change, challenge and creativity…

This was an article I wrote earlier this summer and was first published on City To City, a network of people who bring their experience, ideas and hopes to develop connection, innovation and transformation in the place where they live

Art can often be seen as society’s essential irritant. It can challenge our ingrained perceptions, create emotional responses or stimulate different senses and initiate debate that often transcends our rational understanding. All of which can be really good for us, if we embrace the challenges it can present.

One of the greatest attributes of the human mind, is being able to connect invisible dots, or to take creative leaps in the dark to explore or even create new ground. As Henry Ford famously once said ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’ To me this is a great definition of binary thinking, humans acting like computers. Computers are tools, humans are individuals. The human thought process needs to be unshackled from a status of ‘what is’ to one of ‘what could be’.

beware of artists…

beware of artists…

I remember seeing and experiencing for the first time the ground-breaking conceptual sculpture ‘An Oak Tree’, by  Michael Craig-Martin, in London’s Tate Modern gallery. It was unlike anything I had come across before and I was transfixed. It was a pivotal moment for me in trying to develop my creative thinking.

For those that may have not seen the work, it’s a plain glass of water sitting on a glass shelf 253cm above the ground, with some supporting text mounted on the wall below it. The question and answer format of the text describes changing ‘a glass of water into a full-grown oak tree without altering the accidents of the glass of water’, and explains that ‘the actual oak tree is physically present but in the form of the glass of water’.

At first sight you might feel conned! It really is a glass of water on a shelf – it is most definitely not an oak tree! This is the mind in ‘comfort thinking’ mode. However, push past first impressions and read the accompanying text and see if your perception changes … Craig-Martin considered ‘the work of art in such a way as to reveal its single basic and essential element, belief that is the confident faith of the artist in his capacity to speak and the willing faith of the viewer in accepting what he has to say’ – so if you have faith or belief, anything can be possible. A glass of water can be an oak tree!

You may agree or disagree with the artist, but it has opened a new dialogue in your mind to think about new possibilities, and that is something which is both vital and profound.

My professional creative work is all about generating new ideas, exploring new ways of thinking or approaching an existing problem. For any creative currency to be valid, it has to be challenged. For me it is vital to approach problem-solving from multiple, sometimes contrary, directions, if I am to produce solutions that attempt to rise above stock responses. However, relying solely on an existing reservoir of accumulated ‘comfort zone thinking’ knowledge, the pool of resources I can draw on is fairly shallow and prone to quickly drying up! To avoid this, new experiences, challenges and knowledge need to be embraced on a daily basis.

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious - Albert Einstein

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious – Albert Einstein

It is hard to be creatively inspired in isolation. Hence why I love working collaboratively with different people; clients, coders, printers, team members, etc. Generating an initial concept is comparatively easy, but sometimes it is all too easy to get seduced by your own ideas. Having alternative input and critique is really important to help shape and bring about a more focused solution.

Surrounding yourself with like-minded people with common interests does not challenge ‘comfort zone thinking’ or free the mind from a state of creative inertia. So instead of surrounding myself with the familiar and comforting, I try to embrace change or challenge as part of daily routines. This can be as simple as just choosing or taking different routes instead of familiar journeys. Limitation can also be a great way of providing self-initiated challenges. For example, I recently purchased a new Nikon DSLR camera, and deliberately opted for a 50mm fixed prime lens rather than the general-purpose zoom lens I have always previously used. Quite literally, I will have to change my perspective when taking pictures now! The ‘limitations’ help to push me to think more creatively about the type of shots I can and cannot take.

