Blog : creativity

Inspiring Creativity – It’s a dangerous business but someone has to do it.

Inspiring Creativity – It’s a dangerous business but someone has to do it.

‘Creativity essentially scares people…’

This is a quote I used to start a talk I did recently for the Marketing Society Scotland.

The event was titled ‘Inspiring Creativity’ and was the third of the Inspiring Minds programme, designed to explore five key areas of marketing. Of those five areas which include briefing, planning, results and presentations – creativity is the most elusive.

Why? Because the end result of the creative process is what everyone cares about, and no-one really wants to know about the ugly truth behind the journey you take to arrive at that place.

This seems strange, but it’s true.

It’s scary for clients to commit completely to creativity, because it is unchartered territory. It is by definition, non-conformist.

It’s scary – in fact it can be an excruciating prospect – to be the person tasked to think creatively… Especially to order.

The process is so awkward. Luke Sullivan, author of ‘Hey Whipple, Squeeze This’, describes creativity as ‘like washing a pig.’

So why do we do it?

Because it amplifies our message. It allows us to cut through into those uncharted places, it keeps us dynamic and it keeps us alive and even though it is the hardest role of all to fulfil, it’s the most rewarding one.

‘I am not creative’ is a phrase people say all the time. However, in reality this is not true, because if you are alive, you can create. Fear of the unknown and comfort of the usual, are the active restrictions at play here. To be creative you just need to have the confidence to push the boundaries a bit further.

Creativity is the soul of all marketing, branding and communications and we all need to be thinking creatively throughout the whole process. If we don’t, we lose the opportunity to make the biggest impact and make the most difference, to do the best work; and as hard as it can be, make us feel amazing about what we do.

So, how do we inspire ourselves to be less intimidated and be more creative?

First absorb the world around you: look, listen and understand. As George Lois says, ‘Nothing comes from nothing. You must continuously feed the inner beast that sparks and inspires’.

Second, know the formulas.

As part of the creative induction process here at Stripe I have come up with what I call, ‘Five Ingredients to Create’. This is a crib sheet for the creative process and if you are using one or more cribs on this list then you’ve got it in the bag.

# 1 Be Original.

It’s obvious but it’s hard, because originality is abstract. Making something original is taking all the references and facts you see every day and adding that little twist to make it unique.

Picasso once said, ‘Good artists copy. Great artists steal.’

Interestingly, this was a phrase used by Steve Jobs in relation to design at Apple. This was explained later by Apple’s Bud Tribble, “if you take something and make it your own… it’s becomes your design, and that’s the dividing line between copying and stealing. That is part of Apple’s DNA.”

Creativity does not exist in a vacuum; it can do, but it seldom does. Take from the creativity of others, but make it a heist.

# 2 Be Reactive

Listen and jump into the conversation, this way you create immediacy. Instead of drawing in someone’s attention, you can fall purposely into it. Be there and be aware.

# 3 Concept and Craft

Think about concept and think about craft and how they work with each other to make an idea great. Sometimes you need to bring more creativity to the party to add value to an idea. On the other hand if the work is all craft with no concept, idea or strategy, it will lose its relevance or story. Treat the message right. Let it grow.

# 4 Innovation

Know about it. Digital and technology is moving forward around us, like an out of control juggernaut, and we all need to be aware what’s going on. Run beside it if you can’t be in front of it. Be ready to introduce new technology and techniques. Keep things exciting and dynamic. Use innovation. Use it first and be remembered.

# 5 Mistakes are good

Be careful with this one because it’s not the mistakes we make that are good, it’s how we allow them to take us forward that is. You are not being creative if you are not prepared to fail. It is a leap of faith that you have to be inspired enough to take. As daunting a prospect as this may be, this crib is the most important of all.

 

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Why be good when you can be scarily great.

The Creative Genius of David Bowie

The Creative Genius of David Bowie

Yesterday, I joined millions of music fans the world over in celebrating the life and work of David Bowie. I filled the Stripe airwaves with Bowie’s greatest songs and then spent my lunch break devouring articles on the musical legend. There was one characteristic that permeated every article on Bowie; a word that encompasses him perfectly – creativity.

We live and breathe creativity in our industry – it’s ultimately at the heart of what we do; but it can be challenging to develop game-changing ideas continuously. Someone like Bowie can teach us a lot, about being true to your vision – by being bold, standing out from the crowd and speaking to people through your work.

I’ve admired Bowie since I was a teenager and even though I am severely lacking in musical aptitude (I’m borderline tone deaf), I was, and continue to be, hugely inspired by his work.

