Last night I had the huge pleasure of speaking at a PRCA Ignite event about digital creativity. The brief for the event was, let’s say, ‘open’.
“Come and speak about digital creativity”, they said.
“What about it?”, I asked.
“That’s entirely up to you”, they responded. “Interpret it as you like.”
Ignite talks take place the world over and have a rather unique format. Each speaker is given 20 slides – no more and no less – and is strictly limited to five minutes. Each slide forwards to the next automatically after 15 seconds. Unlike normal presentations, the speaker has no control over when the slides change, so it’s quite an intense (but fun) experience.
So anyway, I chose to talk about the psychology of the creative process, why brainstorms suck and how to implement effective digital creativity in your team.
And showering. There was repeated reference to showering.
Here’s my presentation in full with the ‘script’ below. (For anyone who was there, yes I had a script. Who knew?!?) I hope you find it useful and thought provoking.
What Makes for Good Creativity?
(Slide 1) The Oxford English Dictionary has two definitions of the word ‘brainstorm’. The first is what we probably all think of: ‘a spontaneous group discussion to produce ideas and ways of solving problems’. The second, however, is ‘a moment in which one is suddenly unable to think clearly’.
Over the last couple of years I’ve been interested in why so many creative sessions in communications teams up and down the country are more reflective of the latter than the former.
(Slides 2-5) Researching this presentation, I started to look around at what is considered a creative environment. There are offices with loads of plants and funky lighting and completely dysfunctional furniture. There are some with hot air balloons and aliens and wacky helicopter meeting spaces. Some have the staple of a creative office; table tennis or table football. Some have guitars on the walls (which I guarantee have never been played) or upside-down bikes to inspire creativity in, well, ‘bike things’…?
And then you get the really wacky ones, with tables made out of surfboards (bound to be great at the office Christmas party!) and a slide from one floor to another!
(Slide 6) While looking around I came across what I believe to be the photo that best represents an awesome creative meeting. It’s set in a cool industrial building with abstract art on the walls. The three participants are dressed in trainers, t-shirts and shorts, and one has a beard and a Mac. And they’re all slumped on huge, over-sized bean bags. If there’s such a thing as a creative cliche, this is it.
(Slide 7) The fact is, though, that the vast majority of us don’t work in buildings with slides and hot air balloons and upside-down bikes to inspire our creativity. We sit around a boardroom table with blank sheets of paper while someone gives us a quick overview of the latest widget and says: “So, what can we do to publicise this?”
Let me be blunt here: This. Does. Not. Work.
The Psychology of Digital Creativity
It doesn’t work not because of a lack of bean bags or beards; it’s because the human brain doesn’t work this way.
(Slide 8) If you ask a large group of people when they have their best ideas, I guarantee not a single one will say “in a brainstorm”. They’ll say “when I’m driving” or “when I’m washing up” or “when I’m doing housework”. And there’s a very good reason for this. When we carry out routine physical tasks, our unconscious mind is freed up to think about other things.
(Slide 9) We start to relax, and when we’re relaxed our brain is flooded with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that boosts cognitive function. Our mind can then wander into free association territory and make the random connections that lead to creative ideas. This is called divergent thinking, and it’s the key to real creativity.
(Slide 10) So in actual fact, you’re better off showering with your work colleagues than brainstorming with them. When you’re brushing your teeth or washing your hair or trimming your bikini line you’re carrying out everyday tasks that you don’t need to concentrate on, you’re relaxed and your mind can wander. When you’re sat around a boardroom table with a blank sheet of paper, you’re not and it can’t.
It’s a bit of a maverick concept, I admit. If only we were that comfortable with one another! Maybe in Sweden…
(Slide 11) But rules and brainstorms are the enemies of creativity. Truly creative people don’t live by the rules.Rules and brainstorms are the enemies of creativity.Click To Tweet
(Slide 12) People who carry out brainstorms and who aren’t willing to break the rules come up with “let’s float a giant version of our widget down the Thames” as their top creative idea. And so you get what at least a dozen brands have done before and you get the exact same result. It’s predictable and it’s dull.
(Slide 13) Think about this for a moment: when was the last time you sat through a brainstorm meeting and someone came up with such a brilliant idea that you all went to the pub to celebrate? There’s an expectation that brainstorms will generate a ‘eureka’ moment, but rarely do they.
There is, however, a relatively simple five step process you can follow to make your idea generation sessions (let’s bin the word ‘brainstorm’, shall we?) effective.
Five Steps to Awesome Digital Creativity
(Slide 14) Step one is to do your research well ahead of calling any kind of creative meeting. You need insight if you want truly creative ideas. One of the best campaigns I’ve ever been involved with was based on several weeks of monitoring social media conversations about ‘crisps’ (that’s ‘chips’ if you’re in the States!) which revealed a small but very vocal group of people who hated the fact that Walkers had changed the traditional colours of crisp packets. We devised a digital petition for Golden Wonder to standardise packet colours and built a completely integrated social/digital media, PR and experiential campaign around it.
(Slide 15) Step two is to accurately define your goal. Most creative briefs are awful, but rarely do we challenge them. We don’t push back and ask those issuing the brief what it would mean to them if they achieved the targets they’ve set out and we make little effort to get the crux of the issue. The multi-award winning Missing Type campaign wasn’t about gaining media coverage or social media buzz. It was about getting people to donate blood.Two of the keys to creative thinking are insight & goal definitionClick To Tweet
(Slide 16) Which brings me back to the bathroom and onto step three. And this is vital. Once you’ve defined your goal and done your research, you brief your team and you let them live with this information for a couple of days. Let them shower and vacuum in their pants and iron like a chimp and mull things over. Give their creative brain space to work on the problem in their own time.
(Slide 17) It’s not until step four that you hold your ideas session. But rather than starting with blank sheets of paper, you start with the ideas that your team brings back from their shower time. And you allow everyone else to build upon those ideas. Your creative session then becomes about developing and refining ideas, not coming up with them. And reach for the weird stuff. Paddy Power are the masters of creativity if for no other reason than they embrace the concept of making weird ideas work for their brand.Team creative sessions are more effective when building upon ideas than generating themClick To Tweet
(Slide 18) Finally, in step five you evaluate your ideas. You select your best ones and run them through an originality/feasibility filter. What can you do to increase the originality of your ideas? What can you do to make those that seem too much of a stretch possible?
(Slide 19) I’ve introduced this process to several clients over the last couple of years and rarely, if followed properly, does it fail to produce results. I firmly believe that any team is capable of coming up with a poster than dispenses beer or growing hops across the city to be harvested and made into beer if they’re given the time and space to do so.
(Slide 20) So next time you’re invited to a brainstorm, push back on it. Throw away your six thinking hats and your juggling balls, dump the bean bags in a skip and ask for a few days to mull it over. And if all else fails, take a shower 🙂
If you’d like to understand more about how this process works or would like more of the detail behind each step, I’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07533 026066.