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

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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.

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Out for a duck
Out for a duck

Sir Nigel Gresley was an imaginative man.

A gifted inventor.

Probably the most famous locomotive designer associated with the London and North Eastern Railway.

He designed arguably the most famous locomotive in the world: the Flying Scotsman.

And as well as being a great engineer he had an eye for beauty.

Designing engines with muscle and elegance.

The attractiveness of his locomotives were not wasted on the advertising department of the LNER at King’s Cross: many of his engines appeared regularly on posters, luggage labels and booklets.

Anywhere the company could take advantage of the locomotives’ impressive good looks.

But when LNER were able to prove that their engines were not only safe and stylish but very, very fast, they had a real marketing property on their hands.

On the 3 July 1938, driver Joe Duddington climbed into the cab of the Mallard: an A4 class locomotive with sweeping art deco lines.

Joined by fireman Tommy Bray, and the inspector, Sam Jenkins.

Attached to the engine was a dynamometer car full of charts and instruments to record their speed.

Turning his cap back to front, Duddington took the helm and they started their outward journey from Wood Green.

Resting at a siding in Barkston, thoughts were collected and packed lunches eaten, as Jennings and Bray made the fire up, right to the doors of the firebox.

The train left at 4.15pm, rising through Peascliffe Tunnel and on to Barrowby Road Junction, where the line levelled out on the way to Grantham.

Work on the line meant that the train slowed to 24mph temporarily then gradually picked up the pace, passing through Stoke Tunnel and heading uphill towards Stoke summit.

Passing Stoke Box at the top of the climb, Duddington gave the Mallard a head of steam at 85mph.

And she jumped to it like she was alive.

After three miles the speedometer in his cab showed 107mph, then 108, 109 …

Before he knew it the needle was at 116mph.

Bray and Jenkins shovelled frantically.

Duddington nursed her through Little Lytham at 123mph.

The excited passengers in the dynamometer car urged her on.

And then for quarter of a mile they all held their breath as they reached previously uncharted speeds of 126mph.

The Mallard had booked her place in history, clinching a new world record for steam locomotives.

So it feels very fitting that a statue of Sir Nigel Gresley should be commissioned by the Gresley Society Trust.

And unveiled at King’s Cross Station next year: the 75th anniversary of his death.

A seven-foot-tall bronze figure of the man, created by sculptor Hazel Reeves.

And here’s the clever bit: he has a bronze mallard duck at his feet.

An inspired idea.

A duck that will make people stop and take notice.

A duck that will help spark interest in the story of how the Mallard broke the world steam record.

A duck that will mark out this statue from the plethora of other statues celebrating the great and the good around London, and make people remember it.

Without the duck, it’s just another statue of a kindly old gentleman.

But it appears that’s exactly what a minority of trust committee members would prefer: to remove the duck, because it may invite ridicule and detract from the dignity of the statue.

So after widespread consultation with their president, vice presidents, members and Sir Nigel’s family, the duck is no more.

That’s the danger of design by committee: you’re rarely going to please everyone.

Compromise can lead to watered-down designs or strategy that everyone likes (or can live with), but that no one really loves.

Which will be picked up by your audience.

Your audience aren’t always as interested as you think they are.

You need to make them sit up and take notice.

It takes daring to be different.

Different doesn’t need to be wacky.

It should be salient and meaningful.

It should stick something in people’s memory banks.

Relevant difference is a calculated risk.

But far too often people fear too much what will happen if the risk is taken.

But the question should be: what are we risking if we don’t take it?

Because if your brand doesn’t provoke a reaction then it’s the equivalent of a kindly old gentleman.

Hold your breath and give your brand a head of steam.

And don’t let your best ideas be out for a duck.

- DB

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Seven feet tall
Seven feet tall

When Bill Shankly took over as manager of Liverpool Football Club they were a second-rate side, languishing in the old Second Division.

By the time he had left in 1974, they’d won three First Division titles, one Second Division title, two FA Cups and one UEFA Cup.

Unrecognisable from the deadbeat side he’d taken charge of in December 1959 - even down to their kit.

Because when Bill Shankly took over as manager of Liverpool they didn’t play in their iconic all-red strip.

They played in white shorts and white socks, with white piping on their red jerseys.

But Bill had an idea.

Impressed by Real Madrid’s all-white kit and with a gut instinct for colour psychology, he made a switch so powerful it’s hard to believe it hasn’t always been that way.

One day after training, Bill bounded into the players’ dressing room.

He threw a pair of vivid red shorts to one of his players.

“Get into those shorts and let’s see how you look,” announced Bill.

Because he had a theory: red is for danger; red is for power.

And he didn’t just choose any player to model this new kit: he chose his captain, Ron Yeats.

The six feet two inches fellow Scot he’d signed from Dundee United: a part-time slaughter man who was strong as an ox, and twice as wide.

The bemused centre-half duly obliged and donned the red shorts, with the addition of red socks.

As he walked down the steps towards the players’ tunnel he could see his manager, and assistant Bob Paisley, in the middle of the pitch.

And as Yeats approached them, all in red, Bill exclaimed: “Christ, Ronnie, you look awesome, terrifying, you look seven feet tall!”

His stocky presence was made all the more imposing by the all-red uniform.

A move intended to strike fear and intimidation into the hearts of opponents.

Bill was happy.

And on 25 November 1964, the man-mountain from ‘The Granite City’ of Aberdeen, led out his teammates against Anderlecht in the first round of the European Cup.

All in red for the first time.

The art of theatre was not lost on Bill, he instructed Yeats to stand in the centre circle of the Anfield pitch.

“Walk around him,” Bill proclaimed, as he invited a group of journalists to behold his rough-hewn granite obelisk.

Splendorous in scarlet.

The match was played at a cracking tempo.

Yeats the rock: a huge, defiant red-jasper sentinel in the middle of the defence.

Hunt, St John and Yeats on the score sheet: the captain’s forceful header - his first at Anfield.

They shattered the pride of Belgium: 3-0.

And Bill knew that a red glow had been ignited at Anfield that night: one that burned fiercely for more than 20 years.

He knew the importance of getting people to sit up and take notice.

His symbolic move captured their supporters’ imagination and that of the onlooking press too.

Projecting a very clear sense of who or what you are, and why you’re doing it, is critical to success.

Connecting as much, if not more, on an emotional level than a rational one.

Through the re-evaluative symbol of a red kit, Bill projected a powerful identity, not just a superficial image.

A far cry from Cardiff City’s move from a blue shirt to a red one in order to appeal to an international audience.

Bill’s change was nothing to do with marketing trickery and everything to do with what was happening on the pitch.

But its marketing power is recognised and felt globally.

And Bill knew the real secret of his kit change wasn’t just the effect it would have on the opposition and the supporters.

He knew that great football sides - like great companies or brands - are built from the inside out.

Bill Shankly, the revolutionary leader who rallied a red uprising, knew only too well, that his players wouldn’t only look seven feet tall.

They’d feel it as well.

- DB

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