Science says everyone can be creative
Science says everyone can be creative

For much of history, creativity was characterised as a moment of genius occurring to a gifted individual. Our industry has done much to reinforce this view. Certain jobs are labelled ‘creative’. And by inference, others aren't. Typically the creative jobs are the artistic functions: art directing, graphic designing and copywriting.

Science now provides us with a better understanding of creativity. It shows that our understanding has been limited and that we could make much better use of the creative talent in everyone.

Robert Wiesberg of Philadelphia’s Temple University has used experiments and case studies since the early 1960s to show that creative thinking is in fact a process of problem solving.

What differentiates it from any other thought process is that the outcome is a creative one. So creativity is not a process, but an outcome.

Design thinking has gained a lot of prominence recently. The principle being that the thought processes used by designers can be applied to solve a wide range of problems.

Viewing creativity as a problem-solving process is something we focus on within our work and culture. Our website contains a quote from Einstein, who said that if he had 1 hour to save the world, he’d spend 59 minutes defining the problem and 1 minute developing the solution.

If creativity is a process then understanding how we apply ourselves to this process is crucial. We all have two hemispheres within our brains – often referred to as right and left. Each of these performs different functions. The left brain is verbal, logical and analytical. The right side is visual, intuitive and holistic.

Mark Beeman has researched and written extensively in this area. His work shows that there are two modes of thinking that we can apply to problem solving: insight and analysis.

Analysts tackle problems in a methodical way. At any time they can explain where their thought process is up to and what their best current thinking is.

Insightfuls produce answers through what appear to be eureka moments. But in reality these are the result of subconscious thought processes. As a result, people who think in this way either have an answer or they don’t.

People are often characterised as either left-or right-brain thinkers and indeed we all have a natural tendency towards one or the other thought processes. But we all have the capability – if nurtured – to do both. The best ideas result from applying both thought processes. Insightful thinking is best suited to idea generation. While analytical thinking is required to critique and refine ideas.

By understanding our natural tendencies, we can become more conscious about how we think and therefore how creative we are. While this is fine in theory, how easy it is in reality is a different matter.

The important thing for our industry is understanding that a scientist, engineer or strategist has as much capacity to be creative as someone with an artistic skill set. As the breadth of skills needed to build brands expands, it is vital to recognise this.

Within our own business, the creative concepting process is a true collaboration between designers, writers, strategists and clients. While everyone may not have the capability to visualise an idea, all of us have the capacity to produce the all-important moment of insight.

– RG

References:

  •  How To Fly A Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, And Discovery, Kevin Ashton
  •  Imagine: How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer
  •  Want A Eureka Moment? Choose A Deadline, John Kounios, Wired – May 2016

The Questions We Asked: The Westmorland Family
The Questions We Asked: The Westmorland Family

The Questions We Asked goes behind our work and gives an insight into the issues or opportunities our clients were grappling with prior to briefing us. Sarah Dunning, CEO of The Westmorland Family, takes up the thread:

We’re a second-generation family business. Mum and Dad were and still are hill farmers just outside Tebay in Cumbria. In 1967 the M6 was being built through the corner of their farmland. The government decided there was to be a motorway service area at this point and my parents, in their 30s and keen to get on, made a bid to build and run it. They won the bid and in 1972 they opened Tebay Services northbound.

Westmorland-Family-Grade-66

Over the next 30 years they grew the business and in 2005 Dad handed over the reins to me. The challenge for me was to retain the DNA of the business whilst redefining it for a new generation. It is easy to feel between the devil and the deep blue sea – you don’t want to be the one that destroys the work of the past generation but you know you must be bold if you are to move it on.

We formed a new leadership team and agreed that we wanted to grow and that another motorway service area seemed like the logical step. It took seven years to plan but we finally opened the northbound side of what became Gloucester Services in May 2014. So in the last 10 years we have gone from a local Cumbrian business employing 450 people to one with businesses 300 miles apart, employing 1,000 people.

Westmorland-Family-Gloucester-Shoot-04

One of the decisions you have to make as a business is when to bring in external expertise. This can be difficult, especially when it relates to your core brand, but that’s sometimes when you need it most. In 2012, prior to opening Gloucester Services, we were discussing problems that were strategic but also creative. Squad were a small and young organisation, they knew our business and had some empathy with it and they came with both a strategic and creative background. And so we set about working together.

There were many questions at that time, which tended to pose themselves in the order that the problem arose. One of the first ones was what to call our new services in Gloucestershire, partly because we had to invest a lot of money in motorway signage. However, in trying to answer one question, we often found that we couldn’t do so without first answering a series of other questions. It became apparent that the initial question wasn’t always the most important one. Often there was a question behind the question that we needed to address first.

It became clear that the most important first question to resolve was what the brand stands for. Our ethos, which sat at the heart of the business, was very much about being a Cumbrian family business that had grown out of the farm and remained tied to it. However, we had to square this with our desire to grow the business and specifically with the opportunity we had to build a business in Gloucestershire, which inevitably would take us out of our own Cumbrian farming community. This dichotomy extended to many aspects of our business - our product offer, our buildings, our branding - so we had start with some fundamental questions.

Should the buildings in Gloucestershire ‘feel’ like Tebay Services? Should the food be from Gloucestershire, or should we bring some from Cumbria?

We knew our businesses couldn’t be ‘rolled out’ as Costa, Pret and M&S are. It’s much harder to grow a business this way, because each business has to be bespoke. It also means we’ll never grow to be a giant as some businesses do; but perhaps that’s a good thing – there is something to be said for staying smaller and true to purpose.

However, whilst Gloucester Services should have its own personality, as distinct as Tebay Services, we wanted the customer to feel that they were still siblings, albeit not twins. We had to consider how the buildings and landscape should read back to our identity. We wanted to capture the essence of our Cumbrian businesses but re-express it in an appropriate way for a new build. So whilst both feature heavy timber and stone, and feel quite earthy in their way, we exchanged the agricultural and rustic approach of Tebay, for a more contemporary and sleek design.

The Westmorland Family Gloucester Services-Shoot-50

So how could we create a brand and branding that ties together our businesses with a recognisable thread, yet preserves that character and independence of them?

I have always believed that a business’ ethos should be the compass for every initiative and every innovation you undertake. Only by doing this will the customer understand what you are about. It is not enough to articulate your ethos (even if you can) but you have to deliver it through every touch point because some things are better felt than articulated.

Delivering it through every touch point is quite involved for us because we have around 100 acres of space, about 15,000 product lines and 1,000 people working in the business. We have 10 million customers a year through our businesses and our aspiration is that each one will leave with a sense of what we are about. I have no doubt that we regularly fall short of this aspiration, but we have to keep on trying.

So how could we make sure our branding was present but with a light touch - not like a rubber stamp?

To see how The Westmorland Family’s questions were answered, read the case study here.

Sarah Dunning and RG gave an extended talk based around this article at the 2016 Family Business United Annual Conference and the Cumbria Family Business Conference at Rheged the same year.