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



everything says something – the secret arts of communication…

Communication is the lifeblood of human existence. The quality of our ability to communicate effectively, has shaped the development of the world as it stands today, so really, it’s a pretty big thing! In todays digital world, there is a vast plethora of ever-increasing forms and mediums for communication (Snapchatwhatsapp, twitter etc.) that have moved things on from the dizzy days of the humble ‘mixtape’ as a form of personal and intimate communication!

the classic ‘mixtape’ was all about communication

the classic ‘mixtape’ was all about communication

communication | kəˌmyo͞onəˈkāSHən |
the imparting or exchanging of information or news: the successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings: social contact: means of connection between people, places or things: a communications network.

Communication takes place at both macro and micro levels. On a personal basis, the very essence of who we are often communicates far more eloquently than anything we can ever say or do. We are in fact the walking talking embodiment of our own ‘brand’. Sometimes communication gets masked, renamed or dressed up in fancy buzz words, but this tends to simply add layers of unnecessary complexity, to what is in essence, a very simple thing. We are our own brand. What we say and do communicates this to all we come in contact with.

In marketing and advertising, companies want to tell (bore!) people every little tiny detail about their product. I think they often labour under the belief that people buy their products based upon these tiny details? They don’t. The details may reinforce their emotional desire or need to justify their purchase after the decision has already been made in their heart. With most things, you have a 3-5 second window to grab someones attention with your message, so the ‘hook’ needs to be clear, concise and one that emotionally engages the audience. When a message is simplified, the power and impact of the communication is often exponentially increased, Apples iconic and hugely successful 1999 iMac ‘Yum’ Poster is simplicity personified!

Apples iconic 1999 iMac ‘Yum’ Poster – simplicity personified

Apples iconic 1999 iMac ‘Yum’ Poster – simplicity personified

‘The more we elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate’
J. B. Priestley

One of the most vital aspects of communication is understanding that it is a two-way process. It should not be a dry monologue, it should be an interactive and engaging dialogue where listening is probably the most essential ingredient.

The Chinese verb ‘to listen’ is interestingly made up from five different Chinese characters – Ear, You, Eyes, Undivided attention and Heart. The fact that it is made up of these different aspects tell us something significant about this multifaceted component of the communication process.

to listen requires more than just your ears

to listen requires more than just your ears

The absence of ‘listening’ is most easily demonstrated in poor examples of customer service. Here the vital aspect of the communication process is not just about passing on good news, or dealing with happy/satisfied clients, more often it is dealing with situations where things have not gone as expected or desired! People can actually deal with hearing bad news, in fact they can be more easily placated simply by keeping them in the loop at all stages as to what is actually going on. Often the biggest frustration of rail commuters if there are delays or cancellations, is not necessarily the delay itself (although this does not help), it is the simple fact that they are not properly kept informed of what is happening. If the rail companies listened to what their customers were actually saying, the quality of their customer service could be greatly improved!

The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.
Sydney J. Harris

As in life, communication is a central component of doing business, but it often gets renamed (or hidden/confused) as dress code, customer service, advertising, product design, branding, marketing, interior design, social media, customer experience, sales, user experience etc. etc. If you don’t recognise these terms as some of your primary sources of business communication, then it could be that you are not in full charge of the messages you are inadvertently communicating as part of your everyday activities?

Everything is connected, everything is reflective, and everything says something about you or your business…

The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak – Hans Hofmann

The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak – Hans Hofmann

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


Happy 30th Mac – my personal reflection on the computer that said ‘Hello’

Happy 30th Mac! On January 24, 1984 the world of home computers was forever changed by the debut of the Apple Macintosh. With a gigantic 9-inch monitor, a keyboard, a mouse and 128 KB of built-in memory, the computer could be yours for the low, low price of US$2,495 dollars. Today marks the Macintosh’s 30th anniversary! 

