Thursday, August 24, 2006

September's Raw Nerves

I've just watched the video below and suggest you do too. Put some time aside. It's an hour and 30 minutes. It will challenge you perceptions (I hope). And, who knows, you might be moved to ask questions. Watch it with an open mind. Open minds are better than closed ones. This is the most persuasive example of web 2.0 and Generation C at work that I have seen.

My work promotes creativity and the growth of a creative economy for New Zealand. It is crucial to our future survival in the world. But we have a number of difficulties that have to be overcome.

We are remote from the world.
Some people think that's a good thing, but it's not. The tyranny of distance from markets and stimulation makes fungible goods, on which our export economy is dependant, impractical. It also means we will always have a net outflow of youth and talent who have the Dick Whittington Syndrome.

We are small.

The world hardly registers our presence. Though, because of our well developed media infrastructure, that's not the story we hear about ourselves.

If we are going to participate on a global stage there needs to be an open, free market for ideas. The paranoid, post 911 world doesn't bode well.

Who doesn't get an inkling of a partisan, if not bigoted world. The whole 'Terror' concept is terrifying. And that is the intention. The Nazis used the technique to galvanise the frightened German population after WW1 and hate memes the likes the world has never seen before are being deployed.

Read UnSpeak.

Watch the video below. And be grateful for the web.

But most of all:
Don't allow us all to descend back into the dark ages.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Disorderly Conduct

One of the worst films I have rented from the video store was a bio-pic of The One & Only Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the French poet, author and aviator. You may have read his book The Little Prince. He is somewhat enigmatic. The movie was somewhat unwatchable-as is often the case with biographic films.

I came accross this thought provoking quote by St-Ex:

Life creates order, but order does not create life.

In the context of creativity and design in particular I am struck by two almost opposite aspects of the thought. On one hand there is the notion that creative types are disorderly, not just messy desk people, but in their relationships with people, time and, often money. They are, according to the cliche, always slightly eccentric and out of sync with the rational, orderly, world. The psychologist and scientist Mihaly Czikzentmihalyi debunks that idea in Creativity. many of those he studied, among them some of the leading creative minds of the 20th Century, are in fact very orderly in their approach to matters relating to everyday life. The idea is that less time spent thinking about mundane or banal aspects of everyday life means more time is available for the real work of creating innovation.

Likewise I am often struck by the frequency with which design (surely a highly creative occupation), is simply the ordering of elements. The creation of pleasing arrangements of text, and image. Quite often an idea is absent. This is as true not only of extremely modernist executions, but also for the apparent chaos of post modern work or deconstruction-where anarchy seems in evidence but the application of a style pacifies the work. By comparison a clear connection between concept and execution is the only true means of achieving psychic disruption.

Spaced Out

In my travels around the web I ecountered this interesting blog:
On My Desk which is definitely worth a look. In Idealog magazine there is a piece on creative workspaces this month-it sparks an interesting number of questions (which I haven't got time to ponder right now). But as I am blessed with a sensational office with intimate views Auckland's waterfront precinct I understand the value of uplifting spaces-even if my ChangeFactor profile suggests that my output is not especially affected by my environment.

If you love the work of Pixar you will be intrigued by this tour of their offices.
The graphics guy who likes to work standing up reminded me of Dennis Brown the man who gave me my first break into the creative department - though the theatre of Mr Brown's mahogany wood paneled office couldn't be more opposite.

I interviewed Brian Richards, the well known brand strategist, for an article I am writing about storytelling. His offices are a temple to order. Pristine, white, zen. The experience is slightly unnerving at first, but calming after you get over the intial sense that you've stepped into a Kubrick set.

I don't think there are any rules that could be measured in any scientific sense. Which, to quote Martha Stewart, is "a good thing".

Monday, August 14, 2006

We'll always have Paris (Hilton)

Here's something I read in a magazine famously called Famous (a trashy tabloid style magazine admirable for avoiding any content that might make it seem in any way 'worthy'). I'll read anything if you make me wait.

"The only rule is - don't be boring and dress cute wherever you go. LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO BLEND IN" (my capitals).

Paris Hilton

The one and only Paris Hilton - where did she come from.

Was there a time before Paris? B.P? Was it the Pamela Era?

Do you need to make a sex tape to become a celebrity?

Who wants to be famous for being famous? Pretty much everybody, it would seem.

But she has a point. Homogeneity is the curse of branding. Most products and services are bland. Their conception was the product of incidental thinking, rather than genuine insight, i.e. the purpose of the product was to make money.

There is nothing wrong with making money. But there has rarely been an important product created with that purpose in mind. The most significant products begin with an idea, motivated by solving a problem. The best are solutions to problems no one else has either been able to solve–or they didn't even realise the problem existed.

Phil Knight made a lot of money from the brand he created. But he didn't set out, in the beginning, to create wealth. He stepped up to the mark with an idea that he could make a better running shoe if he poured rubber into a waffle iron to make a cushioned sole. His passion was athletics. Today, Nike makes a killing from its athletics products but has remained, with only a few notable exceptions, faithful to the founder's original idea - creating authentic athletic experiences.

