Rewiring your brain in Barcelona
ADCE Festival 2018 — ‘Rewiring the creative machine’ — summary of the day (Friday 9th of November)
The brain isn’t a static thing. Nothing you think, do or say is fixed. It’s not because you’ve been doing something in a certain way for ages, that you can’t change it. For quite some time, scientists thought our brains get fixed during our childhood. Only recently they discovered that it stays dynamic and can change at any time.
I found out this is called neuroplasticity. If you think of the brain as a connected power grid, a behaviour is a certain pathway in this grid. This means: the more you perform this behaviour, the more it gets carved in your brain. But once you start traveling a new road, a new pathway is created. The more you travel the new path, the more the old one gets weakened — and even disappears in the end.
When we look at the creative industry, you can see ways of working and thinking that were wired many years ago. Back in the days when everything was centred around the big TV commercial or print wave. However, today the creative industry finds itself in a world that is evolving at the speed of light. Digital and technology are making things that used to be set in stone, obsolete. The way our creative brains got wired many years ago, needs to change. Bringing in young talent that thinks differently, isn’t enough. Our entire process might need new pathways.
This is why I loved the theme of this year’s ADCE Festival in Barcelona, ‘rewiring the creative machine’. What does technology mean to creativity? Which pathways do we need to change, which ones should we keep?
Eight speakers were invited to share their opinion about the relationship between creativity and our increasingly digital world. This article summarises their talks. Big beware: these are the things I found interesting, so this isn’t an objective representation of the content of their talks at all.
Ami Hasan — the ADCE’s chairman
The chairman of ADCE opened the festival. He shared his believe that our current siloed structure with different departments for distribution, marketing, design, price, communications, and many more, will be replaced by 1 big department, titled ‘customer experience’. The things we now place in silos, all affect a relationship between a consumer and a brand so there should be one department, one job title for everyone impacting the end-experience of a consumer.
Kris Hoet — the festival’s curator — FCB Global & Happiness
Next up was Kris Hoet, who outlined the purpose of this conference: opening up the conversations about creativity in relation to digital and technology. ‘Rewiring the creative machine’ sounds like a contradiction. The mechanical and hard words ‘machine’ and ‘rewire’ have nothing to do with soft and imaginative word ‘creativity’. Or do they? That’s the debate of this day. The conference won’t hand you an ultimate answer, will show different perspectives to get you thinking.
In his talk, Kris outlined some ‘superpowers’ that will, according to him, be vital for creative people and our industry to survive in the future:
1. Curiosity — be willing to learn and keep learning. Kris keeps track of his own daily Today I Learned (TIL) to make sure he keeps evolving.
2. Collaboration — working together, building on each other’s knowledge, in physical or virtual spaces.
3. Diversity — representing society is vital for all creative work. Different people bring different perspectives.
4. Experimentation — If your company isn’t doing experiments with itself, how could you ever lead innovation for a client?
Neil Christie — Wieden + Kennedy London, CEO
Holding companies are growing so big that ‘they can’t even see their own dicks anymore’. Consulting agencies are buying creative agencies with the sole purpose of destroying and dominating the market. Agencies are becoming delivery machines instead of creative organisations. All chaos gets taken out of the process in order to get higher profit margins. As a result, as creative agencies, we became obsessed with asset delivery, efficiency and growth.
However, popular culture and content are evolving at the speed of light too, think of Childish Gambino or Netflix. It is clear that we can’t keep up because we’re too busy trying to make creativity repeatable and efficient. We’re creating landfill. We structure our organisation as if we’re working at a supply chain.
This focus on control and stability, makes us forget that these are dead zones for imagination. Marketing isn’t an engineering problem. Repeatable methods produce predictable outputs. Creativity doesn’t arise from an ‘If This Than That’-logic. There isn’t a process. You just have to give creative people the right tools, not a structured ideation process.
The top of the funnel, the brand building part we’re usually tasked with, isn’t built on logical steps and results. It’s illogical and irrational. That is where the magic happens. This is what we should cherish. On a smaller note: Neil does believe that when you get to the bottom of the funnel, a more structured approach might come in. But never at the top. There needs to be room for chaos there.
Neil outlined 8 ways to rewire the creative machine in order to make room for chaos and, as a result, better creative work:
- Escape the corporation and get out into culture, to meet and see real people in real life. Time spent in meetings is time not spent in culture. We only study people in laboratory conditions. It is like only studying dolphins in captivity. We invent personas, people that don’t even exist. We invent some psychobabble and call these ‘insights’. The obvious gets passed off as revelations. We don’t know what really happens in this world.
- Stop expecting data to do the work for us. Data won’t help understanding real life behaviour. Empathy is the product of feeling, not reasoning. Our job is to make people feel. Clients will pressure you to go for reason, since that’s easier to sell. It is our job to remind them that reason only won’t have the impact they need.
