Ignore Everybody

Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 13.36.50Ignore Everybody; And 39 Other Keys to Creativity

Hugh MacLeod

Hugh MacLeod is most famous for his GapingVoid cartoons, a mixture of optimism, cynicism, humour and philosphy. This book, a version of which can be downloaded from ChangeThis, encapsulates his thoughts on being creative. He takes particular joy in pointing out the counter-intuitive, although somehow once he’s said it I end up thinking it was obvious.

I’ve dipped into the book, rather than read it cover to cover. Each chapter is a “lesson”, written in fairly direct tones but with plenty of humour and examples. And of course there are the wonderful cartoons – all drawn on blank business cards.

The content is aimed at people being creative for a living, although rule 8 is ‘keep your day job’, but there’s plenty of inspiration and advice here for those of us just wanting to spice up our day jobs with a dash of creativity. Even if you think you’re not creative, the charm and wit of this book might convince you otherwise.

Hugh MacLeod’s quirky point of view.

Wake up your brain

Caffeine for the Creative Mind
Stefan Mumaw and Wendy Lee Oldfield

Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 13.40.08“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” says the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland. And pushing our brain into the realms of the impossible is just what “Caffeine for the Creative Mind” is all about.

It’s sub-titled “250 exercises to wake up your brain” and there are some great and original exercises in the book. For example;

“Draw a pictogram that describes each of these six words; Pressure, Delirious, Lucky, Suspense, Dangerous and Joyful. Use only four straight lines and a circle for each one…”

My pictogram for “Pressure” is shown left, which is the one I found easiest to imagine. Dangerous came out looking a lot like the symbol for mars and it’s pretty hard to distinguish between delirious and joyful when I draw them. But it struck me as a fun concept to remove writer’s block as well as waking up my brain.

Some of the exercises involve building something, some are about writing, some are reminders of games once played in school (or at strange parties) such as Mad Libs.

The book is sprinkled with interviews from some creative types; artists, writers, entrepreneurs offering wit and inspiration for those days where exercising your brain is just too much.

It’s a good book, a rich source of fun challenges to wake up your brain. Now if only I could think of an animal with a number in its name.

4 Keys to a Great Briefing

Selecting the right company to work with on a creative project can be tricky. If you work in marketing or communications it’s a skill worth developing; you’ll need it for website development, photography assignments, visual identity development and ad campaigns. Any marketing manager will find themselves developing a briefing several times a year, whether it’s part of a selection process or a new assignment with an existing supplier. I think there are four key areas of information that need to be covered in a briefing; context, aspiration, process and logistics.

Help the potential supplier understand who you are. What are your brand values? Describe your brand personality – if that sounds weird describe who your brand would be if it were a person. Who are your customers – how do you want them to describe you?

Provide visual information, existing brochures and websites, brand and/or photography guidelines – even if you’re moving away from that look, it will help the designers understand your company and the legacy.

What is the big idea?

What is the one message you want customers/visitors to get above all else from this project?

Try to inspire the creatives; you could include songs, images, quotes, words that support your aspiration but; resist the temptation to “spell it out”, too much factual detail at this point won’t get the best out of your creatives. You want them to be inspired and creative – not just implement to the limits of your creativity.

Here’s a great presentation on what should be in briefing from the creative’s perspective.

How do you want to work together? This is possibly the most important part of the briefing, but it rarely gets attention – this is partly because it’s very difficult to assess on paper. I treat the whole process as a test for the company; all contact from the moment the brief is sent to the decision date. Easy ways to get disqualified in this period include; not being able to say my company’s name correctly (yes, it happened even after being told how to say it), being rude to anyone you meet from my company during the process (the Richard Branson approach), or wasting my time (yes, it’s happened).

People recognise it when it’s right though, if your team walk out of a briefing with a potential supplier saying things like “they really get us” you’re probably in the right direction.

I look for four things; do they listen, do they build on our ideas, do they do anything extra and do they get my jokes.

