“Creativity is the ability to Play” – Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais talks about creativity and the ability to just ‘muck about for the hell of it’, experimenting, seeing what happens, making mistakes while just trying stuff out until you find the little gems you want to keep:

“The point of art is to make a connection. If people talk about it, it’s succeeded in a way. People have assumed that, because I don’t listen to critics, or take studio notes or whatever, that I think I’m perfect and have never made any mistakes. This could not be further from the truth. Making the mistakes is the point, is the fun, is the important bit. But they have to be my own. The writer Rita Mae Brown said, “Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts. And never hope more than you work.” The only difficult bit about this is getting final edit. So much creativity is stifled by people who “know better”, or by fear of failure, and before you know it, your goals have been twisted and you’ve forgotten what you set out to do.”

Read the whole post on Ricky’s website.

TED2013: A trip worth remembering!

The last week was pretty amazing. Thanks to TED’s 10 Ads Worth Spreading initiative I spent a few days at TED2013 in Long Beach combined with a day at TEDActive2013 in Palm Springs together with 9 other selected agency folks as well as a few people from TED and Google who are partners in the program. The reason that I got there to begin with was the fact that our agency’s ad ‘Push to add drama’ for TNT was selected as one of those 10 ads. Which is already pretty amazing on it’s own.

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The one thing (to begin with) you have to do after reading this post is to go check out all 10 ads. Some you’ve probably all seen and shared already such as BBH’s ‘3 Little pigs’ for The Guardian, ‘Dumb ways to die’ from McCann or Y&R’s ‘Security Cams’ for Coca-Cola but others will probably new to you as they were to me. ‘Follow the frog’ for instance, from Max Joseph or  Make sure you check them all out, great stuff in there. Pretty cool bunch too.

So there we were. Invited by TED, ready to be inspired and with a packed agenda for 2 days at TED in Long Beach and 1 day at TEDActive in Palm Springs. Both these conferences run simultaneously and show the same content (via simulcast from Long Beach to Palm Springs). In Long Beach where the ‘real’ TED is you will find yourself amongst business leaders, CEO’s, former TED speakers, movie stars, … who are all looking forward to some great talks but also great encounters during the breaks. People will all just walk up to each other, introduce themselves to each other and start talking about what they’ve seen. And how we all know TED as a very exclusive event, the vibe at the event is pretty down to earth which was counter to what I expected it to be.

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At TEDActive the crowd is much younger, I was under the impression that it was also much more international and it felt a lot more creative as well. And what struck me was that even though all talks were via simulcast on TV screens everybody would go inside and watch every single minute of it. During the sessions you would find pretty much no-one outside just chilling in the sun. Imagine that at Cannes Lions for instance – the idea alone sounds to crazy to be serious about it. Very interested crowd, very disciplined and very inspiring.

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It’s too difficult to say which encounter was the best (although the close encounter with Cameron Diaz is worth bragging about ;-)) or which talk was the most interesting to watch. You have to imagine yourself sitting in between the co-founder of Groupon on the one hand side and Blaise Aguera y Arcas (2 time awesome TED speaker himself) listening to Taylor Wilson, an 18 year old that built his own nuclear fusion reactor at 14! How awesome is that?! Not to forget all the conversations with my fellow ad men about their advertising, how they got to sell it to their clients and what they think made it unique. I’m sure other sites will give a wrap up of the most powerful talks, I will probably highlight a few of them later on this blog as well.

I want to repeat myself and applaud all the awesome boys and girls at Duval Guillaume Modem for making such great work. It makes me want to go back to the office and try to make even better work so we can get back in that list from TED so one of my colleagues can experience this for him or herself. Thanks for that. This week was awesome!

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And special thanks to Shanna from TED for the awesome organization!

Why you should be using short-form video in your online communication

I’ve been a close witness to some of the impact short-form video has had on campaigns I was involved in. Small campaigns like the launch of IKKI.be (which most of you will be unfamiliar with) where the video was responsible for creating so much buzz within the target audience that we had reached the platform sign-up target within days instead of months. Or campaigns where the video travelled the world such as we experienced with “Bikers” for Carlsberg or “Push to add drama” for TNT.