I also try to allow my passionate curiosity to get the better of me as it often opens the mind to different perspectives or viewpoints. Spending time with those involved in activities outside of my particular sphere of operation, or from different cultures or backgrounds, can bring huge insights and act as a real breath of creative fresh air. I recently attended a PechaKucha night at the De La War Pavillion, where speakers’ topics ranged from The Art and Neuroscience of Lucid Dreaming to Cool Knots, with lots of variety in between! These topics, although random to me, really inspired my thinking on my own current work projects.

the Art Deco magnificence of Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion

the Art Deco magnificence of Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion

Imagine the possibilities if painters mixed with scientists, photographers with mathematicians, linguists with engineers, musicians with sociologists, etc., or better still, they all mix together to work collaboratively on a project! The outcome might initially be some kind of chaotic, creative cacophony! It would be very challenging to manage, but points of difference and commonality would soon be discovered and explored. Creative ideas would soon come to the surface as new thoughts or ideas were considered. Each discipline would be able to offer a unique, external objective perspective by simply asking ‘Why not?’. This in itself can bring a huge release, as accepted traditional ways of thinking within a field are challenged and developed further.

I believe this would resonate with some of the principles of Walter Gropius’s hugely influential Bauhaus School of Art in Germany (1919–1933), a form of education that has proved to be hugely influential ever since.

Often comfort zone thinking is a self-imposed type of mental restriction that we create within our mind. It gives us safe boundaries, a sense of comfort, but beware, these boundaries eventually become a creative prison and ultimately, the death of an inspired mind!

the very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure…

the very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure…

In the words of writer and mountaineer Jon Krakauer from his book/film ‘Into the Wild’.…

So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun

 

 

is taste the death of art?

Working in a ‘creative’ role, the line between objectivity and subjectivity can sometimes become a little blurred when trying to create innovative solutions for clients. We all have our own inbuilt perceptions (or prejudice) of what is or is not appropriate or ‘stylistically’ suitable as a particular response to a design brief. This could be termed as our own particular design ‘taste’, and is something that needs to be both fought against, and at the same time grown, in equal measure as we learn to develop our own individual creative sensibilities and understanding.

Pablo Picasso – Mandolin and Guitar

Pablo Picasso – Mandolin and Guitar

Pablo Picasso famously declared that ‘Taste is the enemy of creativity’Pablo Picasso

To be free of the constraint of taste, is a noble aim, as it opens wide the gates to new creative possibilities and opportunities. Of all the things I learnt whilst studying my BA (Hons) degree in Architecture, the issue of taste was probably the most vital and longest-serving lesson of all!

One of our projects during the second year of the course, was to study the work and a particular building by a specific Architect for a two-week period and then give a presentation about it at the end. We were divided up into small groups and allocated a different Architect to each group. Our group was given the Azuma House in Osaka, Japan, by self-taught Japanese Architect Tadao Ando

Tadao Ando – Azuma house

Tadao Ando – Azuma house

My heart sank! For me at the time this was exactly the type of Architecture that I really had very little interest in or time for. On the surface it appeared to be cold, sterile, and utterly un-appealing concrete box. However as we had no choice or alternatives, this was the Architect/building we had to study for what could have been the longest two weeks of the course for me!

However, through the studying and drawing of the building, looking into Tadao Andos ideas, the culture, the society, the materials used and all the different factors that went into the deign of the building, I had an epiphany moment!

Tadao Ando – Azuma house 3D section

Tadao Ando – Azuma house 3D section

Through the enforced period of study of the Architect and this specific building, my personal perspective and understanding of Tadao Andos design rational changed. Armed with a greater understanding of what he was trying to achieve, my point of reference/perception changed, allowing me to more see the reasons for why the building was how it was. This helped change both my intellectual understanding and emotional response to the building. Instead of rejecting it out of hand, based on my limited knowledge, I now had a way to access its ‘language’, which then brought me to a position of appreciation and dare I say, even a love for it! Oh how fickle our emotions can be!

So now when I approach a design brief or problem, I find it exciting to start with a clean sheet of paper with no preconceptions of what can or cannot be brought into the mix or used as a source of inspiration. I love to embrace the challenge of learning things from unexpected quarters, so that I can bring a fresh perspective into my work.

Thanks for taking the time out to read this, as ever, it is always much appreciated! Please feel free to share it with your friends, and add any thoughts or comments you might have on it…

Chris

don’t just like it, LOVE it!