OK, so I’m not going to get into that perennial Mac v PC debate, life is way too short for that! Love or hate them, from my personal perspective, the Macs simplicity transformed not just the way I worked, but also the type of work I do! The Mac interface and way of working, took my everyday tasks and gave them familiar metaphors, but in a computer context. This computer context was both invisible and accessible at the same time. Suddenly it made sense, The Mac was a useful creative tool, it was a digital drawing board with a set of digital pens and compasses, this I could understand and work with!

Happy 30th Mac - On January 24, 1984 the world of home computers was forever changed by the debut of the Apple Macintosh.

Happy 30th Mac – On January 24, 1984 the world of home computers was forever changed by the debut of the Apple Macintosh.

My initial introduction to computers was during the early 1980’s was just so far removed from this! I still to this day remember being in a computer lessons finding out how to write endless lines of DOS code just to get a rather uninspiring X drawn in green type on a small dark computer screen!

Computer says no… no, no, no!

Computer says no… no, no, no!

If this was what the future of ‘computing’ was all about, you could count me out – I would much rather stick with my trusted Rotring pens and Ecobra compasses thank you very much! Working with these tools seemed way easier…

My now classic ‘retro’ Rotring isograph ink pens

My now classic ‘retro’ Rotring isograph ink pens

What now seems antiquated and obsolete, were my high-tech ‘tools of the trade’ back in the mid 1980’s!

My now classic ‘retro’ Ecobra spring bow compasses

My now classic ‘retro’ Ecobra spring bow compasses

However, for someone like me who saw little use for computers in my line of work, this was all about to change in a very dramatic way! In 1984 Ridley Scott directed the now classic a big-budget (US$900,000) television commercial to launch the Apple Macintosh computer…

The so-called ‘1984 advertisement’ was given a showcase airing in the United States on 22 January 1984, during Super Bowl XVIII, alongside screenings in cinemas. Some consider this advertisement a ‘watershed event’ in advertising and a ‘masterpiece’ The advertisement used its heroine (portrayed by Anya Major) to represent the coming of the Macintosh (indicated by her white tank top adorned with a picture of Apple’s Macintosh computer) as a means of saving humanity from ‘conformity’ (Big Brother)

Another of Apples classic ad campaigns in 1997 praised those that stood out from the crowd and dared to ‘Think Different’ – it’s slightly ironic that now some 30 years after it’s initial launch, Apple products are now the more mainstream devices with the ubiquitous presence and success of their iPhones, iPads and their range of different Macs – so whose crazy now?

Happy 30th Birthday Mac – one of my favourite creative tools (after my pencil of course!)…

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


ask not what your economy can do for you…

With the ongoing news about failing economies, weakening currencies and economic uncertainty, it is good to know that there is still a currency that can be invested in that will give a great return on investment.

Not heard about it? Simple. Investing in creative ideas and design is always a good option.

A creative idea that is developed, nurtured and brought to life is a very special ‘currency’, one that can deliver both short and long-term benefits.

ask not – changing the world, one t-shirt slogan at a time!

ask not – changing the world, one t-shirt slogan at a time!

OK, so I’m no Robert Peston or Stephanie Flanders, or a learned journalist from the Financial Times or The Economist, so like most financial transactions, there is always small print, and as Tom Waits once said…

‘The large print giveth and the small print taketh away’

Strangely however, in such times of uncertainty, the natural instinct can often be to revert back to old ways of thinking, to cut back on creativity, to withdraw back to the known, to stay safe. So rather than investing in a ‘creative currency’; in new ways of thinking, new ways of approaching problems, things just stagnate and stay the same. As a counter to this approach,  Henry Ford (1863-1947), American founder of the Ford Motor Company once famously said…

‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’

Apple once boldly proclaimed, now more than ever, we need to ‘think different‘ just like the Crazy ones…

At the time, Apple were floundering badly, yet they heavily invested in design and the creative process, with the outcome being the revolutionary launch of the first iMac, arguably the computer that helped change both their future as a company, as well as the computer landscape from that point onwards.

Rather than a creative austerity mentality, surely now is the best time to be crazy and invest more in creativity! So what are you going to invest your creative bank balance in?