustration at a brief which feels like it strangles your creativity? You’ve wished for the freedom to do anything but received a litany sounding like a song you older folk will instantly recognise (anyone younger than 33 may need to listen to this first):

“No, no. No, no, no, no. No, no , no, no. No, no.”

When you’d prefer you were hearing just the last bit: 

“There’s no limits.”

What you wish for isn’t always what you want.


Have you ever watched Masterchef? For the minuscule percentage who answered “no”, it’s an immensely popular and long running reality series and international franchise giving amateur cooks the opportunity to become professional chefs. The Aussie version is by far the best. That’s not relevant TBH, but you should know it’s the superior MC.

Moving on…

Competitors on the show are confronted by impossible cooking challenges. If normal people were asked to prepare a three course meal in under 30 minutes using a toaster and the scraps from yesterday’s breakfast, they’d understandably call this ludicrously unreasonable. On Masterchef, it’s a typical day in the kitchen.

Despite these seemingly impossible conditions, contestants deliver culinary masterpieces surpassing anything the judges could rightfully expect.

Masterchef is also known for tasks offering an empty canvas. Contestants are given hours to plan and prep, the best equipment, a larder bursting with ingredients and a brief to  “make the meal of your dreams”. The outcomes routinely fall short of contestants’ abilities.

The chefs shining in adversity incorporate limitations by doing the unexpected or using something in ways other than it’s meant to. Their brilliance shines because of obstacles, not in spite of them.

Contestants who fall apart when given an open mandate are often trapped by rigid thinking. They refuse to acknowledge an idea is sinking and taking them with it. Others lack originality. Without an obstacle to overcome, their food is merely great, lacking the exceptionalism judges seek.


Agencies are contestants and our clients are the judges. But you’d worked that out by now.

We are problem-solvers. Similar to Masterchef contestants, the limitations causing frustration are protecting us from our own hubris. Restrictions force focus, clear intentions and streamlined execution. Tight deadlines mean decisive action and familiar ingredients require fresh perspectives.

An open brief crushes innovation with the weight of possibility. We cannot give clients what they need need from a brief instructing us to produce what we want.


Limitations provide something to push up against, go around, or tear down. They provide the scaffolding on which we build.

The next time an open brief has you staring at a blank piece of paper without any idea where to go, imagine how much better you’d feel with a starting point, even one you want to get as far away from as possible. You don’t have to love them but it’s worth acknowledging; when it comes to creating awesome, being challenged is a key ingredient.