All of these (and other) cases made me get a firm believe in short-form video used within online communication strategies. Fast Company believes the same – read “Why Short-Form Video is the Future of Marketing” – where they highlight some key reasons why that is the case:

  1. More and more users are consuming their video entertainment online
  2. Marketers are using video to engage with social media audiences
  3. Barriers to entry are low
  4. Quality is expanding quickly
  5. There are plenty of avenues for dissemination

All true, but apart from the 3rd point, all of these are mostly observations of what is happening and not really reasons of why it is happening. So I agree, but I think they are missing the point a bit.

Video is a very rich audiovisual experience but it allows brands as well to keep control of the story in a time there’s no more control. You can craft a message in such a way (editing, music, …) that you get the maximum effect and when people share it they share it generally for the full 100%. So basically if you’re doing a good job, people will share your video content adding comments etc so taking over control – but not over the message, because when it is consumed again, it will be again exactly how you as a producer crafted it in the first place. That is what makes it very powerful for online communication, the combination of this fact with the knowledge that more and more people consume online video entertainment.

This doesn’t mean video should always be the center piece of your communication online, but try to get video in that communication in some form as much as you can. It’s pretty powerful.

My 2 cents

Agency of the year. And what a year it was!

What a week. What a month. What a year. Exactly one year ago we announced that Duval Guillaume would merge it’s Brussels and Antwerp offices into one called Duval Guillaume Modem (in Antwerp). When I look back at the interview both our Executive Creative Directors did with ‘De Morgen’ then I read:

“It’s time for the next step: to be the first Belgian agency to play a real part internationally and again write advertising history.”

We’re not there yet, but we certainly made a good step in the right direction. Last week at the Cannes Lions our agency won 8 Gold Lions, 4 Silver, 2 Bronze and the Media Agency of the Year award. A new Belgian record that placed the agency at the 6th place worldwide in the final agency ranking at the festival.

All of that only 2 weeks after we already won the Belgian Creative Agency of the Year award at the 2012 CCB Awards. And 7 months after winning the Digital Agency of the Year award for the second year in a row. Proud. Very much so.

Gala CCB

Yes it’s been a lot of hard work for everyone at the agency. But what a reward. Being celebrated by the industry both locally and internationally for the work is just friggin’ awesome! What a good way to celebrate my 3 year anniversary at the agency :-)

Create value & value creative

When Lee Clow speaks, you listen. The man renown for his work on Apple and Absolut at TBWA/Chiat/Day talked about his thoughts on agency compensation a few weeks ago in a video for an event organized by the 4A’s.

In the video he talks about how good creative ideas can be very valuable brand assets and that other than in most creative industries (media, artists, …) you don’t get paid for the value of what you create:

“Unfortunately, in our business, we get paid like we’re doing our clients’ laundry. We haven’t figured out that the ideas that we create can become a very powerful asset to the brands we work for. Many of the ideas — whether they be slogans or advertising forms and styles or a voice that we create for brands — could be listed on the balance sheet of our clients as an asset with millions and millions of dollars in value.”

I think he’s right to the point that the power of good creativity gets undervalued. Good creative and good results go hand in hand and therefore it’s important for businesses to realize that it’s not something you can commoditize, like Mr. Clow mentions in the video. We should – together with our clients – work out different ways of valuing ideas though:

“We’re supposed to be a creative business, but I think we have been probably the least creative industry in the history of the world in terms of figuring out how to get paid.”

With businesses under pressure due to the ongoing crisis there seems to be an always bigger focus on the end (marketing) product – what you see is what you get. The time or talent needed to make the best creative possible are often ‘invisible’ to clients which results in what Mr. Clow talks about in his video.

