The Art of Digression

Beth M. Wood

If there’s one thing we do really well here at SCORCH on a daily basis, it’s digress.

Every company is different, but most have some sort of regularly scheduled update meeting. Here at SCORCH, we call it Morning Stand Up. It was originally called Stand Up because it was intended to be such a quick meeting that the participants didn’t even have time to sit down. Not so much anymore. And it isn’t because we’re not efficient. Quite to the contrary, our Account Managers can rattle off deadlines faster than a Sotheby’s auctioneer.

But I digress. Veering off topic has become something of a joke around here. Why do we digress? I believe it has to do with the way our minds work. I tend to hear lyrics in my head when people are talking (if someone says “Hello,” I immediately respond with “from the other side”).

To wit: a while back someone in a meeting was trying to say “fragile” but it came out “fraggle” as in, the old kids’ show Fraggle Rock. Which led to several of us remembering the theme song for the show, and yours truly cueing up the song on iTunes. We played a minute of it, which led to several members of the team waxing poetic about their idyllic childhoods… which led to a super cool idea for a piece of content we’d had trouble with a few days prior.

Granted, it doesn’t always work that way, but digressions are an important part of our culture. However distracting they might appear, the truth is that they help put us in the right frame of mind, boost our collective creativity, and keep our environment from becoming too dry.

According to Fast Company, it’s one of “the seven sins of deadly meetings.” Here at SCORCH it’s less sin than strategy. Our culture of play leads to great ideas and successful campaigns.

A temporary shift in subject can take your collective minds off of a topic that’s not going anywhere, fuel creativity, and get things back on track. We believe that digressing is an art form. But you don’t have to be a creative agency to benefit from the art. If you’ve noticed this behavior in your own organization, or want to give it a try, here are four ways to master The Art of Digression:


  1. Start with a Plan SCO_ArtofDigression_agenda_v1

Just because we are frequent digressers doesn’t mean we don’t try to keep meetings on track. Whoever schedules a meeting is tasked with sending out an agenda along with the invite. Put together a quick agenda that includes the time frame for the meeting, topics you want to cover and what you’d like to achieve during the meeting. This sets your expectations up front and gives your team an opportunity to come prepared.


  1. Understand the Culture SCO_ArtofDigression_culture_v1

Sometimes scheduling creative sessions can backfire. It’s difficult to think creatively on command. Think about when and where your own best ideas come to you: it’s usually in the middle of the night, in the shower, or driving in the car. Creativity cannot always be had at will.

An Inc. magazine article proclaimed: “Creativity still runs at its own pace. It’s the one thing we’ll never be able to get on-demand: the spark of inspiration that puts us into a creative mindset. Even the most brilliant artists and writers don’t decide when they are at their most creative. Rather, they understand the internal and external dynamics that shape their productivity and adjust their processes accordingly.”

Most companies have an internal culture, with certain times of day that are highly productive, or days of the week that are more relaxed than others. Mondays at SCORCH tend to be much more laid back than Fridays, for example. And the collective early morning mood is more relaxed and creative than post-lunch. Schedule meetings around your cultural norms. Post-lunch might be the ideal time to hold a serious meeting, while the end of the work day could be perfect for a creative ideation session.


  1. Set the Clock SCO_ArtofDigression_timelimit_v1

Meetings can get out of hand, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Put a time limit on digressions. If you see some positive thoughts or concepts coming out of it, let it happen. Don’t squash the muse! But if after a few minutes it’s nothing but goofy small talk going nowhere, 86 it in favor of the task at hand.



  1. Take Note SCO_ArtofDigression_takenote_v1

Ensure that whoever is responsible for taking notes doesn’t ignore digressions. Write down any promising ideas that come out when things get off-track and post them in a public space. Let team members add their thoughts throughout the day, and schedule a follow up meeting to build on the most promising ideas.

An Entrepreneur magazine article espouses interacting with stimulating people and places. SCORCH is a stimulating environment filled with creative people. We think differently, therefore we are. Sure, we hold spitball sessions, but that’s not the only time we think creatively. The accounts team might occasionally have trouble reining us in, but it is this collective creativity that makes us great at what we do. And our leaders recognize it.

SCORCH has mastered The Art of Digression, and you can too, with a few rules in place.