Andy Warhol was clearly a visionary artist and thinker… but did you also realise he could see into the future too!? It might be very easy for his other more noted art work to have overshadowed this ability, but the fact is, he saw into the future and summarised one of todays primary social media companies (Facebook) raison d’être very succinctly…

‘I think everybody should like everybody’
Andy Warhol

Is ‘Like’ a meaningless default emotional response?

Is ‘Like’ a meaningless default emotional response?

Or, is it that Facebook is simply trying to bring to life one of Andy Warhol’s philosophies…

‘During the 1960’s, I think, people forgot what emotions were supposed to be. And I don’t think they’ve ever remembered’ – The Philosophy of Andy Warhol

It appears that Facebook and marketeers worldwide would want us to believe that as individuals, companies or even international brands, the ultimate emotional response to elicit from any given item or event, is to simply ‘like’ it. In this ever-expanding age of social media, ‘sharing’ and ‘connecting’ seems to be the primary goal and buzz that companies and brands often aspired to, but is simply being liked by as many people as possible, sufficient an emotional response or interaction to aspire to?

is like the emotional response to aim for?

is like the emotional response to aim for?

‘It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.’
Andre Gide

The word ‘like’ to me, is at best bland, at worst, often wholly inappropriate in the social media context. At Passion 4, our ambition for any work or project we are involved with, is that people totally love it, rather than just simply like it. If our ambition was just for it to be liked, it would be setting our bar of ambition pretty low!

nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion

nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion

‘Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion’
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Having a passion for what you do is a vital driving force if you want what you do to avoid falling into the trap of bland mediocrity. Sir Jonathan Ive recently owned up to an Apple secret;

‘We absolutely don’t do focus groups. That’s designers and leaders abdicating responsibility. That’s them looking for an insurance policy, so if something goes wrong, they can say, well this focus group says that only 30% of people are offended by this and, look, 40% think it’s OK.’ All a focus group guarantees, is mediocrity’

Mediocrity is the enemy of creativity, it lacks ambition. It avoids taking risks, it fears failure rather than embracing the lessons it can bring. It adds unnecessary layers of complexity by trying to please everybody. Creativity however is refreshingly simple!

‘Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity’Charles Mingus

Thanks for taking the time out to read this, as always, it is much appreciated! Please feel free to share any thoughts or comments you might have on it…

Chris

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To make a big improvements, start with the small things…

‘A journey of a thousand miles began with a single step’
(1904 – sayings of Lao Tzu)

The 2012 Olympic legacy can be sporting or personal, what will it mean to you?

The 2012 Olympic legacy can be sporting or personal, what will it mean to you?

Quite a famous saying; so famous in fact that the principle it tries to convey, can easily be overlooked or simply taken for granted. Big things rarely happen overnight, it is normally a case of building on a series of smaller steps until the bigger end goal is finally reached.

Now that both the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics are sadly over, it struck us just how much creativity and business both have in common with sport. In particular, we were fascinated by the transformation of Team GB’s Olympic and Paralympic cycling teams over the last few Olympic games.

Much of this transformation has been credited to TeamGB cycling performance director Dave Brailsford who has championed the phrase ‘The aggregation of marginal gains’.

By this he was referring to the concept of taking 1% from everything you do; and then finding a 1% margin for improvement in everything you do.

Marginal gains have resulted in massive performance gains by Team GB’s Olympic cycling squad

Marginal gains have resulted in massive performance gains by Team GB’s Olympic cycling squad

It sounds very simply, and possibly not that much of an inspirational target or mission to try to achieve? But it is in this simplicity, that the brilliance of Brailsfords mantra lies. Rather than set potentially unrealistic or unachievable big figure performance gains, this approach gives a much wider range of achievable (and thus more motivational) targets.