This also puts pressure on the client –  agency relationship, something which doesn’t lead to the best results either as shown by Frank Shuring at the ‘My message in your brain’ conference (NL). His neuroscience research showed that better client – agency relationships directly lead to much better results. Surprised? Not really. Sounds obvious, so now let’s make it happen. And let’s discuss what it is that both sides value most, so we can get out of this crisis together.

A lesson from Steve Jobs

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I just finished reading Steve Jobs’ biography. It took me a while to read it but I’m happy I bought it. I wasn’t all that sure in advance, and not because I used to work at Microsoft once, but because I just didn’t want to read a book about how great everything at Apple really is thanks to the genius etc etc.

It’s not at all like that. The book manages to give a very real – at least it feels that way – image of Steve Jobs and very human, much more human than how your regular fanboy will be talking about him. And that made it interesting. You get a better idea of how he really was, about the things that made him great, about the people that have been his mentor, about how he often wasn’t really such a nice person, about the genius, …

I made quite a few notes while reading the book, notes about things and ideas that I recognized or that I should look into a bit more. One of those things was the Apple Marketing Philosophy that was written down by Mike Markkula. Short but crystal clear.

  1. Empathy – that intimate connection with the feelings of the consumer to truly understand their needs better than any other company
  2. Focus – eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities in order to do the best job possible
  3. Impute – a company should convey its values in everything it does, from packaging to marketing because ‘people do judge a book by its cover’

You should read the book. Seriously. Not because you want to find out what an epic genius Steve was or anything like that – but because just like Steve you should steal from the best, see things with new eyes, work hard to make them different and don’t stop until they’re perfect. Respect.

My next book? Indeed – Steal like an artist, by Austin Kleon.

Presentation madness

Powerpoint, Keynote, … it doesn’t really matter much which piece of software you use to make a presentation. Trust me, there’s only little the software can do for you to make your presentation better, let alone good.

I get my fair share of practice making presentations since I make a few per week, but I also get to see a lot of presentations at events, with clients, suppliers, etc. The list below is an overview of my rules of thumb for creating good presentations.

The audience

First things first. Who are you talking to? It’s probably what bothers me most at conferences, all too often you see a presentation that is not at all tailored for the event. It’s more about what the presenter wants to say versus what the audience came down to hear.

But this doesn’t only count for conferences of course. Also when you’re presenting to your team, your boss or client(s), whatever the situation may be, the audience is key for what and how you will present. What is it that the listener wants to see? What do they expect? What is the context of this presentation? Trying to understand that is like a third of the success of your presentation.

The purpose

What is the reason for the presentation? What’s the goal? What was the briefing or what are you trying to get out of this? New business, an extra headcount, an extra effort from the team, understanding for a difficult decision, buy-in on a company vision, … How many times do you listen to or read a presentation and wonder: what’s the point? The presentation looked nice and all but don’t ask me what it was about.

What’s the point that your are trying to make? I think it’s important that you define the key take-aways well in advance. They don’t have to be crystalized (there’s room for that later in the process) but you need to have a good idea of what it is you want people to remember after the presentation. What it is you want to send them home with.

What is basically the end of the presentation is something you need to define at the start of making it. It’s where you need to build up to and it’s your first check on whether the presentation is in line with purpose you’re making it.

If you want me to do something, you better make that clear so I know what it is that you are looking for.

What do you need to get there?

So you know what your audience came down to see and you defined what it is that you want them to home with. Next step is to think of all the elements you need to have as key ingredients for your presentation.

Think of it as tearing out magazine photo’s before you can start making a collage. You have an idea of the end result and gather photo’s that you think will help you build a story to get there. With presentations it’s the same. Think of all the things that could be helpful to make your point. Quotes, articles, schemes, graphics, ideas, … and lay them all in front of you so you can see which ones you think you could use most.

Turning it into a story

Start with setting the scene. All too often I see a presentation that jumps right into a topic and only by the 3rd slide you figure out what the presenter is actually talking about.

