Monthly Archives: June 2011
Creativity: what is it, who has it, and how can we get more? | In which the lessons of Sir Ken Robinson have a particular resonance for advertising “suits.”
This is the most popular phone in the world | TED comes to Cannes, and we learn that the iPhone is not the be-all and end-all – and sometimes it’s good to unplug.
West Wing’s Aaron Sorkin and The Wire’s David Simon on the new golden age of TV | In which two geniuses tell us that they hate social networking (also what TV shows they love right now).
Women hold up half the sky (but only 3% of adland’s top creative roles) | Half our readers rolled their eyes at this, the other half talked about it nonstop with all their friends. Which side are you on? (Hint: women and men were distributed evenly either way.)
Why coming first does not always mean winning | Brilliant Malcolm Gladwell on innovation.
“What matters is the work”: 25 lessons for creatives in Patti Smith’s ‘Just Kids’ | This post is about 0.0001% as amazing as Patti’s book, and 0.00000001% as amazing as her in person – and that’s saying a lot, because the post is very good.
Thank you to everyone who visited our NEXTNESS at Cannes website during the week to keep up with what was inspiring us!
“The problem is,” the politician said, “you can’t define creativity.”
“No,” Sir Ken replied, “I think the problem is you can’t.”
What is creativity?
Sir Ken’s definition is simple: Creativity is a process to have original ideas that have value.
- Process is important because having a thought or inspiration on its own without doing anything with it is useless. It also reflects the learning process that is inherent in creative work: that a 5 year old’s scrawl should not be seen as less creative than the Sistine Chapel, Sir Ken said.
- Original, as in fresh thinking or seeing something in a new way, rather than rehashing what’s gone before.
- And value. That is, to think up or make something that makes a difference, makes the world better, or causes a reaction – whether it’s changing a mood or a mind.
Innovation, Sir Ken says, is applied creativity: putting good ideas into practise.
Who is creative?
Many people have had it almost bashed out of them by school (Sir Ken’s must-watch TED Talk is all about this), by businesses who suppress it, and by finding themselves in the wrong job.
But everyone can be creative.
In advertising, Sir Ken said, we are divided into “creatives” and “suits,” which is a flawed model.
“I don’t mean to say creatives are not creative, because they are – but so is everyone.”
In fact, Sir Ken began his speech saying human beings’ most special characteristic, and the root of our creativity, was the ability to imagine. It made us think:
- What could be more creative than to visualise a chain of events that could see your project or pitch burn out in flames (client upset, deadlines missed, flawed brief) or be a success? Suits do this every day.
- What could be more imaginative than to empathise so closely with a client’s fears and hopes that you can sell him or her something he’s scared of, or surprise and delight him? Enter the suit.
- Who conducts the differing strands of an idea and the people who make it happen like a conductor leading an orchestra? The suit.
In Ogilvy and Mather’s masterclass yesterday on what it takes to be a brilliant suit, Graham Fink (Chief Creative Officer of Ogilvy & Mather China) said the term “suit” had become “hollow and derogatory.”
He urged us to think of a new term for suit, or reclaim it. Perhaps we should. Perhaps though what we need is for everyone to let go of all labels. “Creatives.” “Suits.” “Strategists.” “Technologists.” The best, most brilliant and loved campaigns at Cannes Lions this year and last have been a complex, interdisciplinary mix that defy these outmoded silos.
We are all suits now, and strategists; we must learn to be technologists, and – as Sir Ken says – we are certainly all creative.
How do you become more creative?
1. Find your element.
Finding your passion and working in your “element” is Sir Ken’s other great area of expertise. Today, he said:
Very many people don’t much enjoy what they do. They get through the week and wait for the weekend. But some people say of their job, “this is who I am, this is me.” If you’re in your element, you love it. Discover the things you love to do, as well as what you are good at doing. Your energy changes. Life in the end is energy. If you’re doing something you love you get energy from it, if you don’t, it takes energy from you.
