Over control and obsession with health and safety is the biggest killer of creativity. And it seems parents in the UK have become masters of it, but not so in Germany and Denmark. Maybe as this video suggests, because they were able to observe what kids were doing on bomb sites after the war. It’s tempting to link this with a lower child suicide rate in these countries too. Whatever your parental notions are, the lessons for creativity are clear. It’s a messy business and if you over protect you ultimately stifle.
There have been many funky things you can do with the design of a bike stand, and I’ve had to lock my bike to quite a few of them. Some of them are really annoying because they allow a bike to topple over.
But this one I spotted in Islington is a breath of fresh air. And like all neat creative ideas, it starts by asking a question no one else had bothered to ask: What would bike parking look like if it were designed by someone who wasn’t a cyclist or a road engineer?
What if it were designed by a landscape gardener?
The ability create different answers starts with the ability to ask different questions. And follow them through to interesting conclusions.
Research is a topic that raises a lot of hostile feelings in creative people. Numerous campaigns have fallen at this point only to do really well in real life. Maureen Lipman in BT’s 1980’s Jewish Mother TVC campaign was a perfect example. But I think testing material is really useful, if only because it’s a great way to find out more about your target audience. Above is the general process and it can be iterative.
Although it’s really useful for creatives to go to the focus groups and watch behind the glass window, it’s not as common for this to happen as you might think. For one thing creatives see it like going to the dentist, an exam they’ll find painful and would rather avoid. Another reason is that an agency can be making more money from the creative when they’re chained to their desks rather than watching housewives in Surbiton.
One insight I remember getting from a focus group on women’s hair products was that this particular 40 something lady wanted to look great at times I’d never really considered. Not for her husband, not for the cocktail party nor the hen do, but when she was wearing jeans and a T shirt and the builder was coming round.
Obvious when you think about it, but only when you’ve heard from your actual audience.
Just for completeness here’s the bigger process that the creative sits inside. Many organisations short cut this, but this essentially is the ideal.
Organisations often complain they don’t have enough resources to throw at a problem but you could argue it’s the abundance of the wrong type of resource that stops the job being done really well.
The perfect and well-known example of this: the anecdote about how the US and the USSR tried to create a pen that would work in space.
While the US technologists were running a massive project to design a multimillion-dollar pen that could operate in zero G, the Soviets had opted for something much simpler for their own space mission: a pencil.
This elegant, cheap yet effective solution was like many great masterstrokes of creativity. Just as with Picasso’s bull’s head, the concept is so simple you could be forgiven for missing it.
One of the interesting facets of this anecdote is that at first it doesn’t look the way we think creativity should look. But it’s got many of the hallmarks of smart creativity. Doing more with less, questioning embedded assumptions, and making something look effortless. There are lots of learnings here for many different enterprises – not necessarily looking to go into space, but trying to solve hard problems nonetheless.
The nature of things is that when a company gets involved in optimising a process, the momentum of the process often precludes creativity. The system is wired to do the wrong thing highly efficiently rather than going back to the original problem that needed solving – and chilling with the problem for a little while.
The creative process starts when you give up being too busy to think.
Chilling with a problem is a difficult thing to explain for a time-centred organisation. “I’m actioning X, Y and Z for next week’s status meeting” – sounds so much more businessy than “I’m chilling with the problem for a little while”.
In a recent project with some Bristol physicists, we asked them to create a project to sell to a James Bond baddie. The results were fascinating. Just as with any other form of creativity there was a majority of quite interesting workaday solutions and one that stood out which we can all remember many months after. It was more or less the equivalent of the pencil.
Perhaps amongst all the clever stuff we do on the course, the most valuable insight is that to see things differently you have to start by looking at your clock differently; do less, think less and chill a bit more. Like riding a bike it’s easy when you know how.
We might not think of animals as clever enough to be creative, but this footage suggests otherwise. A group of Orca wales line up and swim in, in formation so that they create a bough wave that is big enough to flip the ice. Their reward is fresh seal.
More surprising still is the fact that sometimes the seals aren’t eaten. They are allowed to climb back on the ice and the Orcas have another go. In other words, they seem to be doing it just for the practice, or the sport.
We think of the British as the great creators of new sports. Rugby, cricket, badminton, Eaton fives, tennis, and football. Perhaps the animal kingdom has actually out performed us in creating new sports.
There are other examples of creativity in the animal kingdom too. Monkeys that send in smaller monkeys from other species to pick nuts out of small crevices. They then ‘mug’ the smaller monkey and get the nuts.
If you gave a creative team the above problems to solve, how long would it take them to come up with an answer?
Creativity often starts with asking what’s so obvious about something you’ve stopped noticing it. Just getting clear about the bleeding obvious is an amazingly refreshing exercise.
Here’s Michael McIntyre on the obvious things in the world, looking at things like eye glasses with fresh un american eyes. Enjoy.
Darwin’s vision of man and ape as separated only by a few millennia meant that essentially we were on the same footing as animals. This implicity challenged relationships such as father son and holy spirit. It’s hard to be a creative thinker without upsetting people because when you spot new symmetries you disturb existing ones.