It also opened the focus up on to every single aspect of what the team were doing, from the obvious to the not so obvious. Nutrition, training, technology, clothing, components, processes, strategy, etc. Each aspect was scrutinised and examined in microscopic detail to see if that 1% gain could be found and built upon.

The resulting tiny percentage gains, although on the surface may seem insignificant in themselves  cumulatively they can add up to large gain – potentially a race-winning, or record-winning, gain. If the results of Team GB’s cycling Olympic champions are anything to go by, this very inspiring, yet simple philosophy has already brought a lasting transformation.

This fascinated us, and we could not help but wonder if the same principles could also be applied within the creative and business environments as well? Surely there is always plenty of opportunity to make 1% improvements in all that we do?

Post Olympics, the talk is now all about creating a ‘lasting legacy’ from the games. This can be taken to mean many things to many people, but from a business perspective, the Olympics legacy for us, is to take on board Dave Brailsfords phrase ‘The aggregation of marginal gains’ so that in all that Passion 4 is involved with, we will continually seek to make small improvements in every single aspect of all that we do…

Stop and get out now if you want inspiration…

What are you waiting for? Staring at screen won’t help. Bing or Google in this case are not actually your friends.

What you actually need is new perspective, new ways of thinking and this rarely happens when you stay (stagnate) in the same place, doing the same old things whilst you remain safe and cozy within in your self-defined comfort zone.

We have the privilege of living within a rapidly changing technological landscape, with an ever-increasing array of mind-boggling opportunities and possibilities, yet still some of the greatest creative tools that have ever been invented, are also the cheapest and most readily available.

The humble pen, pencil, sketch/note-book are one of the most important and valuable creative assets you can possibly have. Use them, don’t leave home without them, they rock! Treasure them, treat them with careless abandonment, dare to doodle, scribble down ideas, join the dots and see what direction it takes you in…

the humble pencil is one of the most fundamental and essential creative tools that exist

the humble pencil is one of the most fundamental and essential creative tools that exist

Worry not about the quality of line, the visual imperfections of your ability to draw, this is simply all about exploring ideas, giving birth to thoughts or concepts, and then bringing them into a visual reality.

A classic demonstration of this was from a simple sketch that Ben Pon (a former Olympian and motor racing driver from the Netherlands) made in April 1947 when he came across a very strange vehicle that a group of German car manufacturer employees had built themselves to make their work easier when transporting heavy parts from production hall to production hall…

Ben Pon took his notebook and sketched a type of vehicle that did not exist in the world at that time – a forward control vehicle with rear engine and a box shaped body. This sketch marked the starting point of a million selling vehicle: the Volkswagen Transporter.

Ben Pon took his notebook and sketched a type of vehicle that did not exist in the world at that time – a forward control vehicle with rear engine and a box-shaped body. This sketch marked the starting point of a million selling vehicle: the Volkswagen Transporter.

At first sight it really is not that impressive as a piece of ‘art’, but it was the concept that was captured on paper. A little later, on 23rd April, this impression crystallised into an idea. Ben Pon took his notebook and sketched a type of vehicle that did not exist in the world at that time – a forward control vehicle with rear engine and a box-shaped body. This simple sketch marked the starting point of a million selling vehicle: the Volkswagen Transporter the vehicle that has become an iconic design for many generations to this very day!

The iconic Volkswagen Split screen 23 window deluxe microbus

The iconic Volkswagen Split screen 23 window deluxe microbus

As one (of the many) great lines from Fight Club proclaims, ‘How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?’

In this instance of looking for inspiration, the ‘fight’ is not an underground fight cub, it is more often a fight against the self-imposed boundaries that tend to limit the creative process. You need to shake things up, break some routines and push the boundaries of our experiences if we are see things in a new way.

If you have not already had an opportunity to read the excellent book ‘Sticky Wisdom: How to Start a Creative Revolution at Work’, I can highly recommend it as a way of helping you find easy and very practical ways of incorporating new creative principles into your everyday lifestyle.

Carpe diem – do it now before the rut becomes too deep to escape from!