He reminded us of Thoreau: “Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows.” Find your passion, and it will give you energy – the creativity flows from there.
Go beyond “inspiration.”
Sir Ken quoted artist Chuck Close:
The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself… Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.
If you begin, ideas will start flowing. Practise, practise and you will get better with it.
It’s about attitude.
A lot of people who are successful say they’ve been very lucky. Luck is very ambiguous – when people succeed, in my experience, it’s because they have self confidence, persistence, and overcome obstacles.
Go out of your way to create the opportunities you need.
Sir Ken’s seminar today was hosted by Ogilvy & Mather’s Tham Khai Meng. It was the launch of the Ogilvy & Inspire Series, which will become an annual conversation on the nature of inspiration and creative work – and it was on a very special day. Today would have been the 100th birthday of David Ogilvy: cook, oven salesman, creative genius and empire-builder. To celebrate, play with this, tweet using the hashtag #DO100, or peruse some of the great man’s favourite sayings. Happy birthday David Ogilvy!
Over the past few years, TED’s mission to generate “ideas worth spreading” has made the invite-only forum one of the hottest tickets in town for innovators of all industries. Fortunately, all their talks are available on their site, YouTube and as pod/vodcasts on iTunes, so you need never miss out on brilliant talks like this, this or this. TED put on a mini-event on Day Two of Cannes Lions around the theme of connectivity; as usual, it was thought provoking.
1. Keeping your smartphone in perspective.
First off, can you guess what the most popular phone in the world is? It’s that ugly clunker above, the Nokia 1100 - the phone you probably had, if you had it at all, back in 2003. It doesn’t have internet, GPS or music. But it does have SMS. That, said internet and mobile industry veteren Bill Barhydt, makes it a powerful tool -- and an accessible one. Of the 6.9 billion people in the world, only a fraction have internet. But 4.5 billion have SMS.
Bill’s examples of the power of SMS:
- Mission 4636. Set up within days of the Haiti earthquake disaster to coordinate rescue/help/family meet up via text.
- Esoko, “the market on your mobile.” Farmers get access to market prices; find buyers and sellers. It’s now available in 9 countries in Africa
- Safaricom. Mobile money system in Kenya. As well as selling mobile top up, they act as a mobile bank with banking via text message, called…
- M-Pesa. 12 million participants in Kenya, 55% of adult population uses “mobile money.” 29% of Kenya’s GDP flowing through M-Pesa.
- Afghan police. Paid by mobile phone. Skimming of their salaries by corrupt authorities stopped. Now less police defect to the Taliban, who used to be able to pay higher salaries.
- Boom. Global bank account, 100% text message based, ideal for migrant workers.
- Dr Math tutorials. Teaching kids maths remotely.
- BBC Janala. English language tuition via mobile phone using bbcjanala.com.
Until the costs come down on broadband, Bill concluded, “the most powerful social network is the SMS on your mobile phone.” It was an important reminder for the 700+ conference attendees glued to their iPhones to live-tweet his talk.
2. You don’t need to be constantly plugged in.
English writer @TomChatfield started with a horrific slide showing we spend an average of more than 10 hours a day multitasking on a series of devices. We have reached “a moment of transition,” he said. Constant emails, social networking and attention can feel oppressive, habit forming, and addictive. Not to mention make us stupider.
There are two different ways of being in the world, he argued, plugged in, and not plugged in. Unfortunately, “plugged in” was our default state. Both have their virtues:
Virtues of being plugged in. “God like capabilities.”
- Hive mind
Virtues of being unplugged. “Hear the thoughts in your own head.”
The problem is, Chatfield argued, all the virtues of one damage the other. “Stop worrying and start asserting,” he argued passionately, saying we should claim half the day to be plugged in, and half a day to be free. “Connection means nothing without control.”
