Confidence is a preference

Posted by Gary Egerton on 13.05.15

As creatives, we probably see ourselves as having a pretty good understanding of human psychology — what makes people tick and what makes people tock. This informs our work and helps us to sell our clients product through clever, empathetic messaging that resonates and massages and entices and ultimately sells. After all the human story can be (for humans at least ) the most compelling story of all.

And I’m certain that when it comes to the brief landing on the desk on a Monday morning, most of us are ready to (metaphorically) crack the knuckles, flex the temples and start the ideas machine rolling with a confidence that we are going to nail it!

But the reality can be somewhat different.

The team meeting is called, it’s a kick-off meeting but someone has decided that it’s a great opportunity for a brainstorm while we’ve got the right people in the room’. The coffee is poured, the chit chat about bikes, and shopping and what the dog did to the rug in the dining room at\ the weekend is all dealt with, and then it’s back to business, the ideas business.

All of a sudden a room full to the brim with creatives, from top to bottom and back again, people who are paid to come up with ideas for a living, falls silent. The eyes shift from one person to another. The brief is pawed over fastidiously, concern on every face as pages are flicked back and forth continuously and the concerned looks grow ever more… well, concerned. Yet nothing is said. People start making notes’. What?? Creatives don’t make notes! We never make notes. We believe that we have an instinct that will guide us through regardless of any notes. Notes are for people who don’t have anything better to do.

So what is this strange show all about?

It is about human nature.

It is because the minute we step into a room where we are expected to perform, we freeze. [Note: This is a sweeping generalisation and I’m sure that every day, in agencies across the land, there are genius moments that buck the trend, but for us mere mortals we can often feel nervous at our own ability.] It is not that we are inept, it is not that we don’t have ideas, it is merely that we under no circumstances want to be seen to be having bad ones. And this is the crux of the matter, self- consciousness. It holds us back from laying on the table quite possibly the best ideas we may ever have.

I recently went to the Vision Bristol gathering at the Arnolfini and among others I saw a fellow by the name of Steve Chapman. He calls himself a Change and Creativity Consultant’ and to be honest I didn’t know what to expect of the talk. Some of you may have heard of him, some of you may have even seen him and taken part in his demonstrative lectures that from the off get peoples nerves tingling with expectation and unease the minute he mentions participation’. But for me, the general gist, is that he talks about letting go’ at least that’s what I took from it. By letting go’ I mean getting rid of that self-consciousness, the one that stifles us and prevents us from shining in the brainstorm.

He has a set of Creative Practices’ that he has devised and when you look at them it may seem very obvious and easy but if that is the case it wouldn’t have been such a joy to have spent an hour proving the point.

One of the first things he did was to divide the room into two. One half was to assume the identity of a boy and the other was to assume the identity of a girl. We were then asked to have a collective’ conversation with each other, whereby the group on one side of the room asked the other a question vocally at the same time. Steve had to guide us a bit, and there was hesitation at first as no one knew what was expected of them, but eventually both sides managed to converse’ with each other and it revealed something. The point was there was no right or wrong. People just expressed themselves freely and there was no consequence. Once the social signals had been given for people to act freely, they did so but because it was no one individual it seemed less intimidating.

One of the other exercises was to partner up with someone, a stranger or otherwise and then you took turns to tell a story while the other interjected with words at random intervals that would then have to be woven into the story. This had mixed results (and some weird stories) over a few goes and the levels of anxiety varied, but what was interesting was that the desire for wanting to impress, wanting to be funny, wanting to make sense was equal for both roles. As I said before, there were no rights or wrongs, and this was partly Steve Chapman’s point, that in the world of creativity there should be no conventions as there are in everyday life. The fear of having a bad idea’ just shouldn’t exist because without a thousand bad ideas there would be no really good ones.

Going back to the brainstorm scenario, when people are sitting around having to think on their feet, feeling pressured to come up with that one good one’ they are forgetting something. Every time they self-edit in their head thinking they are being unoriginal or predictable and will be laughed at or anything else, they are doing so mistakenly because what might seem obvious to themselves may be genius to others. What might seem predictable and not worth mentioning may be worthy of an award.

Maybe if we all thought less about the consequences and left our self-consciousness at the meeting room door then there would be no need to hide behind notes’ and the creative world would be a better place for it. Have confidence, have fun, have ideas.

Written by Gary Egerton.

Steve Chapman

Image by Dave North.