To be human is to copy

Interesting take on innovation and originality on aeon.com:

“… according to a cluster of like-minded researchers, we’ve misunderstood how innovation really works. Throughout human history, innovation – including the technological progress we cherish – has been fuelled and sustained by imitation. Copying is the mighty force that has allowed the human race to move from stone knives to remote-guided drones, from digging sticks to crops that manufacture their own pesticides. Plenty of animals can innovate, but no other species on earth can imitate with the skill and accuracy of a human being. We’re natural-born rip-off artists. To be human is to copy.”

 

How to persuade clients to take creative risks?

Pat Fallon shares his thoughts on how to get your clients to take creative risks:

“Taking risks is part of our business. One key to persuading clients to take a risk is tightly aligning strategy with the creative approach. Although some observers think advertising comes down to crazy people sitting in a room brainstorming, strategy is the rigorous, behind-the-scenes part of our process—it’s driven by research and consumer insights, and it helps to precisely define what the company is trying to accomplish with a campaign, who the campaign is meant to reach, and why it’s going to trigger a specific response that drives sales. An idea that may seem risky during a presentation will look less so when it’s clear that we’ve thought it through. The client realizes, “These guys understand my business. They understand the flow of money. They are putting my success at the forefront of decisions.” That creates enough trust for the client to say, “OK, I’m going to hold my breath, hold my nose, and jump into the water with you.””

Read the full article right here.

It’s just an idea. Really?

A lot has been said about creativity and this sure won’t be the last thing written about it either. At the agency we often get a question to quickly think about something, quickly help on finding an idea for something small. We have the creatives right so can they not just help on that, it’s just an idea.

This brings up the most difficult and the easiest part of our job. We do have a group of really good creatives, really talented and all award winning creatives. So finding ideas is quite easy. For them. The thing that we forget here is that they are ‘trained’ creatives, they’ve lived their whole private & professional life to be good at what they are. So talking about finding ‘just an idea’ is as disrespectful to their talent is it would be to ask a baker to ‘just bake a cake’ or a tax consultant to ‘just find a way to avoid some more tax’. If that is your talent, if that is what you learned to do well then it deserves every bit of credit and isn’t just a small thing.

So it’s easy. For them. Then again it’s difficult. When you want to find ideas it’s important that you know where to go look for them. You need to figure out what is exactly the problem you’re trying to solve and how to develop the best possible ‘creative boulevard’. It needs to be right, relevant and inspiring enough for the creatives to start searching for ideas. Ideas that will answer the client’s needs, however big or small that need is.

So, if I may, I’m not a creative but please never ever again ask for ‘just an idea’ when you need talented creative people to solve one of your problems, big or small. Create value, value creative remember.

Are all great campaigns actually flawed or imperfect in some way?

BBH London Chairman Jim Carroll wrote an interesting piece about the ‘Creative Enemy N.1’. What is really the biggest enemy of realising creative ideas? Is it design by committee, pretesting, procurement, corporate culture, …? Jim believes that it’s actually your own intelligence. That all great communication is actually flawed in some way and that our intelligence is often used to take out all these flaws. It’s a little bit in line with what I wrote earlier this week about ‘The Ironic Effect’. Interesting stuff:

“I suspect Creative Enemy Number One is our own intelligence. It’s our own ability to identify shortcomings in ideas. Because smart, intelligent people can always find a reason not to proceed; and the smarter you are the greater will be your capacity to see problems, to cause complexity. Creative Enemy Number One may be looking at you in the mirror every morning.

When you think about it, ordinary work is actually the intelligent choice. Because ordinary work tends to translate the brief directly, it observes sector conventions, it uses familiar reference points. And, critically, it achieves low levels of misunderstanding or rejection in research. By contrast extraordinary work often cor- relates less directly with the brief, it breaks sector conventions and it uses unfamiliar reference points. Consequently, it often precipitates a certain amount of misunderstanding and rejection in research. Extraordinary work is ordinarily very easy to reject.

Inevitably, behind every great piece of communication you’ll find clients who were brave enough to see beyond the flaws; clients who could control the whispering voice of reason telling them “it’s good, but it’s flawed”, clients who were happy to stop making sense.

In nearly all aspects of business, intelligence represents a blessing, a competitive advantage. But in the judgement of creativity it can represent a curse, a competitive disadvantage. We must be mindful that there are always very sound reasons to reject great communications ideas. But the existence of a good reason to reject something doesn’t mean that you should. There is indeed a fine line between stupid and clever.

