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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Sleepy, drunk, and away from your desk: how to be more creative.

by Nextness published April 30, 2012 posted in Creativity

Like a rolling stone | Bob Dylan
1965. Bob Dylan’s at the height of his fame. But he’s lost his love of music. He hurries to get offstage at the end of every night, ignores his fans and groupies and is surly to the press.

“I guess I was going to quit singing. I was very drained, and the way things were going, it was a very draggy situation,” he told Playboy. “It’s very tiring having other people tell you how much they dig you if you yourself don’t dig you.”

Completely burnt out, he moves to a small cabin in Woodstock New York, and doesn’t even take his guitar.

After a few days he feels a sudden sense of something to say. He picks up his pencil and out pours a twenty page torrent of “vomit,” a mish mash of diverse influences, different to anything he’s written before.

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
A complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

He raced back to Studio A at Columbia Records and recorded it within a week. The six minute song changed rock and roll.

Bob Dylan’s a genius, and writing Like a Rolling Stone is an archetypal “aha” moment of creativity at work: an insight delivered when you least expect it, and a sense of certainty that it’s the right way to go.

It’s also the first story in Jonah Lehrer’s new book Imagine: How Creativity Works. Lehrer says it was realising he was in a rut and fleeing to the cabin in the woods sans guitar that gave Dylan (and his brain) permission to relax and free associate.

In other words, when you’re tackling a complex problem that requires creative thinking, mainlining coffee and chaining yourself to your desk is precisely the wrong approach.

Why? As with everything to do with the human brain, the answer is complex.

The suddenness of the insight is preceded by a burst of brain activity. A small fold of tissue on the surface of the right hemisphere, the anterior superior temporal gyrus (aSTG), becomes unusually active in the second before the insight. Once the brain is sufficiently focused on the problem, the cortex needs to relax, to seek out the more remote association in the right hemisphere that will provide the insight.

In fact, by using an EEG, scientists can now predict up to 8 seconds in advance if a test subject is about to achieve a breakthrough. It all comes down to alpha waves. They emanate from the right hemisphere of the brain when its feeling relaxed.

It’s a scientific seal of approval for what we’ve always known: the best insights happen away from your desk and under a warm shower.

Also good when you’re in need of an epiphany? Being sleepy – or drunk. That’s when people’s minds “are drowsy and disorganized, humming with associations that they’d normally ignore. When we need an insight, of course, those stray associations are the source of the answer.”

“Creativity is the residue of time wasted,” Albert Einstein said. With degrees in both neuroscience and literature, Lehrer confidently straddles the disparate worlds of sciences and humanities. After surveying the available research for his book Imagine, one of Lehrer’s biggest tips for people trying to be more creative is to “make time to waste time.”

But unfortunately being relaxed is only half the battle when it comes to being genuinely innovative.

The other half is just plain hard work: the editing and refining of a blinding flash of inspiration into something of significance.

“All great artists and thinkers are great workers, indefatigable not only in inventing, but also in rejecting, sifting, transforming, ordering,” Lehrer says. Beethoven would often rework a musical phrase seventy times before settling on the right one.

What makes some creative geniuses more likely to succeed than others? Dylan, Picasso, Steve Jobs – all very smart, but their IQs weren’t stratospheric. They don’t share a common Myers Briggs profile or any obvious commonalities on personality tests.

What it comes down to, Lehrer says, is grit. The ability to keep working long after everyone else would have given up, to persist with an idea that others mock, to keep on going.

JK Rowling had the raw talent to write her manuscript in coffee shops while her baby daughter slept beside her. But without grit – the strength and resilience needed to get past multiple rejections until someone finally bought her first book – the world would never have met Harry Potter.

So success isn’t just about raw creativity, Lehrer says. It’s talent plus effort.

On the weekend, Lehrer presented his key takeouts from Imagine at a sermon for The School of Life. Afterwards, a man stood up and asked what neuroscience really added to the equation. Why do we need scientists to tell us what, by and large, we’ve known instinctively for many years?

Lehrer assured the audience that neuroscience, as far as he was concerned, was just a new language attempting to describe the complex processes of the brain and creativity. It’s not perfect. But it does come in handy. A scientific study is still more likely than an intuition or a Coleridge quote to convince your boss that daydreaming is work.

Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine: How Creativity Works is available now. Nextness recommends it as the ideal book to pick up at the airport next time you’re flying for work. For more Lehrer, listen to WNYC Radiolab; he’s a frequent and fascinating guest.