There have been plenty of manufacturers who have seen the extraordinary rise of participant sports and sports media in the late 20th Century and have lusted for a slice of the action. Nike created mould breaking communications for its brand - beginning with the 'Revolution' ad in the 1980's and the iconic 'Just Do It' tag line, both the work of Portland Oregon ad agency Wieden & Kennedy. The work is credited with being the first post-modern ads. They had a certain ironic, random quality. Most importantly, whether you understood the content with perfect clarity, you certainly recognised the Nike brand and its iconoclastic, One & Onliness. Of course it didn't take long for the market, fueled by market share envy to want to spoil Nike's party.

Before long the Nike style of communication had become de rigeur, the convention (and not just in the sports goods category–advertising agencies tout themselves on creativity, but rarely orginality–it's a money thing).
So, as the centrifuge of the market spins to evenly distribute the cream throughout the solution, Nike constantly reinvents itself to remain fresh, apart and relevant (no mean feat).

The commercial below remains true to the original idea, spawned by Phil Knight. It's technique is decidedly Nike (I've never seen it used before), the athlete's performance is absolutely amazing and the stream of conscious is perfectly in tune with the tension between our true passion for sport and an ironic reference to, some would say, a Nike fueled furnace of professionalism–for which cash is kindling. Another irony is that the performer, with her astonishing talent, is obscure while Paris Hilton commands ridiculous attention for simply being vapid.

I have discussed celebrity before - click to view 'Celebrity Roast'

Agree or disagree? Leave a comment.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Rise above the DIN

I am teaching a Design Research Methods class at Massey University this morning. I'm grappling with the concepts of the need for research - from the point of view of generating insight and testing the validity of creative outputs.

I've seen innovative ideas slaughtered by poorly handled research. I've also seen random associations, masquerading as 'insights' come from focus groups and questionnaires where there is little evidence to support the result, other than a skewed interpretation of the feedback - I'll call it The Chicken Little Effect (acorn falls on head, leading to conclusion that the sky is falling).

Design research is an area that is under-exploited in thins country. Too much design product, particularly graphic design, I can only describe as generic at best and homogenous at its median worst. I'll avoid the expression 'really bad' because it is too subjective. There is a lot of material from well regarded design firms which is simply an expression of design orthodoxy. No risks are taken. No break from the cosy, neatly arranged and executed pathway that has already been forged through a genre.

The ultimate effect of such work on its intended audiences is hard to determine. A yawn I suspect, if indeed it penetrates the consciousness at all. Most 'designs' lack an idea of any kind. Many designers I know would be less exposed to risk of prosecution under the Fair Trading Act for accuracy of product description if they adopted the term 'layout artist' . The riskiest thing they attempt is whether to wear big arty glasses or not.

The keyword is insight. And the point of insight is to make a significant difference to a clients profits (which, if you are a designer, is the thing that will genuinely differentiate you form rival design firms - rather than a delightful portfolio of 'nice' work). I saw an equation the other day to measure success in design:

Work it out.

In the mean-time, avoid the typeface DIN*, drink lots of water and walk very slowly.

As you were…

Time to wake my son up for school.

*Der amusingische footenoten

DIN stands for Deutsche Industrienorm, German Industrial Standard. In 1936 the German Standard Committee settled upon DIN 1451 as the standard font for the areas of technology, traffic, administration and business.

(1936,…hmmm,…explains a lot mein herren unt damen)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Easily Amused

Ok, so it's not particulary meaningful. But it is funny.

This is what happens with web 2.0 - unfettered.

Ever wondered why most commercials are dreary or not very funny - even when they try?

Quite simply it is because of the layers of process and approval. Kind of like cheese slices. The pack says it's cheese, but we know… don't we? Good cheese is a natural product, with very few processes from raw material to end result. Maybe that's why ad creatives get so excited when they smuggle something good, past the suits, past the clients, past the commercial director and TCAB.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Doing 'the ton' (tonne?)

Hey, my 100th post.

Sunday morning. The rain is doing that depressing grey thing on the window. Stuck in the apartment with my daughter (who is watching a re-run of American Idol to expand her mind, though admittedly she is drawing with her gel pens on black paper and getting some extraordinary results-she has the gift of being able to make me look like Elmo).

We are going to go to the musuem after lunch. Perfect wet weather expedition. My son is playing golf in the rain. He is obsession personified. I don't understand what drives him.

Found the clip below on YouTube (I'm hooked), Kevin Smith the creator of slacker film Clerks and famously fired by Tim Burton as script writer on Superman returns. Its a laconic, surreal take on Hollywood. Check it out. I'm worn out from cooking bacon and eggs and need to regenerate for the museum visit. There is something on at the art gallery too, Rembrandt etchings. Could be worth a look. Might be as dull as dishwater. Could always pop accross the road to the new gallery for some over stimulation. Why do culture and wet weather correspond so well?

Finally, a bit of news. I sold for $390 on TradeMe. A bargain for a half day workshop. Proceeds went to the City Mission. I have to head down to New Plymouth to fulfill my commitment. Should be fun.