Image credit _DJ_

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.

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.

Creative Academy @ Golden Drum: Social Currency fuels Braveness & Creativity

Last week I was in Portorož (Slovenia) to give a presentation at 20th edition of the Golden Drum Awards. To this creative audience I wanted to show that the necessity of building social currency for brands calls for bravery and creativity and as such is a great opportunity for the business that we are in.

We know that we have a lot less control of what is being told about a brand today. In the world where we control messaging we need great storytelling, but that alone isn’t enough anymore. We also need to make sure we try to influence the part where we have no control: “giving people a story to tell to each other”. We believe it’s key for brands to do both.

Web_GoldenDrum

But too often today when you talk about influencing the uncontrolled part we end up quite immediately into social media content. When business discovered social media in 2005-2006 with blogging, it proved an interesting way to share opinion or backstages stories around a brand. In the better examples CEO’s would openly talk about their business once a week in a lengthy blogpost that would allow people to reply to. When LinkedIn but especially Facebook came along, more content (but smaller pieces) was needed for updates several times per week. And with Twitter brands are urged to posts several times a day. At the same time content became more visual, we all know (I hope) the importance of the visual web. This trend however has brands talk to us as we are all ignorant kids and to be honest, most ‘branded content’ is actually worse than the 30″ commercial that so many hate.

Managing the conversation is not the same as provoking the conversation. And we should have the tactical rules of social rule our decisions in developing content to provoke. We no only think you should provoke a conversation, it should result in a conversation worth remembering. As an example I give the campaign we created for ‘Stop The Traffik’. This campaign is approximately 2 years old and yet 1 month ago 2 million views were added to the video when Upworthy discovered it (again). And since the the conversation that came out of it is still as valid for the brand is it was at launch.

That brings us to social currency. You create that when you repeatedly created social objects. And as I’ve written before, with the social object, it’s not so much the object that is important as it is the conversations it triggered around it. My business card is a social object. Almost every time I hand it out people ask me what ‘Change Architect’ (my second role) means and by explaining that I already get a chance to explain why change is important for the agency and how that defines the work that we make.

So why then the necessity for bravery & creativity in building social currency? In my presentation I list 5 points:

  • Provocative insights
  • Surprise & entertain
  • Make it irreverent
  • Make it awesome
  • Let go

But remember, this is not a science so stay agile and adapt constantly while creating.

Photo credit Golden Drum

The big idea is dead. Long live the big idea

The big idea is dead. To quote Patricia McDonald in a recent Campaign article: “In recent years, the “big idea” has often seemed to epitomise everything wrong and backward-looking about our industry.” And that’s indeed true. In the traditional sense of a 360 campaign, the big idea was to be found in the 30″ commercial or a huge online activity and every other aspect of the campaign had to amplify that centre piece. The big idea was almost not much more than the ever so popular ‘key visual’, the one visual we can translate in all our media for one given campaign.

BigIdea360

It’s good that we most brands start to work differently these days. It’s good that brands start to understand that this idea of a 360 campaign all built around the one big idea isn’t the right way to operate. But as Patricia also highlights in her article, that doesn’t mean we should start thinking small. And therefore the big idea is still very much needed, only we think about something completely different today when talking about a big idea than when we talked about it a few years ago.

Today (and as a matter of fact we believe for the last few years already), that big idea is more of a central thought, a thought that allows you to develop a creative platform in which several small & big creative ideas can be found. It’s a thought that is based on a strong insight and for which the creatives feel the potential, a thought that offers a fertile ground to start creating. Because let’s be honest, ideas can be small and very beautiful or extremely big, bold and complex. But the overarching thought can only be big. It’s linked to the brand’s raison d’être, the link with the purpose and therefore the relevance of the brand in people’s lives.

Once this ‘big idea’ is defined, once we all agree on what that central thought or creative platform is that a brand needs, the quest for the ‘key visual’ becomes less important. It’ll help them understand for instance in the case of Nike that Nike+ as well as ‘Find your greatness’ can be part of the same campaign. In the olden days that would have been near to impossible since they would both feel like big ideas in the classic definition.

So maybe we shouldn’t be using the phrase ‘big idea’ anymore knowing that it has for long meant something else, something that we feel isn’t right anymore today. But whatever the phrase you come up with, let’s all agree that we shouldn’t start thinking small all of a sudden.

Image credit: Enver Atmaca

“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.