Every crisis demands creativity that imagines and reinvents

In a crisis, businesses that over-invest in creative thinking, rather than shrink away from it, are better set to emerge stronger, writes Ger Roe

22nd November, 2020
Every crisis demands creativity that imagines and reinvents
Ger Roe, board creative director, Publicis Dublin. ICAD executive board member.

I was recently doing an industry talk and someone asked “was this really the right time for creative awards?” Having been heavily involved with ICAD, and really understanding what creative excellence means to creative people, Irish business and this country . . . well it sort of blew my mind. I wanted to say “Are you f**king kidding me?”

But I swallowed and I gave a mature and measured response. Make no mistake, this year it’s not just some creative celebration. It’s recognition and definition.

For me, the ICAD Awards were never just about a piece of metal and a nice photo. It’s about so much more. It’s about identity, passion, culture and collaboration. The identity is with a group of people who truly believe that the power of creativity can change the game for businesses, brands and services. The culture? If you were one of these people who can create something that changes the world, well, it needs to be recognised. It needs to be shared and held up as a great example of real creativity. It encourages us all to try harder, question ourselves and push to emulate that work.

You see, as a kid my dad was obsessed with work ethic. He never believed you deserved stuff without real toil and effort. It took me a while to understand it, and over my career, I probably took it too far at times. The reality is the creative mind doesn’t clock off at 5:30. And that’s why when my son goes to the toilet in the middle of the night, he regularly sees his dad still up writing or sketching, he must wonder what kind of job his old man has.

In the early days of my career, the stuff that kept me awake half the night was the absolute fear of failure – or worse: not being as good, or as talented as my peers. In those early days, I’d turn up to these ICAD Award things and watch the likes of Pearse McCaughey, Colin Murphy and Margaret Helion take to a stage and get rewarded for their brilliance.

I so desperately wanted to be as good as them. I was up for working harder, and longer, but the real breakthrough was right in front of me all along. What I needed to do was really understand my clients’ problems. To be in the room to hear what kept them awake at night. What inspired them about their jobs and business. I learned not to give them what they thought they wanted, but to give them what they really needed. The ones I learned the most from were those business owners and marketing people who make their problems your problems. The ones who felt extremely uncomfortable with your answer but just couldn’t help going back to it.

So what’s that saying? “if your dreams don’t scare you they’re not big enough”. That can only be a passion. And collaboration? Well my creative home is Publicis Dublin. Early on we developed a creative culture which was very different, ‘collectively more creative’. If someone has a germ of a good idea, we thrash it out as a wider team, all desperate to make it not just good, but great! Collective – not individual. Follow-through is what can separate good from great. A lot of great ideas don’t come to pass because too many people bought into the great plan, not enough bought into the grit of it.

So all is better now, right? No. The big problem clients and businesses face nowadays is suddenly everything is labelled “creative”. Let me be extremely clear – it is NOT! Everything is not creative and everyone is not creative. The stuff certain people are calling creative these days is not just scary. It’s actually fraud. People are struggling to define good creative. Some might ask why bother with a bunch of arty/techie/designer creative types anyway? Sure anyone can create now.

Good creative people will always try to make you feel something. They understand that great creativity is emotional logic. Take Nobel Prize winning author Daniel Kahneman’s famous book Thinking Fast and Slow. People are surprised to learn that 95 per cent of our decision making is based more on how we feel, rather than how we think!

A perfect example as we near a Covid-fuelled Christmas, is the story of the kid who would prefer to have his grandad for Christmas over Santa, and we embarrassingly well up a bit when we see it on TV (or is that just me?). We all realise that an emotional story beats the hell out of a table full of half-price turkeys.

But enough emotion. Here are some hard facts we smart creative/arty types know. The fact is that creatively awarded campaigns are eight times more effective at delivering against objectives than unawarded campaigns. AND they are 16 times more likely to generate major profitability growth. For business, creativity has never been more important. Creativity should be your most powerful competitive advantage, but many people misunderstand where it fits and how it fits.

Companies often use creativity as just an executional thing. “Let’s do things creatively” some might say. Fine, but the real opportunity is to use creative thinking strategically. To reimagine or reinvent business models, experiences or products. To come at everything from a completely different perspective, to be humble and curious and ask why are we doing this, and what if we could do something else. Get those creative people in the room, and in the room early.

Today when we look at business, the hot topic is ‘pivoting’. Well pivoting is inherently a creative act. Any businesses that have pivoted recently have been forced into it. Sometimes a ‘burning platform’ like Coronavirus, forces us to shake everything up. We use the muscle of imagination. Pure creative thinking at work again.

To finish, a crisis is absolutely the right time for creative thinking. Because as a non-profit, membership-led body, the Institute of Creative Advertising and Design doesn’t just believe in the power of creativity. It defines it. Its values are so important to our country right now, because it doesn’t just reward (as that innocent chap questioned). It promotes great creative and great Irish creatives, and, perhaps, its most important value: it fosters talent.

Because future Ireland needs future creativity (the real one). And to quote our ICAD President Rossi McAuley “ICAD demonstrates the vital role Irish creativity is playing in helping brands survive and thrive in the national recovery.”

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