Why why killed what and who

A guest blog from Kyle van Blerk, creative partner at creative agency Meteorite, on using an emotional approach in creative processes.


I recently watched a TED talk by  the very clever Simon Sinek, who presented a simple but powerful model for how leaders inspire action. You can watch it here.

In his talk, he used a startlingly simple diagram called ’the golden circle’ which beautifully showed why the question “Why” is so much more important than the questions ’what’, ’how’ or ’when.’


Or, in other words, why eliciting an emotional reaction from a consumer is so much more commercially powerful than a rational reaction.
This got me thinking about why (see what I did there?) emotional approaches are more effective – and more difficult – than rational approaches, both in everyday life and the creative process as a whole.

For example. I recently saw The Tree of Life, Terence Malick’s Palme d’Or winning ode to, well, life. And trees. And dinosaurs.

Tree of Life
Tree of Life

An extremely visceral, emotive experience – in fact, more of an experience than a conventional movie in all senses. I was blown away, but was also annoyed at the incessant sniggering of the couple behind me. I can kind of buy why the general movie-going public wouldn’t get it, but I couldn’t resist the urge to turn around and ask them to keep their mirth to a minimum or f*ck off to the theatre next door where Transformers 3 was showing.

Which brings me to the rational approach.

Having not seen the latest incarnation of the capitalist machine that is Transformers (and not planning to either), one can get the gist of it without having to endure it. It seems to be a completely rational approach to creativity. Robots threaten earth. Earth fights back. Earth triumphs. Money gets made. Sequels get made. More money gets made. All very rational.

Compare this with Malick’s approach, where he didn’t so much give the actors a script, but briefed them on their characters, built a town and let them wander around, living their life more than acting their parts, and filmed the outcome of this process.

He adopted a similar approach to the (very) special effects, enlisting Douglas Trumbull (He who originally blew minds with SFX work in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey), and their approach was very much one of bold, free experimentation.

Using materials more likely to be found in a hardware store than a high-tech CGI studio, they organically (literally and figuratively) stumbled upon images that are unique, striking and often accidental. Once in a lifetime kind of stuff, in my humble opinion.

Now compare my reaction in the cinema to that of the giggling buffoons sitting behind me. I doubt any of the Transformers travesties would extract that kind of defensive, almost protective reaction from its viewing audience. Probably because they’re not that engaged in the first place. Sure, it’s probably thrill a minute stuff, but in a very rational ’we’ve-got-to-thrill-the-audience-every-minute’ kind of way.

If we can strive to put as much emotional currency into our craft as Messrs Malick and Trumbull, the audiences gut, instinctual reaction will be to become emotionally involved with whatever it is that we’ve done. And whether that’s shifting more units off the shelves or saving lives in Darfour, it means that both us and our audience are getting more out of what we do every day.

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  • Dave Alexander November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Are wonder and visceral excitement not emotional responses to stimulus? Did Malick feel the same pressure Bay must have in each decision, each tiny element of Directorial decision? Just questions that need to be asked to provide a deeper consideration beyond sneering at the un-educated masses as they drink Coke and you San Pellegrino Kyle.

  • Kyle van Blerk November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Thanks for the comments Dave, all good points. Although mine was a Frozen Fanta. The blue one.

  • Lizzie Mary Cullen November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I do agree that sparking an emotional response is powerful. Couple an emotional response with a rational one and you’re on to a winner.

    Take Tree of Life. It sounds like you and I personify the extreme opposites of opinion. You seem to have appreciated its artistic concept and loved the film. Personally I found it self-indulgent, smug and badly edited.

    The graphics were stunning, the acting superb – why (see what I did there?) did I hate it so much? I have no idea, but the constant bullying of the film to make me balk at the amazingness of creation through oppressive hour long sequences of space (however well executed) was suffocating and ultimately irritating.

    Give me Super 8 any day – buffoon and proud of it.

  • Kyle van Blerk November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    If you thought my views were a tad harsh, make sure to avoid Mark Kermode’s piece in this mornings Guardian at all costs. http://bit.ly/p0HcqS

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