Mind Game

James Knight looks at creativity workshops and asks whether they are the key to unlocking your imagination

No matter how much you may love your job, at some points life can become a bit of a slog. You’ve got to keep the client happy, costs down and bring the project in on time. And at the back of your mind, there’s always that nagging insecurity that the precious commodity you trade in, ideas, might suddenly dry up quicker than a North Sea oil field. So it’s no coincidence that ‘creativity training’ is becoming a vogue term. ‘Understanding the true value of creativity is crucial as it becomes the new currency of business,’ says Ziggurat creative director Allison Miguel, who has experience of creativity coaching courses in the US. Colin Clews, a creative coach, agrees. ‘Organisations tend to evaluate work according to the bottom line. “If we’re making money, we’re being creative enough.” On an individual basis that’s important, but it’s not all that matters. Having the opportunity to explore creativity is also important,’ he says. Susan Holder, of consumer consultancy Future Featuring, which worked with Williams Murray Hamm on the recent Phileas Fogg rebrand, believes that developing coaching for innovation is vital. She says, ‘People charged with creating find it really tough. Everyone’s there, from the board down, asking them questions and it’s really difficult to do something different. All the talk from the Government and the business press is of “innovate, innovate, innovate”, but there’s very little on how to actually do that.’ One problem the design industry faces is that clients may not always want too much creativity, which prevents out-of-the-box thinking. Despite Miguel’s optimism, according to last year’s business design survey, conducted by the Design Council, companies rate ‘creativity’ only sixth out of ten key ingredients of business success. One of the main tasks for design consultancies, therefore, is to communicate the financial benefits of creativity to clients, says Clews. ‘The more creative you can be, the more likely an organisation is to succeed in the marketplace. Good work is both critically applauded and successful because it steps outside the framework to do its own thing. The message [to clients] needs to be, “We can be more creative and that will actually be to your advantage”.’ Clews’ background in counselling has helped him formulate a creative coaching model using the ‘light bits’ of psychology. Clews has worked with individuals in the past, but is negotiating with corporate clients to offer team creative coaching. As well as looking at recruitment strategy and communications, he thinks there are techniques that can be used to optimise creativity among employees, like introducing random stimuli to help thought processes, or devising multiple solutions to a task [see box, page 20]. e British Design & Art Direction is getting in on the act this autumn with its own series of creativity workshops tailored specifically to the design industry. ‘We don’t call it training because creatives don’t like that,’ says D&AD education director Claire Fennelow. Launching on 17 October, the workshops build on last year’s Workout programme, targeted at the ad industry. According to the blurb, the course ‘is designed to build up your ideas muscle’, which sounds positively Freudian. Courses range from comedy writing with ex-Mary Whitehouse Experience member Steve Punt to building installations of fairy lights in a darkened room. A series of eight workshops costs £1000 for an individual and £1600 per corporate team member. Content for the new set of courses is still being finalised, but digital photography, colour, and motion workshops are being considered. Others will be more practical, such as time-management and presentation skills. Fennelow acknowledges the relative poverty of the design community in relation to advertising and plans to offer three workshops at a time, ‘which will be priced accordingly’. However, there is some evidence of resistance from design consultancies. ‘The thought of creativity workshops would meet with some scepticism,’ says Bruce Duckworth of Turner Duckworth. ‘I’m not sure that there’s a process for creativity. It’s based on experience and observation and that’s what should be encouraged.’ He agrees that designers should develop other interests, but not necessarily through workshops: ‘I’d rather send my designers out and teach them to play tennis.’ Turner Duckworth has the luxury of a sister office in San Francisco, run by partner David Turner, which enables the consultancy to run a regular exchange programme for all its employees. Staff come back refreshed a nd inspired, full of new colours, sounds and smells that feed into their work, Duckworth says. It sounds a wonderful solution, but not one that’s available to everyone. Miguel is yet to be convinced. ‘Creative training can be valuable if used properly,’ she says, ‘but the term has become synonymous with embarrassingly childish or overly intellectualised workshops.’ She remembers a training course she attended in the US a few years ago. ‘Being weird and wacky and jumping around talking to trees was seen as creative training. I felt it was very forced and the people training us were quite fake.’ She points to the Blue Sky Awards, which she instituted when a creative director at Coley Porter Bell, as an alternative way of inspiring employees. Blue Sky is an in-house ideas competition designed to stimulate creativity. Everyone at CPB can enter, directors aside, by proposing something they’d like to undertake that fulfills a passion and benefits the consultancy, too. Miguel is not alone in thinking training is not always the answer. Chairman and creative partner of Brandhouse WTS Mark Wickens is worried that training can quash inherent creativity. ‘Creative people have their own way of thinking about problems and I don’t believe you should mess with that. ‘I don’t think you should get people themselves to think too much about it. Everyone should be encouraged to develop their creativity in their own way and not be clones. How they get their inspiration is up to them,’ Wickens says. He sees the job of the creative director to act as a creative coach, constantly pushing, encouraging and cajoling designers to their limits. No wonder Clews is finding promoting the idea of creative coaching hard work. ‘People over here still seem remarkably reluctant,’ he ponders, putting this down to the economic rut the creative industries are still stuck in. ‘In crisis times, organisations cut back on expenditure, such as staff investment activities, when they need them more than ever.’ Whatever the reasons, consultancies have yet to be convinced by either workshops or personal development programmes. Everyone seems to agree that creativity can blossom in the right circumstances, but there’s some disagreement as to what these may be, and how much they should be engineered. However, the options for personal creative development do exist for those who want them. And you never know, those ideas might start flowing again. For information on D&AD’s creativity sessions, contact Laura Woodroffe on 020 7840 1126 For information on Colin Clews’ sessions, visit www.colinclews.com or contact 020 8870 1257 for an obligation-free trial session Five steps to creativity 1 Always aim for multiple solutions. Set yourself the task of coming up with at least six approaches to an issue. This stretches your thinking and makes it more likely that you’ll get the best solution, rather than the first one that comes along 2Two heads are better than one. Whenever you try to do things by yourself your ideas will always be limited. Bringing in ideas and perspectives of other people will help get you out of that mould 3Recognise the role of your subconscious in the creative process. The best ideas often come when we’re doing something completely unrelated (Agatha Christie, for example, claimed she got all her best ideas when she was doing the dishes). So, if you’re stuck on a particular project, start by clarifying what you’re trying to achieve – then go and do something that takes your mind off it completely for a few hours. During this time your subconscious will mull it over and start to put it into some kind of workable format 4Break out of your established thought patterns by introducing random stimuli. For example, open a dictionary at any page and choose the word at the bottom left-hand corner. Now try and devise ideas that revolve around this word. You can do the same thing with other randomly chosen items – from pictures in a newspaper to objects lying around the home or workplace 5Don’t be afraid to build on other people’s ideas; it’s not the same as stealing them. At the same time, recognise that you bring your own unique perspective to any situation, so don’t be afraid to put that forward either. Never accept ‘common wisdom’ – there’s no such thing

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