“Bad storytelling is beginning, muddle, end.” (Philip Larkin – poet)

This is probably the most important part of your presentation. You know where you want to land with this, but how do you build up to that point? How do you make it so that within the timeframe that you got, you bring your story/presentation in the most powerful way? Will you start with laying down the problem? Or with the conclusion? There are many ways in building a great story and it’s up to you to figure that one out, but make sure you spend enough time on it. Make sure that you cut out all that is not necessary to make your story come to life.

Using post-it notes to lay out a grid of ideas in front of you and order them is a common trick but a really good one, and one that I also use when building more complex presentations.

Design

I love a nicely designed presentation just as much as everyone else. I don’t think it’s key to a good presentation though, it sort of adds an extra quality to it. Too many people seem to think design is amongst the first things to get right – that’s really not how it’s supposed to be. Some of the best presentations I’ve seen at conferences were of the worst design you can imagine… including Comic Sans.

Make sure the fonts are correct, the typo is the same throughout the presentation, the photo’s are aligned, … these are all easy to do and make the presentation from not looking sloppy. A great design doesn’t make it a better story, so make sure this is not where your main focus is. Or let me say it like this – a presentation full of quotes on a photographic background per slide is not a good presentation, just saying.

Check it

It’s ready so give it a swing. Go over it, maybe with a colleague or someone close to the topic, and see what you (and they) think about it. Did they see the point you were trying to make? Was it clear how you tried to build up to that? Did you feel comfortable with the story? Isn’t there anything missing or isn’t there too much you’re trying to say? The stage is a terrible place to figure out whether you made a good presentation or not, so make sure you got that checked before.

Another check that you need to perform is timing. I hate it when people don’t respect their timing, it’s a simple thing but a form of respect that you don’t abuse the slot that you were given for your presentation. Often people give presentations that aren’t specifically tailored to an audience nor a certain time slot and you can tell from the very first minute that that is the case. Don’t do it. If you want your story to come over right, you need to manage it within the time that you got. It’s different for everyone but I mostly count around 1.5 to 2 minutes per slide, which gives 15 to 20 slides max for a 30 minutes presentation (without title or exit slide)

Bonus check

Sometimes the organizer asks the audience to give feedback on the conference and when they do make sure you get the feedback on your presentation. You might learn something from it. And in case it’s a public event, check out Twitter after your talk as well. And don’t just look for kind words, but for what people tweeted about the presentation, see if are the key elements of the presentation, see if it are those things you wanted people to remember (and share).

Good luck.

The #ASS of Kris Hoet

Okay, I’ll admit, Tom De Bruyne made me do it. About a week ago Tom and Astrid – founding partners of Sue Amsterdam – organized The Awesome Slideshow in Boom Chicago (Amsterdam):

“10 inspiring speakers from the creative industry share their favorite stuff they
found on Twitter. Get inspired in one afternoon with a top-selection of awesome
ideas, thoughts, actions and campaigns.”

Hashtag for the event: #TheASS. Here’s my presentation and underneath you will find a little bit of background with the video’s, why I chose them for this presentation. (Video’s are all in the presentation)

Do mess with perfection. It’s the campaign line of the new Ford Mustang (check out their app btw) and I chose it because it’s more in tune with the idea I have around experimenting than the often used “fail harder” line. Why? Because “fail harder” all to often seems to result in a mediocre output and I don’t think that’s right. Do mess with perfection does a better job at making sure you experiment but with the end goal to make something awesome. Not mediocre. What do you think “fail harder” would look like in Jeb Corliss’ stunt? Therefore the ‘Grinding the crack’ video.

Big data. I love data. Not like an analyst or a statistics guy but because of what you can learn from data… if you’re looking at the right thing. Data visualizations are very welcome in helping you understand data – and then I don’t mean all these 15.000 pixel long infographics that show up on a daily base. I used some examples in my presentation, once including a tool you can download here: IOgraphica.

Gamification. Not games. Not contest. But fun game inspired elements to deploy on real life. Like what they did in Chromorama with the London Subway.