The last one might seem frivolous, but if you’ll be working together intensively for a longer period of time it’s important that the relationship is there. Getting each other’s jokes is one sign that you’re on the same wavelength, and that you might enjoy each other’s company.

Possibly the least interesting for the creative – but very important for the account manager to know! Set out who from your side should be the contact person, I recommend a single point of contact if possible. Explain what you expect to be delivered. State what options they have for presenting those deliverables (eg: we sometimes need to be able to email design examples – so I’ll need a standard format file less than 1MB). State the deadline. Are you paying any fee to support their development work – and is the written off against the costs of the successful company? If the briefing is part of an assessment process then explain the criteria for assessment and how (and when!) the decision will be made.

These details are not interesting for a creative person so I usually set them out on a separate page to reduce distraction.

Keep the document short. If you can’t convey what your company is about and what your brand means in under 200 words then perhaps you need to give that more thought before you start an ad campaign.

There will very likely be a group of people round the table when it comes to the decision, two things worth keeping in the front of everyone’s mind are the customer and the aspiration. It can help to name the customer, in our case we called her Iris,  and then the discussion became “would this appeal to Iris?”

What do you think? Do you recognise these as the four most important keys? What else would you suggest?

Creativity and Play

I’m working on a brainstorm relating to video content. We’re going to pretend that all the technical issues are solved, and focus on the content and the process. I’ve been looking for some ways to increase our creativity for the workshop – and I came across this video, suggesting that more play at work would lead to more creativity.

He’s specific and points to three ways that play can be part of the creative process;

  • playful exploration; trying things, being unashamed of your efforts
  • playful building; building, children build towers designers build prototypes
  • roleplay; being someone else, children use a costume to try a new identity, designers can put themselves in the place of the customer

But he emphasises play is not anarchy – there are rules – and children will quickly point out and breech of the rules. Without the rules it can be more difficult to establish the necessary framework, and the necessary trust to have effective play. Without the play you won’t get the creativity.

The result is that I’ve added the 30 circles trick into the workshop – I think it’s a really fast way to get people involved and being crazy. Each participant is given a page with 30 circles of the same size arranged evenly, in one minute they have to adapt the circles, turning them into tennis balls, faces, globes, wheels. The emphasis is on quantity – not quality – and the task is designed to get you playing.

I’ve also been off to Think Geek, looking for those finger rockets.


image child via pixabay

The Art of Possibility

The Art of Possibility

Rosamund Stone Zander, Benjamin Zander

This book is about choosing a mindset of abundance and possibility and then making that real with specific practices. Examples are given from the music world where Benjamin Zander is a conductor and teacher, and from the world of business where Rosamund Zander is a leadership coach.

Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 13.52.18One of the practices discussed is “Giving an A” and it’s best explained in the words of one of his students;

In Taiwan I was Number 68 out of 70 student. I come to Boston and Mr. Zander say I am an A. Very confusing. I walk about, three weeks, very confused. I am Number 68 but Mr Zander says I am an A student…I am Number 68 but Mr Zander says I am an A student… One day I discover much happier A than Number 68. So I decide I am A.

What the student had discovered was that frameworks of measurement are all invented. With that in mind you might as well choose a framework that gives you energy for greater creativity. If as a leader you begin with the assumption that your team have an A you will interpret any poor performance differently, you will begin by asking yourself “did I convey what was needed well enough?” then asking the person what they need to perform at the right level. That has to be a more productive conversation than assuming the fault lies with your team member. It opens up a world of possibility.

The other practices involve lightening up, listening to your inner central voice, being a contribution and perhaps most importantly “being the board”.

Being the board is really about taking on the responsibility for changing your own way of framing a problem. This allows you to “turn all your attention to what you want to see happen, with none paid to what you need to win, or fight, or fix”.

The book is 20% practical steps, 40% wisdom, 30% vision, with a dose of 10% humour to keep you reading. There are some very honest and touching stories in the book that will resonate with even cynical readers.

I learnt from it and have gone back to it several times for another dose of inspiration from time to time.