- Resist the call of orthodoxy. We forget with how much authority, preconceptions and assumed expertise we walk into the office with. We should be more stupid. Walk into your office stupid every morning. Ask the stupid questions. Forget the ‘we’ve always done it this way’s. No conventions, no best practices.
- Make dissent feel safe. Just one vote that says no or has a different opinion, decreases the possibility of problems.
- We must fear the obvious. You can be super relevant but be boring as hell. Relevant is not enough in this world of short attention spans. You need to be interesting to get an unfair share of cultural attention.
- Learn to let go. Neil made the interesting comparison with cities: the bigger cities get, the more creative, productive and innovative they get. Organisations strangle themselves by taking out every bit of freedom in processes. The key for remaining adaptable and agile is culture. Have a shared ambition, a focus on the output and individuals will flourish as a result. Culture is more important than ever.
- Remember no one cares. No one really loves brands. Everything we do must try to overcome people’s massive indifference. What we do must be awesome.
- Resist becoming professional. The purpose of professionalism is to take out the human element. This is a good thing when you are a doctor or scientist. But it’s not when you’re a creative: we need the human element of madness. We need intuition, lateral thinking, and in short: we need the chaos to survive.
In conclusion of Neil’s talk: we must harness the messiness of people, which is essential for magic. Escape the machine, get out in the world. And stop taking yourself so seriously.
“I have an addiction to chaos. I love it when I’m anxious, I love this agency the most when it’s off balance, when we’re going at 70mph and people are puking out the window and everyone’s leaning to one side to keep it upright. Chaos asks stuff of you order never will and shows you all the weird shit order tries to hide. Chaos is the only thing that wants you to grow, that demands you be creative to make something that matters. Chaos cares more about truth than power.”
— Dan Wieden
Julia Blomquist — planner at Forsman & Bodenfors
Julia’s talk outlined the way of working of Forsman & Bodenfors, which is centred around the Swedish word ‘tillsammans’. This is the bedrock of the organisation of the legendary agency, known of award-winning campaigns such as the Volvo-campaign with Jean-Claude van Damme or the Swedish Number. The basic principle of tillsammans is the fact that humans work together best when they collaborate.
At Forsman & Bodenfors, there is no hierarchical structure. The organisation is completely flat and follow little processes. Ideas can come from anywhere, so people are organised in small teams around a certain task. Julia describes the organisation as a ‘blob’. Small teams are formed around clients and projects and have the freedom to do their own thing. The CEO is not the top of the pyramid and trusts in the team’s judgement of getting her in when she is needed instead of having a total overview at all time.
During her talk, Julia shared 10 principles that make tillsammans so effective for producing great creative work:
- We aim for world class. It takes fighting for creative work & strategy.
- The only boss is the task itself. This means that we remove any obstacle that keeps us from solving the task as good and fast as possible. We removed the hierarchy, time reports, processes and other stuff that gets in the way of the task. The question ‘do we have everything we need to solve this task?’ is where all our attention goes.
- The responsibility is yours. It is up to you to seek help if you need it. You are responsible for yourself, no one is going to hold your hand. It takes brave and independent people to handle the responsibility we give them.
- The collective is our creative director. We don’t have directors or other long titles. Everyone is responsible for the work which means it is never ok to fail alone. We always fail together. We ask people to show their work early in their process. People collaborate, more brains ore better. That’s how the best work is produced.
- We do this using a tool: The Floor. This used to be a literal floor, now it’s a digital tool. On this tool, all ideas are posted out in the open and all other colleagues can give comments on the ideas. You, the maker, are not obliged to do something with their feedback, but most of the time the feedback makes the idea better. This means you should also be very good in giving feedback. We only give constructive feedback.
- Strategy and creative is one process. There is no creative brief. Everyone is evolved in the entire process. Creatives meet consumers they’ll make the ideas for in focus too, not just the strategists. The team is so small so the client gets involved closely in all projects we do together as well.
- We embrace a ‘no frills’ approach. No bullshit and ego.
- We can make the world better (or worse). We prefer to go for the first one. Whenever getting a new project, we always ask ourselves: ‘Can we raise a topic? Can we drag something into the light that is now hidden and will make the world a better place? Can we start an important topic?’
- No assholes please — when it comes to recruiting, we want the right people, not just the right qualifications. There is a collaborative hiring process. You’ll meet 10 or 12 meeting at once in a discussion meeting. It’s like a chemistry meeting in which a lot of people will meet you at once. Here as well, we agree together.
- Collaboration trumps competition. There is no competing between colleagues, everyone works for the same purpose.
According to Julia, the agency is built on the purpose of ‘people being human’. Being themselves. At F&B, you’re asked to bring your whole self to the agency, whether you’re having a happy or a sad day. ‘If we can be the best people in our everyday, we can do the best work.’