3. Let the power of stories carry you away.
The last TED@Cannes speaker was actually a performer: 22 year old Sarah Kay is a spoken word poet, and co-directs Project V.O.I.C.E. to encourage people, particularly teenagers, to use spoken word as a tool for understanding the world, themselves, and as a medium for artistic and personal expression.
There is nothing to say about this talk except that it swept the audience away. Here is her previous TED performance. Watch it.
TV cameras and filming were banned from this morning’s Cannes Lions session run by Time Warner, Thinking Inside The Box [The Golden Age of TV. Everywhere.] But it had two of the most interesting guests of the festival, writers Aaron Sorkin and David Simon. So here, as accurately as possible, are the key points from two geniuses at the top of their game. (Interestingly, they had never met before today!)
Former playwright, writer of shows like The West Wing, Studio 60, and movies A Few Good Men and The Social Network. A clip from his fast-paced work of great depth:
On the golden age of television.
The best theatre in America is on television. It’s a self fulfilling thing: the best artists, the best writers, directors and actors are coming from theatre and movies and they’re doing television. We’re beginning to overcome the passive relationship that the audience had with television -- no longer background music, something to have on while you do something else. With these complex stories, you can’t be on the phone, flipping through a magazine or putting the kids to bed. You have to watch, and pay attention. It’s great for television and it’s great, actually, for advertisers.
On writing about politics.
Politics is a treasure trove of great stories, stories that I like to tell. I find arguments entertaining. Growing up the son of a lawyer and school teacher, I grew up with great arguments, always asking “did you think about it this way?” “What about that?” I like writing romantically and realistically. Combine realism and idealism and wish-fulfilment, you can really lift things up.
On social networking.
We’re both [Sorkin and Simon] this side of being a luddite. I know Twitter can be interesting -- the night we got Bin Laden, the president came on TV about 11.30, but we all knew that this was happening because of social media. I have a lot of opinions on social media that make me sound like a grumpy old man sitting on the porch yelling at kids. I was on Facebook while I was writing the movie but not anymore.
I actually love ads, and I’m not alone- lots of my screenwriting and film friends say ‘gee I wish I could create a 30 second spot.’ It’s not for the money; it’s because it’s a real art. The pilot of the West Wing didn’t test well out of the box in 1999, but then they ran a different test. It tested incredibly well among viewers with high income, good education, NYT readers and people with home internet access. That meant we were able to get a high return from advertising. About half of our advertising were dot com companies. Because they knew our audience, they knew they had to make high end spots, which pleased us and it fit with our show.
What shows he likes now.
‘Parks and Recreation;’ ‘The Office.’
David Simon, is a Baltimore-based journalist, author and television producer. His most famous work is on The Wire. A clip from the hard-hitting show:
On how TV is changing.
TV is no longer an appointment, it’s a lending library. We didn’t anticipate this, but it serves the idea of a complicated story. The audience are not going miss an episode -- they’re going to acquire the story in their own pace.
On his hard-hitting and complex show, The Wire.
My interest is not in entertaining. I came from a journalism background, so my interest is in having a dialectic, an argument about what’s going on. I want it to result in something, not just entertain. Watching ‘The West Wing,’ I always felt there was something there about problems we had, and what we can do about it.
On social networking.
I came from newspapers, and when I got into journalism the premise was that newspapers would have to be more sophisticated like magazines -- cover more, and with greater sophistication compared with TV. But now I have seen news go to the extreme of immediacy -- 24 hour cable, Twitter. I can find out everything faster, as a headline. But there’s no depth. Life is complicated. You need to able to explain complexity.
What shows he likes now.
He forgot its name, but ‘Game of Thrones.’
Our industry loves metrics. So here are some stark ones: women hold 3% of top creative roles in the global ad industry. In Cannes Lions this year there are 13 “juries” judging the world’s best creative work. Only one is headed by a woman. The women you can see above are the only female jurists: less than 50, they are 10% of the total.