Linkness. What we’ve been reading | April 27, 2012

by Nextness published April 26, 2012 posted in Linkness

David Shrigley’s How Are You Feeling? is currently on a billboard in New York. Welcome to another edition of Linkness.

If you read just one thing.

  • To solve the world’s biggest problems, we need to become better translators | Zeus Jones





  • Understanding social media in China | McKinsey Quarterly
  • Alone together: the flight from conversation | NYTimes.com
  • A love letter to internet friends | À l’allure garçonnière
  • The insight value chain is broken | Pretty little head
  • Don’t fear the reaper: “No one wants to come to a place where their hard earned knowledge and experience means less, suddenly, than it did. But that’s progress.” | Meanjin


On Nextness this week.

STW Group news.



Why is no one commenting on our blog?

by Nextness published posted in Insights

There comes a time in every young blog’s life when you have to ask yourself, “why is no one commenting?”

We have hundreds and sometimes thousands (well, a thousand-ish) visitors every day here on Nextness yet our comments section remains almost virgin territory. It’s a puzzle.

For many bloggers, this is a private moment of soul searching. But for us it’s something we’ll do in public – to generously make other comment-less bloggers feel better about themselves… and to selfishly tap the wisdom of the crowd to help us raise our game.

Why do people comment on blogs?

  • In the spirit of simple exchange: A post has given them the commenter information. They write back to say thank you, ask for further information, or add some information of their own.
  • To engage in a complex, thoughtful exchange: A post has posited an opinion in a thoughtful manner. Commenters write back in the spirit of scholarship and brotherhood to help come to a conclusion. The comments, taken together, are often even more informative than the initial post, as occurred in Ben Malbon’s excellent post about innovation in agencies.
  • As a courtesy or common kindness: A post has moved them, been helpful in some way, or has clearly been a greater than usual effort for the poster to write, in terms of time or emotional effort.
  • To achieve connection: In a desire to reach out to a blogger who’s touched them in some way, a commenter shares their story or experience. Ideally, a closer bond results; the time honoured process of an Internet friendship begins: following each other on RSS, then Instagram/ Twitter, then FB, and then email, and then becoming friends, at first awkwardly and then excellently, in real life.

These first four reasons for commenting rely on two things: an investment of time from the blogger and the commenter, and a feeling of personalisation.

While we invest a lot of time in the blog, perhaps our readers don’t comment because most of them are very busy and successful (and good looking and funny) people, more likely to spend time writing their own blog or, indeed, doing great work than commenting on ours. And in terms of personalisation, we post, largely, as STW Group. I suppose it is hard to make a personal connection with a holding company. Even one with such a winning personality.

Next, we must look at the more strategic use of comments. How do people use comments to get something?

  • To ingratiate themselves with the writer: If a blogger is high profile and commands a great deal of traffic, or commands real life assets such as influence/connections/the ability to hand out jobs, commenters carefully craft good remarks in the hope that some of the blogger’s power will be directed their way.
  • To be funny or smart in front of others: Think of a Gawker commenter. They long for the LOLs and kudos of their clever, snarky peers.
  • To generate traffic for their own blog: This can be as odious as commenting “Great post” and pasting in a link to their blog. Or it can be as strategic as posting multiple comments over a long period until the blogger pays them enough attention to post about their blog or put them on their blogroll. That’s paydirt; traffic follows.
  • To be part of a community: If a community of commenters has grown up that rivals the blog in terms of fascination, commenters might simply use the blog to connect with like-minded souls. This is quite rare, but an example is The Hairpin.

Not sure why no-one is commenting to achieve these strategic aims with our blog. Don’t they know who we are???! And how amazing our readers are?!

Now we move into the darker end of the spectrum. The more sinister impulses that can inform commenting behaviours.

  • Loneliness, emotional void: A reader consumes a post at a time they feel hollow, angry, anxious or otherwise low; they respond by lashing out cruelly at the blogger or the topic with no real concern for the impact of their words on real people.
  • Massive outrage: A post has so offended them or knocked them out of sorts that they wish to take on the writer or chip in their point of view.

The thing about our blog is that one of our values is to not shock or upset people. We never criticise other people’s work, preferring to highlight the good from our company and others’. You won’t get linkbait here, just info and inspo (that’s short for inspiration, obviously).

Should we panic?