Known + Unknown. What happens when you combine knowledge from offline shopping behavior with online analytics methods. Awesome this Shopperception video – again see presentation.

Hackable. Kinect showed us once more, almost all year long, that you’re better off making things so that people can explore beyond the initial purpose of what it was made for to begin with. It might inspire everyone.

Laughter from nowhere. Kevin Slavin learned us to look at second screen in a totally different way, too bad his presentation from last year’s Think Digital congress isn’t online where he talked about that. I used the example from Clik just to show that most of our second screen thinking is really too basic.

The world is our canvas. Although the example in the presentation is a quite literal example, the point I wanted to make was that there are no more limitations to what we can do, that ‘out of the box thinking’ has never been so valid as today. There is no frame, the world is our canvas.

DIY 2.0 3D printers, open source code, Arduino, … it’s incredible what people like you can me can make today. We already have more democratic ways of promoting ourselves – thank you web 2.0 – but today we also see the same principles being used to fund as well as fabricate ideas. And that’s awesome.

The last video – of Casey Neistat, yes the same guy that made that Nike video – because it’s fun and it reminds us that everyone with a good idea can get noticed.

Key take away – It always seems impossible until it is done. Something we remind ourselves of at the agency as well every time someone presents us with an idea that looks impossible :-)

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Creativity World Forum 2011: Making ideas happen

The Creativity World Forum 2011 had to live up against high expectations. When the event was organized for the first time in 2008 (in Antwerp) Flanders DC showed all other conference & congress organizers in Belgium what the new benchmark would be. I really enjoyed the 2008 edition and thus was really looking forward to the event. This years program was a good start. With people like Jimmy Wales, Keith Sawyer, Malcolm Gladwell, Scott Belsky, Oliver Stone, … it’s clear that the €300 investment for a packed 2 days would be money well spent.

I think that this years event had an even clearer focus on creativity than the one 3 years ago. With in my opinion 2 big topics related to that: the first one being about ‘how to be creative’ and the second one (maybe biggest one) about ‘making ideas happen’. Often speakers would refer to the fact that coming up with ideas isn’t that difficult but choosing between ideas and making them happen is.

The first day started with failure. Jimmy Wales said “don’t tie your ego to a particular business” referring to the fact that he himself had failed several times before starting with Wikipedia. It’s also the main reason why he likes Silicon Valley so much, in his eyes it has the culture that supports failure – in Silicon Valley one who fails is still better than one that never tried. Peter Hinssen in his talk made similar references to failure, definitely a popular topic. Peter focused even more on speed however, that’s where his famous ‘good enough is great’ reference is coming from. In the context of speed and the examples he gave that makes sense to me, in all other context I find it rubbish (as you could read right here).

“If you freeze an idea too quickly, you fall in love with it. If you refine it too quickly, you become attached to it and it becomes very hard to keep exploring, to keep looking for better. The crudeness of the early models in particular is very deliberate.” (Jim Glymph of Gehry Partners)

It was Alexander Osterwalder – known for his book on Business Model Generation – that used this quote during his talk. I liked the idea of putting even more effort into prototyping, which he sees as having a conversation with an idea. I like that. Another element that helps being better at creativity is collaboration. That’s the main topic Keith Sawyer talked about, debunking again the myth of the Eureka moment from the lone genius. Creativity is a group effort, ideally a cross-group type collaboration effort. See also my presentation on Agile Planning where I talked about this as well. Last speaker of the first day Malcolm Gladwell. In a sense he talked about the opposite of Jimmy & Peter earlier that day. Why is it that we tend to reward creativity/innovation so much on being the first to do something? History has proven that it almost never is the first to come up with an idea to be the one to market it. In his opinion the innovation strikes hardest when the tweakers come in. Really interesting but although being the first is definitely not enough, this talk almost sounded like a plea to be the third in all that you do… I don’t think that’s supposed to be the truth. I did remind me of a quote Tom Kelley from IDEO used during the first Creativity World Forum:

“The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes” (Marcel Proust)

Presentations linked to a book always tend to be hyper structured. I like that. Scott Belsky’s presentation was one of those clear and structured talks. Probably no coincidence that he sees structure as a key element in making ideas happen, next to collaboration and leadership. Interesting thought on that last topic by the way – silence the visionary. Anyway, I’m a fan, make sure you check out the man’s work. Good start of the day as well, later on there was Jamie Anderson who kinda confirmed what we had heard before and then Garr Reynolds came to talk about Presentation Zen. Good presentation as to be expected, but maybe just a bit too many quotes and also it was great to see him stick to the timing, but still weird for a presentation guru to have to skip like so many slides to make that happen.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.” (Shunryu Suzuki)

Probably the quote I liked most from all the ones Garr used in his talk. It is indeed of great importance to try and “unlearn what you have learned” as Yoda would say, to be really creative. How can you look at things in a really new way when your expertise makes it so that you automatically scope out what in your mind is not possible? You can’t.

Last but not least, final speaker of the 2 days, was Oliver Stone. He did a panel conversation with some Belgian movie director who’s name I’d happily forget, and I think we all just listened. Just think about all the movies this man has created, you can only respect that. One of the things he said that resonated most with me, something that I’ve been thinking about actively since then was the following question: “what’s the narrative of your life”? Something we should all ask ourselves from time to time. On being creative, Stone urged us all to think about the time we create for ourselves to be creative, because we’re not making enough time for it in general mostly because of the loads of distractions we have these days.

Key take aways from these 2 days:

How to be creative:

  • Create time – there’s no flash of insight, eureka moment but it’s more like an emergence of time. So create that time needed.
  • Prototype – have that conversation with an idea
  • Collaborate – get people together, cross-group preferably and share ideas liberally

Making ideas happen:

  • Choose between ideas – it’s more important to realize a few ideas, than to have created many
  • Organize yourself – creativity x organization = impact (dixit Scott Belsky)
  • Progress begets progress – show progress, surround yourself with it as it’s important to keep going that you see the results during the process
  • Share ownership of ideas

Make change happen:

  • The flip, the shift, … – it doesn’t really matter what you call it, when change really happens, it happens big time. This means that is impossible to stick with the things you know if you want real change to happen.

Thanks again Flanders DC and everyone involved for making this event happen. See you again in 3 years.

Stratégies Gagnantes: Agile Planning

About a week ago I did a presentation at an event in Charleroi called “Stratégies Gagnantes” (which means as much as ‘Winning Strategies’) together with other speakers such as Michael Cawly (COO Ryanair), Nathalie Klein (Director Consumer Insights Coca-Cola), …I was asked to present about what I thought would contribute most towards winning strategies from a marketing point of view. This based on my experience in digital and specifically as Head of Digital at Duval Guillaume Modem, the agency I work for in Antwerp.

The topic I chose to talk about was ‘agile’, more specifically ‘agile planning’. We all know by now the world is changing, and it’s changing fast. So I didn’t want to go in to much about that, but instead focus on how we need to rethink the way we plan to cope with a situation that is always ‘in motion’. It was an easy choice to make since I’ve been fascinated about agile and about how we should use this thinking (that originates from the agile software development) into our business, into the way we think about planning for the future. Neil Perkin has written quite a few good posts about ‘agile thinking’ as key for anybody who wants to be more future proof. I’ve used some of his thoughts in this presentation.

In the presentation bring forward 4 ideas that need to be considered when thinking about introducing agile planning to your organisation:

  1. Ideas from anywhere: get out of the organization silos – idea generation happens best when people across all business lines get together
  2. Plan for the unknown: imagine what would be possible instead of solely relying on what you can deduct from past experience
  3. Measure to improve: instead of measure to report – make sure you get the learnings when you can still adapt
  4. Budget for change: make sure there’s time and money to make the change happen

Let me know what you think.