At the same time, women are responsible for or influence 80% of all purchases, and as such are the bread and butter of our industry. It’s not just puzzling and potentially unfair for women to not be elevated to advertising’s top roles – it’s also a business risk.
On the stage in Cannes today five high achieving women discussed the state of play. Gail Heimann summarised it best. “These are dire statistics. People create NGOs to fight against things like this.”
Is there a glass ceiling in adland?
Initially, none of the panellists were keen to flat out state that a glass ceiling existed. First up, businesswoman Martha Stewart. “I never knew what a glass ceiling was,” Martha said. “It didn’t occur to me to think ‘is this a man’s job, is this woman’s job’ – it was just a job. I’ve always concentrated on doing the job at hand.”
But aged 16, she went to a “go see” for a modelling job in Madison Avenue. The models were asked to parade in a bikini for a team of male ad agency staff. “Is the ad actually in a bikini?” young Martha was the only one to ask. “No, but we thought we would look at you in a bikini anyway,” she was told.
On stage today, Martha rolled her eyes. “[Mad Men creator] Matthew Weiner is missing out. The truth and reality of Madison Avenue was much worse than his program on television,” she said.
Next, Carol Lam (Chief Creative Officer of McCann Erickson Shanghai) spoke about her career as a creative woman based first in Hong Kong then China. “The glass ceiling does not exist. The first time I heard about the concept of boys club it all seemed very strange. I asked myself, why had I not been discriminated against? Am I just complacent?”
But she realised that China is a new market, having embraced capitalism for only 25 years, so the industry’s main problem is a shortage of talent. “Boys clubs don’t have time to be formed yet. We’re the lucky ones. I feel like I’m not competing with a man, I’m competing with my peers,” she said.
No-nonsense Weber Shandwick Vice Chair Gail Heimann, however, was clear about barriers to women in our profession. “The walls might now be semi-permeable, but they are still walls.”
Why the disparity?
The barriers to women getting to top creative roles could be because “the creative thing is gestalt, very appealing and exciting and highly-testorone driven. It’s all about swagger, a testosterone-driven swagger that women don’t come by naturally,” Heimann suggested.
But the panel also considered the fact that women might be opting out of top jobs. “Many men would not think of putting their foot down like a woman and saying ‘I must go home’ when there was work to be done,” Martha Stewart said.
Gail Heimann agreed. Work life balance is not getting home at 5pm every day – it might be “weekly, monthly, annualised” balance: sometimes work would get all of you, sometimes, hopefully, it wouldn’t.
Carol Lam spoke insightfully about the drains of high-octane work on creative people, both men and women.
We all talk about work life balance, regardless of gender, especially in the creative industry. It is a very emotionally and physically demanding job. If you are committed to a good creative output, you can’t delegate. When you are good, everyone wants a part of you – it makes your life even more hard to manage. Women opt out not because they feel sidelined. But because they feel too wanted. There are too many demands. Being a creative person, successful, wanted, needed, you find yourself asking, what the hell am I doing? It is part of the nature of a creative person to feel the need for self-actualisation.
In other words, truly creative people are conflicted: they feel the need to be creative in their own time and space, to create art perhaps, rather than ads. This is another reason why they “opt out.”
How women can succeed.
Heimann’s route to the top was to be courageous. “I threw out ideas, I defiantly threw out ideas, and that courage and defiance took me out of the boiler room and to where I am now.”
Kimberly Kadlec, (Johnson & Johnson’s Worldwide VP of their Global Marketing Group) said mentors have helped her through every stage of her career, and not just female ones:
Many of my best mentors have been male. They’re wired differently, they play by different rules, and you need to learn to play by them too. Be very clear about what you want, verbalise it to people who can help you get it. You have a really good chance of getting it if someone knows about it.
Martha Stewart said young women should look on the fact that only 3% of their creative sisters reach the upper echelons as an opportunity:
Every young woman with a creative bent should look at this number and say “that’s where I should be” – women buy the kitchens, buy the cars, write the checks. Who better to create the ads and draw women in than women?
