A clean sheet of paper
The range and availability of freelance talent is greater than it has ever been before. World class designers, artists, illustrators, photographers, strategists, potters, copywriters, programmers--they're all one click away.
There are two ways to work with talent.
The first is to give someone as clean a sheet of paper as possible. "We have these assets, we have this opportunity, here is our budget, go!" That's a great way to build a house if you have a ton of money and brilliant architects.
The second is to give someone as strategic and defined a mission as possible. "Here are three logos from companies in other industries, together with the statement we want to make, the size it needs to be, the formats we need to use it and our budget, go!" If you do this, you're almost certain to get something you can use, and almost certain not to be blown away with surprise. Which is the entire point.
Confusing these two approaches is the #1 cause of client dissatisfaction when working with talent.
The strategic mission takes more preparation, more discipline and more difficult meetings internally. It involves thinking hard without knowing it when you see it. It's also the act of a mature individual, earning his salary.
The clean sheet of paper is amazing when it works, but involves so much waste, anxiety and pain that I have a hard time recommending it to most people. If you're going to do this, you have an obligation to use what you get, because your choice was hiring this person, not in judging the work you got when you didn't have the insight to give them clear direction in the first place.