Now we’ve analysed why people comment, and made a few excuses, it’s time to get to the heart of the matter. Is the fact our comments section remains resolutely empty a problem?

Well, no.

The fact is, most people comment on Twitter, or post a link to our post on their own blog and continue the conversation there. It’s not that people don’t discuss our work. It’s just that they do so on their own terms and on their platform of choice. And even though we miss out on comments, we’re not missing out on others’ points of view. We’re getting them on their blogs and Twitters.

Comments are over, Clay Parker Jones says. Comments are dead, long live feedback, announced Bobby Solomon of The Fox is Black. Marco Arment says: Blogs with good comments do exist… but they’re unusual.

We say: we’d love to hear from you. It certainly would brighten our day and our stats reports. But we don’t need to.

All images in the post are from Screenshots of Despair.

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What is the New Aesthetic?

by Nextness published April 23, 2012 posted in Creativity

This is going to be one of those posts that will seem quaint when stumbled upon in Nextness archives in six months or a year.

It’s about something that started as an art movement, was given a name 6 months ago, discussed at SXSW 6 weeks ago, extensively analysed in Wired a fortnight  ago, and was broken down as a Gizmodo cheatsheet 6 days ago.

All the while, a Tumblr has been collecting material: a body of evidence showing that this phenomenon is a big deal. It’s called the New Aesthetic, and it’s a new way of seeing the world.

It’s about what happens when humans interact with machines, when reality meets technology, when the virtual and IRL collide.

“Every creative is always looking for a new aesthetic. And now there really is a New Aesthetic.” Damien Walter.

“One of the core themes of the New Aesthetic has been our collaboration with technology, whether that’s bots, digital cameras or satellites (and whether that collaboration is conscious or unconscious), and a useful visual shorthand for that collaboration has been glitchy and pixelated imagery, a way of seeing that seems to reveal a blurring between “the real” and “the digital”, the physical and the virtual, the human and the machine.” James Brindle.

“The world, the universe, confronts us every day with a vast complexity that we can not hope to understand. One purpose of mediated objects is to give us an edited and abbreviated version of that complexity which our very limited perceptions can comfortably grasp. Films and books that tell limited stories which we can understand. Fashion that makes the world coherent enough that we can adopt a role within it. Visual imagery with a finite grammar that remains somewhat familiar. The New Aesthetic are the mediated objects which in one way or another return us to the actual complexity of reality.” Damien Walter.

“Scarcely one of the real things in there would have made any sense to anyone in 1982, or even in 1992. People of those times would not have known what they were seeing with those New Aesthetic images. It’s the news, and it’s the truth.” Bruce Sterling.

“The New Aesthetic is a response against nostalgia. The internet, ironically, has allowed us to create a cut and paste culture from the trends of previous generations. As a result, there are very few aspects of our culture which are truly ours. Many of the New Aesthetic’s advocates hope that this new movement can change that.” Gizmodo.

“The New Aesthetic is one thing among a kind: it’s like early photography for French Impressionists, or like silent film for Russian Constructivists, or like abstract-dynamics for Italian Futurists. The New Aesthetic is image-processing for British media designers. That’s more or less what it is, and although it belongs to a small group of creatives right now, we have every reason to take it, and its prospects, seriously.” Bruce Sterling.

We don’t know where this is going but we know it’s something we have to pay attention to.

Here are some of the New Aesthetic’s spiritual leaders: James Brindle, who coined the term and maintains the New Aesthetic Tumblr; Joanne McNeil at Rhizome; Russell DaviesAaron Cope; Ben Terrett. See also: New Aesthetic fashion pinterest. All images in this post are taken from the New Aesthetic Tumblr, click each image to go to its source.


Linkness. What we’ve been reading | April 20, 2012

by Nextness published April 20, 2012 posted in Linkness

Stop Drop Roll | Indexed

Welcome to a new edition of Linkness: it’s what we found worth reading this week.

If you read just one thing.

  • The creative business problem: “the time when ideas had currency has long gone.” | 180360720


  • Six degrees of aggregation: how the Huffington Post ate the internet | CJR




  • Is 35 really the best age to be? | guardian.co.uk
  • Does trusting your gut make you unscientific? | New Scientist
  • 5 steps to activate your audience for action | Co.Exist
  • Inconspicuous consumption: A new theory of the leisure class | The Atlantic


On Nextness this week.

STW Group news.


