Anarchy lures, OK?

An easy facility with wordplay is one of the best skills a creative can have, and the surest way to puncture the pomposity of ‘suits’, argues David Bernstein

Suits are con-cerned with running things, creatives with changing things. When the subject of creativity first went under the research microscope in US business schools, it was found that potential ‘suits’ scored well in multiple-choice questions whereas would-be creatives excelled in the open-ended variety. They were put on this earth to create new solutions, not to search among old ones.

Creativity is the ability to see things in a new way, to articu-late that insight and share it with others. Creatives, suits might complain, have an infuriating habit of never leaving well enough alone. Accompanying a creative on a visit, say, to an art gallery can be less uplifting as an experience if your compan-ion, seeing things the artist had-n’t intended, chooses to add an incongruous verbal caption.

Though it may annoy, this special skill of seeing the unusual is a bankable asset in creative industries. The skill is not difficult to detect at an interview, in a portfolio or in conversation. Wordplay is a useful clue. A relevant pun betrays a mind at work, a facility to connect. The verbal or visual pun where two thoughts or images are rele-vantly fused results in what Milton Glaser calls a ‘disruption of expectation’. The perpetrator is saying in effect ‘look at it this way’. The familiar morphs into the strange – or vice versa.

Anagrams also disrupt. Order becomes disorder, though not anarchy. All the letters remain but are rearranged, with or without a meaning connected to the original. For examples of the latter, visit the back page of The Guardian’s G2 supplement where each day you are invited to rearrange the nine letters of a familiar word or phrase. ‘Pepsicola’, you discover the next day, is an anagram of ‘episcopal’. Strange, and true, but so what? On the other hand, in the same newspaper’s cryptic crossword, wrapped in a clue, came the revelation that ‘schoolmaster’ is an anagram of ‘the classroom’.

Nearer home, you can turn ‘Wally Olins’ into ‘lowly snail’. Again, so what? However, a slight reshuffle produces ‘slowly nail’, which could tell us something about his new business technique. Similarly, ‘ample heretics’ could be a guide to the staffing philosophy of ‘Michael Peters’.

Chris Ingram, the hugely successful media-buying entrepreneur, has never forgiven me for pointing out publicly that his name is an anagram of ‘rich margins’. How prophetic – but then we anag-ram addicts tend to believe there is meaning, possibly a divinity, amid the disorder. How else could ‘bedroom’ become ‘boredom’? Or a word seen chiefly at airport carousels, where one wonders whether one’s luggage will show up, namely ‘reclaim’, can transform itself into ‘miracle’?

Addicts experience a high when the new word goes beyond the merely apt to the quintessentially appropriate. I was the last speaker at a conference on the South Bank. The penultimate speaker was the historian, Asa Briggs. He was overrunning dramatically. I began playing with his name and reshaping it. Lo and behold, it became ‘Sir Gasbag’.

I was tempted to share my discovery from the stage of the hall with suitable musical accompaniment (the New Word Symphony, of course) but thought better of it. Though once, at a Shell design work-shop, I did succumb. There, I was watching a Shell executive reporting on a trial makeover of a service station called Tub’s Hill. The letters danced before my eyes and I exclaimed, in a loud gasp, ‘bullshit’.

David Bernstein

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