But would Martha Stewart, as a client, insist on her agencies giving her a diverse team? No, she told the audience. She wants the best team, men or women, not the fairest one. The other client on the panel, Kimberly Kadlec, agreed. “Enforcing it does not lead to lasting change. You need to change the mindset.”
What is to be done?
Just as no-one on the panel could offer a firm solution to this problem, I have none with which to end this article. But I personally do have two small suggestions.
- The image above is of the women sitting on the Cannes judging panel this year, a small fraction of the total jurors. Only one is a president.
- Farrah Bostic, NY-based strategist, has compiled a list of the major industry awards and worked out the ratio of male to female jurors and speakers. It’s not pretty.
- Likewise, the stage of Cannes Lions is filled, overwhelmingly and every day, with men. To solve what she calls the “too many white men” problem, Farrah Bostic has compiled a list of outstanding creative and strategic women leaders and entrepreneurs to invite to your next global conference.
- In Australia, Leslie Cannold, Jane Caro and Catherine Deveny have started No Chicks, No Excuses, a list of expert women for every event.
- If you’re a man and invited to speak at a conference, consider insisting on a fair and diverse panel.
Boost your awareness.
As communications professionals, trend watching is part of our job. There are noticeable rumblings in blog land. Women’s issues are back on the agenda (even among younger women traditionally pigeon-holed as apathetic or “post-feminist”) and the power of the internet helps them spread like wild-fire.
Three good sites to keep track of so you don’t get left behind:
This blog post is the personal opinion of Jessica Stanley, Strategy Director at Lawrence and Editor of Nextness. Jessica (@dailydoseofjess) blogs at Something Changed. Her last articles on Nextness were Why we love the internet and What matters is the work: 25 lessons for creatives in Patti Smith’s ‘Just Kids.’
Malcolm Gladwell’s job applications were turned down by 14 advertising agencies in his native Canada. Lucky, because since then he’s busied himself with The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, and – today – the best talk so far at Cannes Lions.
Here’s Malcolm’s talk, recreated from notes in as close to his own words as possible.
Should we care about being first or not? In our culture, all the glory goes to the person who’s first: in science, the person who discovers something first gets the Nobel Prize; in business, the patent; and I just read Keith Richards’ autobiography so I know that coming first in rock and roll means you get to sleep with thousands of girls.
But we don’t need to be first. We need to be third.
Consider the case of the 1982 Bekaa Valley fight between Syria and Israel. The PLO had moved into Southern Lebanon and made Israel nervous; Syria moved into the Bekaa Valley and put missiles near Israel’s border. Israel attacked the Syrian Army in what was known as the Bekaa Valley turkey shoot, knocking out 17 out of the 19 surface to air missiles and shooting down 39 Syrian planes on the first day alone. The next day, they took out another missile and 27 more planes.
The lopsided military engagement continued: the Israelis made brilliant use of drones to take perfect photos of what they wanted to attack. They made use of the most modern airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft to orchestrate the most complicated mixture of planes, overwhelming the Syrians so much they were almost too scared to fire their guns. And they used precision guided missiles. Back in Vietnam, these missiles hadn’t been accurate, but the Israelis were using missiles that were 90% accurate, which is why they could shoot down a total of 87 Syrian planes with a loss to their own forces of only three.
A crushing advantage over their competitors, an astounding victory – one that everyone would look at and say “that’s what we want to be.”
But Israel were not the inventors of a single thing they used in the 1982 war.
The Soviets laid out the future of Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) in the 1970s with brilliant long term thinking. All the technology was actually American, developed during Vietnam. The Israelis weren’t first. They were third.
You can see why the Soviets, the US and Israel all did what they did by looking closely at their culture.
The Soviets had a centralised, bureaucratic and intellectualised military, basically a thinktank given time to ponder deeply the future of war. Russian culture values holistic thinking, and values the person who takes time to step back and think and this is what they did.
The US has a highly decentralised military – Marines, Air Force, Navy, Army all with different HQs and leadership who don’t talk; all with ties to the highly innovative private sector. It makes perfect sense that Americans would be best at coming up with new gadgets.
The Israelis’ previous military experience was the 1973 Yom Kippur War, where they experienced a huge first day loss due to surface to air missiles fired at them by Egypt. It devastated the strategic advantage of their air force, and they scoured the earth for the answer to this problem so it never happened again. Russia’s thinking, America’s weapons and technology. They put these things together in a brilliant way, and that’s how you get the Bekaa Valley turkey shoot.
Russia and the US show us that being good at one thing means you are necessarily bad at another. Russia can’t innovate because they are centralised and slow. The US is decentralised and innovates brilliantly in partnership with the private sector, but can’t tie it all together because it’s so decentralised.
The thing that made them the best at one thing is what made it impossible to do it properly. It imposes a cost on first.
Xerox PARC was a beautiful modernist building, filled with a huge staff of geniuses, staff with high salaries given the task to “imagine the future of the office.” They came up with laser printing, Ethernet, the modern personal computer, and the graphical user interface (GUI).
One day they were visited by a 24 year old from down the road in Cupertino: a young man called Steve Jobs. “What’s this?” he asked. “That’s a mouse.” “What’s this?” “That’s an icon.” At that time to use a computer you had to type in and execute a complex command. The GUI and the mouse changed all that. Steve Jobs started jumping up and down with excitement. “Why haven’t you done anything with this?” he cried, and ran back to Cupertino where his engineers were working on the Lisa. “Stop everything, we’re using a graphical user interface. I want a mouse!” And that was how the Macintosh was born, the breakthrough that has launched Apple on its trajectory ever since.
Xerox built the culture for innovation: time, money, palatial quarters. But they capitalised on none of it.
A culture of invention is not optimised for implementation.
Apple are always late to the party – late to the mp3 player, late to the smartphone, late to the tablet. This is a man who has made a business out of being late… The people who make all the money come along second or third, not first.
What are the reasons behind this paradox?
- It’s a lot easier to figure out technical solutions that what customers want. Xerox thought the computer was an office application, like their Xerox copiers that cost $400,000. It was not a stupid assumption. We did not know what the computer was for in 1970, least of all consumers. It took a few years to realise its consumer potential. Who gets the value of hindsight, or the learning curve? Steve Jobs.
- Mass strategy versus elite strategy. Why did the industrial revolution happen in England? England has some notable inventors but their real advantage lies in tweakers and innovators. Steam engines are measured in “duty,” or how much steam you get from the coal. Watt’s great achievement was to double a steam engine’s “duty.” Years later, tweakers incrementally improve it. They’re not geniuses. There are no statues of them in St Paul’s Cathedral. There were thousands of them in their garages and workshops, sharing ideas informally. They took a promising technology and transformed it into a transformational one. The person who was first gets all the glory; the value is extracted by the tweakers.
- Material circumstances. When it came to revolutionary military strategy, the two pioneers (Soviets and the USA) were rich with endless resources. The luxury to sit and think deeply. Billions of dollars for technology with no constraints. What about Isreal? they were incredibly constrained – not rich, and no time to to waste. They had just got their butts kicked in the Yom Kippur war. Yet they’re the ones who show how all these pieces fit together.
The National Cancer Institute cured four types of cancer that were thought to be incurable. They had no money. They took existing drugs and tweaked them. They were desperate, so they were forced to be creative and improvisational.
It is a lesson we’ve forgotten.
In the glory of being first, we have thrown resources at problems that might benefit from less, focused on a small about of geniuses when maybe what we need is tweakers and been in a hurry when we should be slow.
Maybe we don’t want to be the US. Maybe we want to be Israel.