On the mind of… Buchanan Group’s Suzanne Acteson.

by Nextness published April 17, 2012 posted in Insights

“On the mind of…” is a regular series where members of the STW Group family tell us what they’ve been wondering, thinking and dreaming about.  Today’s guest post is from Suzanne Acteson (@suzanneacteson). Suzanne’s the Oceania Managing Director of Buchanan Group, a new addition to STW and sentimental favourite for all Australians who grew up with the Brand Power lady (“helping you buy better!”) and Zoot Review (“ZOOT… REVIEW!”).

As I do with many of my own blogs, I often have 1-2 hours of travelling home to Melbourne spent on a plane, when even though I’m exhausted after a day of meetings I find a good creative head space to put a few thoughts down. So join me in my Plog (plane-blog) for today and blame any rambling on the altitude or the red wine…

My first art show.

My husband and I trekked off on a cultural excursion last May to the Melbourne Art Show to find a ‘piece’ to fill a big white wall in our house. We had few expectations (not art enthusiasts), but decided ahead of time to look into a few ‘up and comers’ as we’d read that art can be an investment and like the share market, you win some and lose some. We thought a young, RMIT grad would be a good bet. A clever, bold artist gave us instant appreciation for a career and discipline we’d never really given much notice. Rowena Martinich’s work added colour and life to our white wall.

Mobile technology makes me go to bed early.

I’m not sure if you’re like me (and my husband), but our world of iPhones and iPads has replaced the novel and newspaper at bedtime. In fact, once 8.30 or 9pm rolls around and Grand Designs finishes up, I’m racing up to bed to, well, read my phone. Sad, bad, way of the future?


I recently wrote an entry on my blog about one of my sources of inspiration which is my mum. Closely behind would follow another lady who most people don’t know. She wouldn’t fit the traditional bill of being a business entrepreneur, but she very well should. Gemma Sisia is an Australian who started a school in Tanzania for severely under-privileged kids and is now providing school and boarding for over 1500 students, some of whom will now graduate and be leaders in their country who never would have learned to read or write before Gemma came into their life. This social entrepreneurship isn’t concerned about profits because everything she earns feeds another mouth or teaches another mind. Now that’s an entrepreneur.

The love for “the lady in the supermarket.”

I’m always surprised at how iconic one of our own brands has really become. The stats that stare back at me everyday tell me our Brand Power brand has 99% awareness and drive sales like no other, but there’s nothing more powerful than seeing a live consumer moment like I did in the Virgin lounge today. Staring at the screen on the wall, a Brand Power ad comes on and the lady next to me says to her friend “I have to have that product, I love that Brand Power lady!” Many Aussies say the same, the familiar Brand Power ads have been on in our lounges for over 15 years. You’ve grown up with the Brand Power lady through shoulder-pads, braces, pregnancies and now consumers the world over appreciate that we help you buy better.

I tried to read a novel.

On a recent business trip to Asia, I energetically bought a book (a paper one) to read on the plane on my 3 days away. I thought to myself “Certainly I can get through a novel, which I haven’t been able to do for about 4 years” (note: 2 x kids, eldest 4.5 years). It now collects dust on my bedside, my 1 year old has chewed it and spewed on it. The movie is out now so I think I’ll just watch that. What I do read are eDMs in my Inbox – AdNews,Mamamia, J.Crew and Banana Republic (ok, that’s light on the reading) and The Age andNational Post from Canada. Literary enlightenment it’s not, but relevant news source it is.

3-D, shme-D.

Technology frustration at its utmost: our one year old, too expensive 3D TV gets its first trial. 3D movie rented, glasses out, kids in bed, 4 remotes at bay. The glasses need batteries that we don’t have, the blu-ray isn’t reading the 3D disk and the blu-ray isn’t ‘recognising the display’. 3D failure and I take myself off to bed to play Angry Birds.

Rambling blogs.

I’m a late-comer to the blogosphere and have recently been trying to have a look outside my little corner to seek creative inspiration, read a bit more (but as you can see from above, I’m not very good at that) and find people with whom I share similar interests. I’ve stumbled on a lot of good blogs but also crappy blogs and what I find astonishing is the interest and traffic in seemingly inane subject matter. Penelope Trunk in Wisconsin has 1.5M Twitter followers and her blog is a rambling bit of ‘writing’ if you want to call it that, a brain-dump onto the keyboard but what’s the hook?!

