Creative Play and Rejecting the Don Draper School of Idea Generation

Via AMC

What does it mean to be “creative”? To be an “ideas person”? Or to be “artistic”? They’re just words aren’t they. Devoid of any real meaning.

As a Contenty-copywriter type, I often (to my delight) get pulled into creative meetings or idea generation sessions, as it is assumed I’ll be a valuable contributor. And whilst I’d love to think that’s all on me, in reality I think it’s because my job role allows me to be “creative”. It is expected.

Creativity belongs to us all

Creativity is not a talent, it is an active craft. It’s all about being able to shift perspective and solve problems. And it isn’t and shouldn’t be pigeonholed to one industry or role. Dave gets it:
“Creativity isn’t a particular discipline. It’s the quality of originality and unexpectedness that you bring to whatever you do.” – Dave Trott in Creative Mischief

The importance of playfulness

It’s hard to actually define creativity, but in my opinion it centres around playfulness. A quick check on Google offers “frivolity”, “silliness” and even “monkey business” as possible synonyms. But I mean playful in terms of toying with or manipulating something, pulling it apart and patching it back together.

 

Being playful in the workplace isn’t frivolous or silly, but a way of solving problems cleverly or building something that is original, whatever the project.
via Primal Screen
I did a module a few years back at university on Holocaust Literature which was as brutal as it sounds but fascinating. I did well in the final exam with the positive feedback that I had explored the books in question “playfully”.

 

I learnt that playfulness doesn’t have to be silly, but that it’s a method of finding new angles and ideas, whatever the subject matter.

The battle for the Great Idea

Playfulness may be a good method of “achieving” creativity, but it doesn’t guarantee results. When Mad Men‘s Creative Director, Don Draper, isn’t drinking or engaging in light misogyny, he broods away in his office until the idea miraculously comes to him.
“There is no algorithm that can tell us where it will come from and when it will hit”. – Tim Brown in Change by Design
Draper solves the day by having the ever-coveted lightbulb moment. But this is such bullshit. A fully-formed idea by one person is very rare. Also the notion that there is one great idea is ridiculous.

 

In reality, idea generation is a lengthy process, involving a mix of different people and many, many, many iterations.
“To have a good idea, you must first have lots of ideas”. Linus Pauling, two-time Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry
Instead of ruthlessly pursuing the Great Idea, like a mighty but pointless hunt for Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster, we should play our way to the Right Idea.

 

Who’s with me?

The 3 Most Intriguing Speakers at TEDx Brighton: Society’s Search for Utopia

Image result for brighton tedx

TEDx Brighton was inspiring. I try to avoid this word as it’s overused and dramatic but it’s the only word that applies here.

There were laughs (host Mark Dolan was on excellent form), intensity, ideas, sadness and a whole lot of surprises. An epic event with some epic speakers, and messages that will stick with me for some time to come. Here are some highlights from three of my favourites:

1. Jake Tyler – talking the talk and walking the walk

Jake, who describes himself somewhat harshly as a “suicidal waster” who found purpose, spoke about his ongoing battle with depression and the great healers of Nature and movement.

Just a year and a half ago, he seriously considered ending it all, phoning his mum one last time to hear her voice before he went.

Everyone in the Brighton Dome seemed to be holding their collective breath as Jake explained the thoughts and feelings that were going through his mind. His simple but eloquent description of these dark thought processes and their potential effects was both upsetting and humbling.

“Depression club’s biggest trick is convincing members that they’re the only one.”

But with the help of his Mum, his GP and finding his purpose, Jake pulled it back from the brink. He was very clear to say that depression isn’t ever done, it’s not something you can complete. It’s a constant battle. But in articulating this battle and communicating it with others, it saps its power. A modest man, Jake found his purpose in the modest act of walking.

His goal is simple – to walk his way to recovery. “My plan is to walk around Great Britain, covering every National Park in order to show people that there is beauty nearby.” Documenting his experiences with depression as he goes – I don’t know if I can think of a more noble vocation.

It’s unbelievable to think that a year and a half ago he was in the darkest stage of his life and now he’s fighting it head on, completed the London Marathon with the show ‘Mind Over Marathon’ and is getting more and more people behind his cause. Myself included.

“The feeling I have right now, I don’t want to die, I want to live forever.”

These were the words Jake said to himself on completing the marathon and the words he used to end his talk. A powerful, simple message on how engaging with the outdoors and physical health can help your mental health and then some. I’m looking forward to following his adventure.

2. Tim Holtam – pioneering ping pong apostle

(Try saying that after a few beers). Tim’s missions is to “bring on the Ping Pong Revolution”. On the face of it, this might sound like a slightly obscure life mission. Until you see exactly what this means.

Tim’s talk was decidedly different to the rest because he didn’t just wax lyrical about the great work that was being done, he showed it.

https://twitter.com/LetsMeetBtn/status/921406303901233152

Sharing the stage with him for the majority of his talk were some of the people who play at Brighton Table Tennis Club. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more diverse bunch. But the one thing they have in common? Ping pong. Watching them laugh and play together said it all. Across age, race, gender, background, class. It’s just not important in ping pong.

It’s a social revolution that’s beautifully simple and incredible to see in action. (Plus props have to go to Harry Fairchild for being a total legend).

3. Christian de Boisredon – pretty bright spark

I was skeptical about this talk. From the start the idea that we needed more positive news seemed almost crass from the founder of Spark News. When terrible things are happening the world over every day is that really what we need?

“Sharing positive stories can change the world for good.”

But as I listened on, Christian made a clear distinction. His message was not to share more and more “fluff” that’s unimportant. But by sharing success stories around the world centred on solutions, we can inspire more answers to difficult problems.

To illustrate his point, he showed a video of blind women, who are being brought in to perform breast exams on people who might have a tumour. The idea to use disabled people in need of work to use their heightened sense of touch to help find medical problems before it’s too late is absolute genius. This news story isn’t fluff, but it’s positive, and it shows an innovative solution to multiple societal challenges. By showing more of these kinds of stories, we’ll inspire more ideas like this. Christian, you converted me.


The common thing that all these three talks shared was that they were simple. The messages and ideas they put forward might not be easy to implement by any means, but they are simple and elegant in their logic. Utopia doesn’t need to be a distant dream.

TEDx Brighton, you did not disappoint. I have much to think upon…