The essence of Bowie’s creativity was in his sheer fearlessness, the willingness to think and act differently. In 1972, Bowie released his iconic album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and took on the persona of alien rock star, Ziggy Stardust. With his androgynous appearance, other worldly lyrics and avant-garde performances, Bowie was as equally compelling as he was controversial.

The world Bowie created was alien to the British public, and this is exactly what he played on. By daring to take risks and display his creativity in everything from his cut-up lyrics to his personal style, Bowie changed not only the 70s music scene, but also pushed the boundaries of sexuality, gender and identity.

It looks likely that Bowie’s albums and singles will dominate the music charts this weekend, proving his work is as relevant today as it was in the 70s. This legacy is testament to Bowie’s commitment to breaking down artistic boundaries and there’s no doubt he will continue to be a creative muse to many industries and generations for years to come.

One thing’s for sure – I’ll definitely be utilising Bowie’s cut-up technique the next time I’m struggling for a headline.

Magfest 2015 – Create Inspire Evolve

Magfest 2015 – Create Inspire Evolve

On Friday 18th September we headed to Edinburgh’s Surgeon’s Hall for the fourth PPA Scotland Magfest. A day of presentations, discussions and celebrations of all things magazine. In 2015, this means not just chatting print, but addressing the various communications channels and challenges that modern publishing is presented with.

Create

Magfest 2015 kicked off with Cannes Lions CEO Phil Thomas tackling the topic of creativity head on. ‘Any brand can be creative’ he said, and the award winners at Cannes Lions illustrate this as well as anything else. Just consider the now infamous Volvo trucks spot featuring Jean Claude Van Damme – the biggest winner the festival has seen yet, despite the distinctly ‘unsexy’ product. Creativity matters not just because it can be a force for change and for good, but because it directly drives higher ROI for businesses. This is important for brands to get their heads around, and for the agencies that work with them to reiterate. Not their capacity to be creative – all know this, though not all apply it – but the evidence that great creative work itself delivers higher share value and drives long term business impact. Bravery pays off.

This sentiment was echoed by several other speakers. For BBC Worldwide, creativity is part of how they do business, not something they apply from time to time. Marcus Arthur explained that the BBC Worldwide team know that if they’re creative and build the reputation of the BBC then financial success will take care of itself. This focus on being creative and getting the best ideas to come to fruition delivers better results than focussing on the finances as the sole end in themselves.

Driving Online revenue Panel Discussion at Magfest 2015

Throughout the day the spectre of ‘disruption’ was present: disruption of the publishing industry, of TV, culture, advertising models, customer loyalty and news discovery. For the BBC, as for many of the other businesses in attendance, creativity has been what has allowed them to overcome some of the challenges that disruption has created and led to new and exciting outcomes they perhaps had not anticipated.

Inspire

Disruption need not be seen as a negative force, but an opportunity that should inspire change. For example, the last few years have seen ever more conversations about the ‘death’ of newspapers and the decline of print, but to paraphrase Francesco Franchi of IL magazine, “it’s not that newspapers are dying, it’s that one way of making newspapers is coming to an end”. This is by no means unique to the newspaper business, and how individual companies react and adapt is helping to inspire others and shape the long term future of a swathe of industries.

Evolve

To mitigate some of the risk that goes hand in hand with treading new ground, more and more publishers and brands are looking at how they can intelligently apply data. Our own Darcie Tanner spoke about how organisations of any size can make sense of ‘big data’ and draw useful insights from the mass of information out there and data got called out as a priority consideration in a number of talks throughout the day.

Darcie Tanner, Stripe Communications at Magfest 2015

Kerin O’Connor revealed some of the ways they’ve used data at The Week to inform their evolved print and digital model and consistently grown both strands by ensuring they really understand their audience. With staggering renewal figures and a progressive test and learn approach to new activity, they’re continuing to see returns and have sidestepped the issues that have affected many peer publications.

Kerin O'Connor, The Week at Magfest 2015

Understanding your audience was also at the core of Mimi Turner‘s session, where she discussed how The LAD Bible has come to know more about the tricky to reach 18-24 males group in the UK than perhaps any other organisation. With a reflective, community led proposition they are committed to going where their audience directs them and making it easy for them to find what they want. She advocated a shift for publishers from being ‘doers’ (which is a role now belonging to the audience) to being listeners. This is a tricky notion for some brands and publishing businesses to apply, having kept customers and audiences at a distance from the inner workings of their business , but if they’re to succeed in a modern, integrated communications landscape then it’s something that can’t be ignored.

What was clear from all of the speakers and the discussions amongst attendees was that the sector isn’t sitting still and there’s a lot of positivity about what the future might hold. With so much changing and so much interesting work happening to meet the challenges this brings, it’s an exciting time to be involved in publishing.