Suzanne Acteson (@suzanneacteson) is the Oceania Managing Director of Buchanan Group. She blogs insights, thoughts and laughs on the world of advertising, marketing and motherhood at Koala Pooh.


Moore’s Law and the circus of change.

by Nextness published April 16, 2012 posted in Insights

Moore's Law
Today’s guest post is by Ella Campbell (@ella__campbell), STW Group’s Digital Coordinator. It is based on her learnings from the Communications Council’s Circus Festival.

In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore noted that the number of devices on a microchip was doubling each year – and so was the potential power of a computer.

Now known as Moore’s Law, it’s as true today as it was nearly fifty years ago. It neatly correlates with the rate of technological innovation and resulting change in our society.

So how can agencies, brands and society keep up with the speed of Moore’s Law?

1. Agencies.

It’s increasingly difficult to navigate the the marketing and communications landscape. MDC’s Faris Yakob believes, “We’re getting too involved in the technology.” There’s a growing fascination with the next big thing, and understandably so. But our obsession with innovation often gets in the way of understanding the resulting culture.

This is compounded by what appears to be a new-found difficulty to ‘predict the future’. The present’s become so strange, it’s often hard to think ahead. The annual predictions lists are becoming less compelling. Less exciting. We’re so focused on catching up with the ‘now’ that it can be a struggle to think of what’s next. Essentially, we’re experiencing Moore’s Law in action.

The curve is steepening, and we believe it will mark the line between failure and success. While it is our job to understand technology, it’s becoming less of a selling point. We need to focus on its impact, look ahead of the curve, leverage the resulting behavior, and possibly influence it.

2. Brands.

How do brands survive in an age that’s increasingly digitised? Joe Crump, Razorfish, gave us his perspective on what’s been dubbed Digital Darwinism: when technology and society evolve faster than the ability to adapt.

In a world where new technology is as prevalent as computers are powerful, it is ever more complex to survive as a brand. With each innovation comes new behavior, and regardless of whether you’re an agency or a fashion retailer, the consumer is increasingly in control of your longevity.

While we agree that there is no simple answer to brand endurance, Crump gave us his list of essential survival skills. There were three in particular that stood out.

  • Be adaptive. A year from now, the world will probably be dramatically different. This means brands need to change. Only the most nimble will survive.
  • Be fresh. Stave off consumer boredom. There is always a new way to tell a story about your brand, and considering the current rate of change, the options are multiplying.
  • Be immersive. Increasingly, brands can use technology to create ‘experiences’ for their consumers. Entertain. Delight. Teach. It’s this value exchange that creates advocacy.

Crump’s view is not unlike that of many Australian agencies and groups, most of which are working toward establishing these values for themselves and their clients. It comes back to embracing change and innovation, and cultivating a culture that pushes the boundaries beyond where we are today.

Only then can a brand become fit enough to survive in a market where the ‘new’ is old tomorrow, and consumers play the cards.

3. Society.

What, as a society, is our collective attitude toward technological innovation and change?Yakob believes that, “Our brains are, in essence, anticipation machines.” We are hungry for the new. We want to touch it, play it, know it. We want to feel the high from owning it. But the next day we’ll wake up, and crave more innovation.

Tom Uglow, Google Labs, captured a very real picture of this behavior. “We’ve stopped being awed by the power of technology,” he said. “We expect it.” Society is riding Moore’s exponential escalator like it’s a drug. And increasingly, we expect it to integrate with our lives. We want seamlessness. But augmented reality isn’t seamless. Digital can be difficult. Screens aren’t natural, and natural is nice.

Uglow believes that future will be full of ‘nice’. And, that our increasing demand for this seamless integration means we’ll see technology become a part of who we are, without having to change.

Interestingly, Uglow’s theory is not dissimilar to Ray Kurzweil’s belief that society will soon reach the technological singularity. Influenced by Moore’s increasingly powerful computer processors, Kurzweil writes that society will hit a point where technology will integrate with our bodies and minds. We can only assume that we’re seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the resulting change in our society.

So, how can we keep up with the speed of Moore’s law?

Perhaps it’s staying in touch with technology. Focusing on consumer behavior. Building a culture of change. Delivering beyond expectations. Innovating in line with customer needs. Pushing the boundaries. Embracing the new.

In short, it won’t be easy. But these things never are.

Ella Campbell is the Digital Coordinator at STW Group. She works with a Melbourne-based team focused on digital growth and innovation. Follow her on Twitter: @ella__campbell.