Joey Reiman, 46, CEO of BrightHouse, an Atlanta-based "ideation corporation," likes to boast that his firm conducts "business at the speed of molasses." Forget ever-faster computers and ever-increasing bandwidth on the Internet. You can't hurry great ideas. "I tell our clients that we're the slowest company they'll ever meet — and that we're the most expensive," Reiman says. "But you only have to see us once." Plenty of big-name companies (including Coca-Cola, the Home Depot, and Georgia-Pacific) like what they've seen.
Slower is better. That's just one of many unconventional ideas about creativity that are taking shape inside the restored yellow mansion, on Atlanta's Peachtree Road, that BrightHouse calls home. The 17-person company, founded in 1995, works with only one client at a time. It charges $500,000 per project, and the entire firm spends 10 weeks on each assignment. And while the firm's goal is to devise breakthrough ideas, Reiman insists on following a rigorous four-step process for achieving that goal.
First there's an "investigation" phase. For each project, BrightHouse interacts with an average of 50 to 75 experts. They might include a butler, a Talmudic scholar, a five-year-old kid — even the founder of a client company. For example, while working for Holiday Inn, Reiman interviewed the company's 86-year-old founder. "I asked what had been on his mind when he started Holiday Inn," Reiman says. "He said he had wanted to build a hotel chain for children, so that they would feel good about where they were going — and so that their parents would follow. In 15 minutes, he explained what I had been hypothesizing about for several weeks."
Then comes an "incubation" phase, during which BrightHouse staffers give themselves lots of time to let their thoughts coalesce — without letting their brains go soft. "Incubation happens when you let things simmer," Reiman says, "when the left brain and the right brain play with each other. And that takes time. One way to arrive at a great idea is by letting yourself be slower than everyone else."
One of Reiman's favorite examples of focused slowness is the tortoise, from the fable "The Tortoise and the Hare." Another role model is Albert Einstein, who started developing the theory of relativity at age 16 but didn't publish it until a decade later. "For 10 years, he noodled it, and then he submitted it," Reiman says. "That takes my breath away. That's why I make this pitch to prospective clients: 'Visit BrightHouse, and experience the power of a slow company.' "
It is during the "illumination" and "illustration" phases that the firm's big ideas really come to life. For one recent project, involving Coca-Cola's presence at Turner Field (home of the Atlanta Braves), the goal was to improve upon billboard advertising. BrightHouse analyzed the architectural drawings of the stadium, found an area that no one was using, and built Sky Field — a 20,000-square-foot experiential park, complete with mist, picnic facilities, and million-dollar prizes for catching a ball.
Back in 1995, Reiman and his team helped the giant fragrance house Coty Inc. to create "ghost myst" — the first perfume to embrace values and spirituality ("inner beauty" rather than physical beauty) as the focus of its market positioning. Ghost myst became the best-selling fragrance of 1995, and it launched a spirituality-in-beauty movement that many other fragrance and cosmetics companies have rushed to join.
In 1996, the Professional Photographers of America Inc. (PPA) came to BrightHouse with a problem. Its members were losing business to outlets like Wal-Mart, which churned out photos far more cheaply (if much less artistically) than PPA members did. BrightHouse recommended that PPA reposition itself as a cadre of storytellers. Since then, the rate at which consumers ask the organization for photographer referrals has more than tripled.
"If you can change your mind, you can change the world," Reiman says. "Before you can be creative, you must be courageous. Creativity is the destination, but courage is the journey."
Visit BrightHouse on the Web (www.thinkbrighthouse.com), or contact Joey Reiman by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Sidebar: Think Different
When it comes to creativity, Joey Reiman believes that slower is better. Why? "Because of technology and globalization, everyone has been speeding up," he says. "That's fine for everyday problems. But high speeds don't help you crack big problems. For that, you need a deliberate thinking process. It's not about doing things faster — it's about doing them better. And in this case, 'better' means 'slower.' "
Reiman has lots of other ideas about how to generate big ideas: "If your self-worth is high, your net worth will be high." So he urges people to create — as he has done — an "anti-bummer squad," consisting of friends and mentors. "When you're feeling uncreative, call the people on your anti-bummer squad and take them out to dinner," says Reiman. "They'll tell you how wonderful you are and how much they love you."
Creativity also requires comfort, Reiman argues. That's why, when he and his staff hosted a brainstorming session for Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts, they held it on a yacht. "I thought that being on a yacht would increase people's self-esteem — which would in turn produce a much more creative atmosphere."
Reiman also recommends doing something new every day. "Instead of telling people to grow up, I tell them to grow down," he says. "All kids, when asked to sing or dance, will do it. But when I ask groups of people in their forties and fifties, 'Will anyone get up and dance?' they all dive under the table. If you want to be creative, you've got to be able to dance."
A version of this article appeared in the JulyAugust 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine.