Truth is people don’t actually like creativity

There was an interesting article in Slate a few weeks ago about the bias against creativity, about the fact that most people say they like creativity but that the truth is we really don’t. And since I work in a creative agency often presenting creative ideas to clients the theory based on a 2011 study used in this article makes a whole lot of sense to me.

“We think of creative people in a heroic manner, and we celebrate them, but the thing we celebrate is the after-effect,” says Barry Staw, a researcher at the University of California–Berkeley business school who specializes in creativity. Staw says most people are risk-averse. He refers to them as satisfiers. “As much as we celebrate independence in Western cultures, there is an awful lot of pressure to conform,” he says. Satisfiers avoid stirring things up, even if it means forsaking the truth or rejecting a good idea.  Even people who say they are looking for creativity react negatively to creative ideas, as demonstrated in a 2011 study from the University of Pennsylvania. Uncertainty is an inherent part of new ideas, and it’s also something that most people would do almost anything to avoid. People’s partiality toward certainty biases them against creative ideas and can interfere with their ability to even recognize creative ideas .

Clients will come to us for creative tasks since that’s what we’re most known for. You can literally witness though how the creative ideas that were presented and liked by the clients will be softened once they start to move through the chain of command. That is if you allow that to happen, we’re quite protective on the essence of an idea to make sure that while we’re very open to tweak it we will make sure that that essential core idea is never lost.

Most people agree that what distinguishes those who become famously creative is their resilience. While creativity at times is very rewarding, it is not about happiness. Staw says a successful creative person is someone “who can survive conformity pressures and be impervious to social pressure.”

And of course I realize like anyone else that some creative ideas are just not good or are creative but not an answer to the question or briefing at hand. This is purely about ideas that are recognized as good and creative and how they are being judged during the decision process. This is about how people often reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as a desired goal (as the research so eloquently puts it).

In terms of decision style, most people also fall short of the creative ideal. they are satisficers rather than searcher for the optimal or most desirable solution. They follow a number of energy-saving heuristics that generally lead to a set of systematic biases or inaccuracies in processing information. And, unless they are held accountable for their decision-making strategies, they tend to find the easy way out – either by not engaging in very careful thinking or by modeling their choices on the preferences of those who will be evaluating them.

Especially that last sentence is a problem I think. Not only in judging creativity by the way. When people make decision upon what they think someone else will probably think of it instead of what they think themselves sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. There’s a clear link with management style there as well. How much do you empower your own people? It seems that to enable creativity you need to do that.

Instead of issuing directives and policy statements and hoping that they will be obeyed, innovative firms must encourage disobedience. In fact, those in power should go so far as to encourage active opposition. Innovative organizations are those that harbor multiple perspectives and objectives, not simply a variety of views.

Last but not least, it’s also why creativity takes courage – dixit Henri Matisse. Definitely an interesting read, be sure to check the full article.

The “Basket of Remotes” Problem

Jean-Louis Gassée brought up an interesting challenge or issue with regards to the current hype around the Internet of Things:

It’s actually a very simple thought when you come to think of it but one that I thought is very true and relevant. Because indeed, the idea of all these connected devices in your home that need to be ‘operated’ via some kind of remote is all great but knowing that we haven’t been able to fix this for television in the last 50 years is something to think about.

“Indeed, so-called “smart” TVs are unable to provide a machine-readable description of the commands they understand (an XML file, also readable by a human, would do). We can’t stand in front of a TV with a “fresh” universal remote – or a smartphone app – touch the Learn button and have the TV wirelessly ship the list of commands it understands…and so on to the next appliance, security system or, if you insist, fridge and toaster. If an appliance would yield its control and reporting data, an app developer could build a “control center” that would summarize and manage your networked devices. But in the Consumer IoT world, we’re still very far from this desirable state of affairs. A TV can’t even tell a smartphone app if it’s on, what channel it’s tuned to, or which devices is feeding it content. For programmable remotes, it’s easy to get lost as too many TVs don’t even know a command such as Input 2, they only know Next Input. If a human changes the input by walking to the device and pushing a button, the remote is lost. (To say nothing of TVs that don’t have separate On and Off commands, only an On/Off toggle, with the danger of getting out of sync – and no way for the TV to talk back and describe its state…)”

We’re clearly not there yet. I wonder if it isn’t because both hardware and software manufacturers are increasingly investing in their own controlled and often closed ecosystems which implicates that little to no enterprises will be interested in opening up to this idea of 2-way thinking.

And also the idea that the phone will be the one and only device to rule everything in the future is an idea which I doubt will be realistic in the near future as I’ve written before.

Does technology generate more talk, less conversation?

There’s an interesting article in The Atlantic based on an interview with the publication and Sherry Turkle, a psychologist and a professor at MIT. She recently released the book Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other in which she argues that we are losing the art of conversation:

“Conversations, as they tend to play out in person, are messy—full of pauses and interruptions and topic changes and assorted awkwardness. But the messiness is what allows for true exchange. It gives participants the time—and, just as important, the permission—to think and react and glean insights. “You can’t always tell, in a conversation, when the interesting bit is going to come,” Turkle says. “It’s like dancing: slow, slow, quick-quick, slow. You know? It seems boring, but all of a sudden there’s something, and whoa.” Occasional dullness, in other words, is to be not only expected, but celebrated. Some of the best parts of conversation are, as Turkle puts it, “the boring bits.” In software terms, they’re features rather than bugs. The logic of conversation as it plays out across the Internet, however—the into-the-ether observations and the never-ending feeds and the many, many selfies—is fundamentally different, favoring showmanship over exchange, flows over ebbs. The Internet is always on. And it’s always judging you, watching you, goading you. “That’s not conversation,” Turkle says. She wants us to reclaim the permission to be, when we want and need to be, dull.”

I like the idea of the occasional dullness. The idea that breaks or gaps in a conversation is actually help drive the conversation. Check out the whole article.

Happy Xmas. Coca-Cola billboard offers free gift wrapping paper while shopping

Here’s some new work from our agency. These specially crafted billboards are the ideal way for Coca-Cola to help you celebrate Christmas.

“As the brand that stands for “Open Happiness”, Coca-Cola believes there’s no better time to open happiness than with Christmas. But to open happiness… you need to wrap it first. That’s why we created a billboard made entirely of wrapping paper, allowing people passing by to tear off a piece of paper to wrap their presents.  The iconic line “open happiness” is printed on this specially crafted wrapping paper, because nothing says it more like a present waiting to be opened.”

Enjoy!

Creativity is everyone’s responsibility

Coca-Cola’s Jonathan Mildenhall, responsible for global advertising strategy & content excellence, has his part in making sure Coca-Cola became the Cannes Advertiser of the year in 2013. His Content 2020 manifest (part 1 | part 2) which was shared at the Cannes Lions a few years ago inspired more than just the marketers at the Coca-Cola company. He has proven that creativity and commercial success go hand in hand, but also states that creativity belongs to all of us as you can read in this interesting interview:

The key to Coca-Cola’s change, says Mildenhall, was understanding that creativity is everyone’s responsibility and remit, individually and inside the organisation. “To change, Coke had to take creativity in the widest sense back from the agencies. It couldn’t belong only to the hairy elites of agency creative departments.”

In the same interview Mildenhall defines how he thinks of creative leadership, sharing his 9 principles on the topic:

  1. Creative directors are the soul of the company or brand they lead
  2. They amplify the creativity in everyone they work with
  3. They distort reality and make the impossible seem possible
  4. They are relentlessly optimistic, exuding positive, infectious energy
  5. They create a culture of curiosity, never stop asking or learning, and have the best questions
  6. They establish trust, honesty and belief by giving away credit
  7. They make unpopular calls to do the right thing by the work
  8. They inspire risk
  9. They celebrate success and failure.

Read the whole interview on marketingmagazine.co.uk or follow him on Twitter on @mildenhall.

Dare to say ‘focus on the consumer’ one more time

[Rant alert] Seriously. I’ve had it with this gratuitous expression. I get it, we all get it by now don’t we? There’s no reason for every presentation to feature a slide with this so called knowledge and then someone in the audience will tweet it and it’ll definitely generate a few retweets. And every time I can’t help thinking: why?

It’s not like I don’t agree, but isn’t that just the most obvious thing to say? That’s hardly rocket science is it. I find it even obnoxious if you are running a business or in charge of marketing that wouldn’t be the case by default. How do you believe you are ever going to win in business if you’re decisions are all based on everything but the consumer. And how do you deal with your marketing when the consumer is not present in how you build out your plans? Seriously. The fact that there are still so many people that ‘see the light’ when someone tells them they should focus on the consumer is beyond anything I can understand.

And – like I’ve written before – I don’t see how it changes how companies operate. Credit where credit is due, you see some companies transform, but since we can all maybe name just only a few I guess that proves they are still exceptions to the rule. Companies don’t all of a sudden focus on the consumer, they couldn’t even if they wanted to. In many cases they have little to no view on who those consumers really are. And then I don’t mean 18-55 year old women or millenials because those descriptions do more to prove my point than than anything else. Even in the age of ‘big data’ most brands don’t have too much of an idea about their consumer base, let’s just be honest about it. And how can you focus on someone if you don’t even know who that someone is?

So stop saying, start acting.
Please.

How to make the mobile phone a social object again?

I did a talk about mobile in marketing at the Mobile Convention Brussels today. It’s not the first time I write about social objects or social currency on this blog, but in the case of mobile the device itself is in essence a social object. It allows us to connect with people, remember Nokia’s claim? And going from Dumbphone to Feature Phone to Smartphone (and yes I like these retronyms) the connections have multiplied. More tech, more possibilities and more people to connect to. Fantastic.

But at the same time we disconnect with the people in front of us. Research shows that already 10% of all Smartphone users feel the urge to check their phone every 5 minutes (!) and in another study 33% of parents admit that their phone and/or tablet was a sore point with kids. And yes I think we all recognize the images I used on slide 7. It’s no wonder the term ‘phubbing‘ was invented: the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention. Rings a bell?

Maybe Einstein was right:

“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”

So the mobile phone is a social object. Literally because it allows us to connect with people around the world. And it isn’t a social object, thinking about the definition we use for that in the conversation economy because it doesn’t trigger conversations, on the contrary. So there’s an opportunity in marketing to make the mobile phone a real social object, to use it to trigger conversation. To use it in a way it’s not the object itself that matters but the conversations around it.

Like we tried to do with “Reborn Apps”, the campaign for organ donation that won a gold Cannes Lions at this year’s festival.

Or also with older cases like “A Blind Call” or “Baby Connection“. These projects are not only there for conversion (which is also an objective of course) but are created mainly to kickstart conversations.

A few things to keep in mind when you want to use mobile to create social objects:

  1. Digital is not about technology. There’s little technology involved in the case of Reborn Apps for instance, it’s not by focusing on the tech that you will find the great ideas. And sometimes technology can spur fantastic ideas obviously and also that can be a good briefing, but in general it’s not where you start to find the answer to your problems.
  2. Context is key. Also here way too often that is immediately translated into technology, into things such as responsive design for instance in which responsive is just a way of saying how the design adapts to ‘every’ screen. I think that’s limiting ourselves, context is about which device, when, for what purpose, by whom, … and responsive design should be about a way of designing experiences that keep all of that into account.
  3. Find a unique (provocative) insight. I’m planning on doing a separate write down on the ‘provocative insight’ and how we defined that at Duval Guillaume Modem. The important thing to remember is that you need an insight that has a bit more edge to it, that people have an opinion on if you want it to generate those kind of creative ideas that will provoke conversations.
  4. Tap into real human emotions. It’s what makes it situations, projects, products, advertising, … recognisable. You can image yourself into a certain situation, you can immediately see how something like that could also happen to you. It makes it all so much more powerful.
  5. Make it irreverent. Challenge the status quo. Don’t accept things to be like everyone says they should be, don’t take things too seriously, think the opposite. When everybody zigs, zag.

Note: http://www.stopphubbing.com is on its own also a social object, the verb phubbing was created by McCann Melbourne (yes the guys from ‘Dumb Ways to Die‘) as a campaign for a dictionary. Great job from my buddy John Mescall and his team!

Sweetie: the 10 year old pedophile hunter

Alright. There’s not much I will say about this, you just have to watch the video. In short, the organisation Terre Des Hommes that fights child exploitation, created a robot that looks like a 10 year old child. This robot, called Sweetie, is operated from Amsterdam and once online engages in chats with pedophiles. Apparently when you go online on popular chat services with the profile of a 10 year old Philippine you attract these sex offenders within seconds so that’s what Sweetie’s for. And since they all ask to put on the webcam, Sweetie activates that webcam without any hesitation… and while the conversation lasts, the specialists in Amsterdam get photo & video evidence of the offenders and they try to find all information that helps identify these men. And it works: 1.000 pedophiles identified in merely 2 months. I don’t say this often but this is just amazing! Watch. And don’t forget to sign the petition.