Are You a Creative Problem Solver? Take the "Mad Men" challenge!

As Head of Creative, you’ve been asked to deliver an ad campaign to increase the popularity of print media. The digital revolution has significantly eroded newspaper circulation.

Pitch a solution.

Before we begin, can I run something by you? A passion of mine is exchanging ideas – I believe it’s a pathway to innovation. If l show you mine, will you share yours?

Imagine you are watching a television commercial….

It’s dawn (Saturday) & the paper boy throws the newspaper into the yard.

Hours later, Dad wakes up, opens the front door & grabs the paper.

At the breakfast table, Mum takes the Fashion section & Dad takes Sport.

The children use spare newspaper to cover the floor whilst shining their shoes.

Dad & dog head to the beach, playing fetch on the sand with the rolled up paper.

Mum cuts out a recipe from the Food section & puts in Grandma’s recipe book.

Grandpa sits in bath, paper in hand, catching up on the latest in Politics.

Using the paper, the kids play Pass the Parcel & make Paper Mache balloons.

Later that night, everyone returns home – suddenly the power goes out.

All of their electronic devices (mobiles, iPads, etc.) soon run out of battery.

Whilst Mum carefully lights candles, Dad starts the fireplace with the Classifieds.

Everyone plays the weekend Crossword & Quiz, in the light & warmth of the fire.

Grandpa shares his scrapbook, filled with newspaper clippings of yesteryear.

Kids make paste from flour/water, & use the last of the news to make a collage.

Everyone is laughing & having fun, it’s a joy spending time together as a family.

At midnight, the power comes back on, but everyone is tired & goes to bed.

Early next morning, Mum proudly sticks the children’s artwork to the fridge.

The weekend paper, it’s more than just the news.

Fade to black….


All you need is a pen and paper to start crafting your pitch. If you want to share your ideas, use the Comments section below.

If you’d prefer to continue on the problem solving journey together, I’ll take you through the process using reverse engineering.


In his Ted Talk, “Creative problem-solving in the face of extreme limits” Navi Radjou illustrates the revolutionary theory “Frugal Innovation” (the art of doing more with less). It’s comprised of two key elements; a) getting more value from limited resources; and b) finding creative ways to re-use what you already have.

Whilst under these limiting constraints, a creative problem solver is forced to look within themselves and tap the only resource still abundant – human ingenuity. This is one way Radjou suggests we can attain real innovation (without breaking the piggy bank). Using this theory, it is possible to break down the ad campaign into the two key elements:

a) Getting more value from limited resources:

  • Ability to read paper safely in the bath;
  • Job opportunities for young children (i.e. paper round);
  • Historical significance of the newspaper (old scrapbook); and
  • Newspaper is not technology dependant (i.e. batteries/electricity/devices/internet).

b) Finding creative ways to re-use what you already have:

  • Play fetch with dog using a rolled up paper;
  • Make Paper Mache and Pass the Parcel games;
  • Use crushed paper to start a fire;
  • Make a disposable, protective layer for the floor; and
  • Paper is tactile (e.g. touch it, hold it, rip it, cut it, write on it, throw it).

To illustrate how best to extract creative ideas, we should take another step back and consider these questions:

  • What can I do with paper media that I can’t with digital?
  • What other uses or value does newspaper have?
  • Does print media offer benefits beyond consumption of the news?
  • How do my customers’ consume this product?

The last (or first) step in the process is perhaps the most important. Rick Debus talks to a critical problem-solving theory called “Computational Thinking” in his article, “Want to Solve Problems More Efficiently? Do This.” Essentially, it involves thinking like a computer, with the primary focus on:

  1. Asking the right questions – it is critical to fully understand the problem we are solving for;
  2. Looking for inefficiencies – is there a faster, better, stronger way? Can this process/product be short-circuited or automated?
  3. Abstract thinking and compartmentalization – identify the requirements (input) & the problem (output). Find a way to connect (compute) them.

Cost/Benefit Analysis

By using a combination of creative problem-solving, frugal innovation and computational thinking we have delivered an advertising campaign that:

  • Transforms a newspaper into a multi-use & innovative product offering, with a substantially improved ROI and value proposition;
  • Identifies real strategies to stem circulation decline via improved customer retention (and potentially win new customers);
  • Extends the life-cycle of print media (and in turn, any benefits already associated with it);
  • Creates sales opportunities for “Mad Men” advertising company (who could pitch idea to worldwide print media conglomerates);
  • Achieves the above without any change to existing print/digital media strategy, marketing, operations, advertising, sales, pricing or product offering; and
  • Costs next to nothing (the time to write this post).

Food for Thought

The top 3 papers in the US alone account for just shy of 10 billion circulated newspapers (results for period between April & September 2014). If we made a 0.5% improvement (i.e. 50 million newspapers) – well, you do the maths.

That’s the power of creative problem solving. For a more visual example, see the video in my follow up post, “How to Hack Value Creation: Watch Magic!

Last Call

It’s not too late to take up the “Mad Men” challenge. If you like this post, please share it with your friends, family or professional networks. Don’t be afraid to make a comment – I’d really love to hear your thoughts. Thanks again for stopping by. Warmest regards. Anthony Saffer

Image credit:

This article was first published on LinkedIn.

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Anthony SafferAnthony is a former Investment Banker & Chartered Accountant with 10+ years’ success driving “best-practice” methodology in professional services firms and large corporates. He is currently “moonlighting” as an Entrepreneur, a Writer, an Innovator and a Creative Problem Solver. Follow Anthony on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Anthony Saffer




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