Rey Andrade — Creative Director at 72andSunny
The core of Ray’s talk was: ‘Great creativity needs diversity’. Teams with different backgrounds and experiences create natural tensions. They open up the creative canvas. If you hire people with the same schooling and same upbringing, you will get the same ideas. Creative people take their lives and background with them to the review table. They are their experiences. When you hire people with different experiences, you won’t have the same ideas and references competing with each other.
According to Ray, this is where the strength of 72andSunny lies. It’s very hard to see a common theme in their work or to name a ‘typical 72andSunny’ campaign because they have so many creatives with totally different backgrounds — which means that they can bring very different creative styles and perspectives as a whole agency.
Ray said that the culture of 72 shares a lot and is really intimate. More teams work on the same briefs, all with their different backgrounds. He admitted this process can also be messy & inefficient at some points. One has to be patient because this might mean long reviews at some points. But according to Ray, this is where the magic happens. When it works right, it is the most beautiful thing in the world.
Pip Jamieson — founder of The Dots
Pip founded The Dots, dubbed ‘the new LinkedIn for creatives’ by many sources. The core of the platform is the fact that creative jobs (and our new economy) aren’t and shouldn’t be based on resumes and linear lists of jobs. The Dots is collaboration-based and helps you showcasing projects on which you worked — by yourself or together with a team. It is skill-based and shows what you are good at, not where you work or what your title is.
The Dots gets increasingly used by big brands and big agencies to spot talent. The platform excels in diversity. More creative women than men have a profile on The Dots. And when browsing through interesting candidates, one does this in ‘bias-removing’ mode which means that pictures, names and gender aren’t shown, only work and skills.
According to Pip, there is a bright future for creative people. Machines and other automation tools don’t have empathy, common sense and the human capability needed to be creative. There are so many roles opening up that really need creative people, from curators that translate the complex world into things others understand, to interior designers, experience designers and ethical tech advocates. There isn’t a better moment to be a creative person than today.
On The Dots, Pip has witnessed a monumental rise of freelancers, side hustles and part-time workers. She has also seen a rise of the collective: freelancers that work together in an agile way, companies consisting of 3 founders and a network of 200 freelancers instead of employees, and so on. Technology enables people to start business and be creative in ways that weren’t possible before.
Pip notices that the tech industry is currently investing more in creativity than our own industry. They are getting ahead of where we are — so we need to move quicker and cherish our creativity.
Lastly, Pip told the audience to embrace our intuition. To embrace our creativity and differences. Because that is where the magic happens, when you bring all of that to the surface of your work.
Conn Bertish — Cancer Dojo
Conn brought a very moving and emotional talk, about his fight against brain cancer. The core of his talk was: ‘happy people are harder to kill’. Conn personally found out that what you think and do, affects your body. Your mindset influences your body. Conn, fighting against brain cancer, felt the power of visualising victory against cancer and the power of making yourself happy. By hanging up random announcements with a phone number all around Cape Town, Conn started receiving hilarious phone calls by strangers. Which made him happier. Which made his immune system work better. He discovered that a patient isn’t a passive subject that just lies down and receives medicines from the doctor but that a patient a very clear and impactful role in his/her own recovering process.
Conn is now institutionalising these findings into his own company Cancer Dojo. He is launching an app that helps patients approaching their cancer through creativity by visualising their cancer and their victory, making it real and in the end, making them happier by putting them in the right mindset. Conn, an ex-advertising guy, gave us a very powerful message to end with: we, as creative people, can help others to express themselves and feel better. It is something we are blessed with and we should use it.
Maria Scillepi — Dropbox
Designing for creativity. Everything Maria has done in her professional life has always been aimed at designing the best conditions for creativity to flourish. In her talk, she shared a lot of her tools and tips on how she did that.
First of all, Maria has some ‘conditions for creativity’: one must feel psychologically safe, be able to experiment and play, there has to emotional intelligence, one must be able to learn by doing, there has to be diversity in backgrounds and ideas. And last but not least, there have to be low stakes. The stakes can’t be too high. Once they’re too high, creative people will block. Creatives need to have the impression that they can fail. That what they do matters but that life or death doesn’t depend on it.
After that, Maria told us about her deep believe in the ‘Creative Coach’ role. A person that isn’t solely responsible for the ideas as output but for the people. Someone that helps creativity flow, that encourages people and that creates the best conditions to work in. Some of the things Maria found working well are participatory decision-making, radical collaboration and continuously learning. Personal development should be part of the creative process. In short: train creative directors to be more like creative coaches. Make the process more humane and sustainable.
Marcus JH Brown — performing artist, creative mentor
The last speaker, Marcus Brown, didn’t bring just an ordinary talk. He brought a performance which catapulted you into a Black Mirror episode. Scarily real and scarily close. I’m not going to give away what happened — but do urge you to go and see him in real life on another event. A great way to end this day filled with knowledge.