Happy 100th

Saturday, August 05, 2006

I have a feeling. If you don't get this, you don't get it.


Are you inquisitive? I've been researching creativity for corporate workshops I have coming up (amongst other things). I keep coming back to the importance of inquiry in the process. Like creativity itself inquiry seems to be an attitude as much as a verb. Without curiosity all we have left is acceptance. If you simply accept things as they are, then nothing changes for better or worse.

I am surprised at how little inquiry goes on in most people's lives. To question the status quo seems to be a disruptive exercise. Which, of course, it is. Disruption has acquired a negative connotation. When I was at high school I was considered disruptive because I asked too many questions. It was a quality that earned me not only many hours of detention and more than a few lashes of the cane but also the scorn of my fellow students. Why couldn't I simply accept the information delivered? It was in the text. It must surely be the absolute truth. Looking back at those 'truths' now I have to laugh. History lessons about the middle east blankly described the Balfour Declaration with absolute belief in the right of the British to create a territory (now known as Israel). The Treaty of Waitangi was regarded as little more than an event in history, rather than a binding contract with implications that affect us today. The absolute truth of the day was the tail end of postcolonial New Zealand. One of my first part-time jobs was as an ice-cream boy at the St James Theatre on Auckland's main street. I vividly remember a moment before each movie when a reel of the Queen of England rides out to inspect the guard at Buckingham palace (to the tune of God Save the Queen). In what would seem surreal now, the audience would stand for the anthem! Nobody questioned the ritual.

Disruption is an essential component of creativity and innovation. It is a truism that to create you must be prepared to destroy, or 'kill your babies'.

A social inclination not to rock the boat is a serious problem for the development of a buoyant creative economy. I'm not advocating anarchy (necessarily), though I agree with Tom Peters when he talks about the market being a brawl without rules. Perhaps the most important seeds that need to be planted for innovation to grow are simply: What? Why?(why not?) and How...and any variation you like.

I have become aware of a general lack of enthusiasm for the exploration of ideas in business. There is a surprising amount of acceptance of dogma, 'best practice' and convention. Conversations about the planned destruction of conventions simply don’t take place. Graduates are streaming out of tertiary institutions eager to exploit their newly minted degrees and diplomas by exploiting the systems currently in place. Make as much money as you can while the going is good. I wonder whether organisations are hiring new talent to challenge old methods or to indoctrinate with the conventions (conventional thinking). Seems a shame to me. Youthful thinking should be inquisitive and unconventional. There's no reason why it can't be harnessed and disciplined. It might sound paradoxical but rule breaking probably requires a better understanding of the rules. Disruption isn't simply infantile destruction. It needs to be focussed. Energy needs direction.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Power to the People

Or should it be power from the people.
Why devastate the environment to build a hydroelectric dam (Clyde Dam comes to mind - Damn the Dam) or burn coal to create electricity, strange idea that - kind of like feeding cows more than they produce in food? Or if the very thought of nuclear power sends shudders down your spine and not in a good way, then consider this: Domestic wind power.

Here in New Zealand I think this would be an outstanding move forward. High levels of home ownership. Reasonably green. Reasonably affluent. Why not integrate a requirement to harvest a certain amount of energy from every dwelling? Why not integrate wind turbines into every large structure - don't tall inner city buildings create vortexes at their base? Never mind gigantic, ugly wind farms (no, not The Beehive) that no-one wants in their back yard (we are a nation of NIMBIES)...

Why not indeed...


There are emerging trends, and there are trends, that, are so well-documented, so extensively mapped, so researched to death, that the only thing left to do is to turn them into, you guessed it, innovative new stuff for your customers…

Consumer generated power Continuing concerns about climate change and skyrocketing energy prices are fuelling interest in alternative sources of energy. One of consumers’ major complaints though is the lack of making a real impact: separating bottles and papers only goes so far. Sensing a real opportunity, British/Scottish Windsave launched the Windsave 1000 system, a three-bladed fan (1.75 m in diameter) that connects to a building's standard mains supply. The turbine is quiet, with noise levels comparable to the sound of a person talking at normal volume. It produces approximately 1kw of electricity, enough to run a TV, DVD player, computer, fridge/freezer and several lights.

Windsave is now partnering with British Gas to market and install roof-top turbines; trials will be carried out in Scotland and South-West England later this year. Engineers from British Gas will supply and install all equipment for GBP 1,500, and it's projected that the turbines will save households up to GBP 100 on their annual electricity bills. With government-funded rebates and subsidies, consumers could earn back their initial investment in less than 6 years.

In the US, Arizona-based Southwest Windpower rustled up USD 8 million in venture capital for a similar approach: it’s developing a new 1.8 KW Skystream 3.7 turbine. The company claims the Skystream is a breakthrough in residential power appliances, that will change how homes and small businesses receive electricity. Any extra energy is fed into the utility grid, spinning the customer's meter backwards. Which of course turns these consumers into green minipreneurs. The market? There are a LOT of wind-swept places on this globe.

Who’s next?