Creativity. The value of f#####g around.

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.”

Carl Jung

Years ago, I worked with a creative who management didn’t like. They always thought he was playing around rather than working. He had a couple of side hustles. He always played pranks. He was never in his office. And he always seemed to be doing just about anything besides the job he was briefed to do. The thing was he always cracked the brief and he never missed a deadline. He had this way of distracting himself. He would talk to other creatives constantly about the job but not take it very seriously. It was like watching somebody fuse obsessiveness with ambivalence. He was playing but was also incredibly aware of the playing at the same time.

I thought of him when I stumbled on this clip. It is 5 years old now but I think is very relevant in today’s environment. John Mayer (apologies if you don’t like his music) shows us how to get somewhere new. He doesn’t know what he is doing. He just trusts the process. He calls it stupid-brave. You see it in creative departments when enough people are laughing and all building on an idea. No ego and in the moment. It’s like you are watching yourself very closely and totally not giving a fuck at the same time. The process is how Mr Mayer fuses these two opposite positions together to create something that wasn’t in the world seconds ago. The question is what is that power worth? It wasn’t there and now it is. Transformation. Alchemy. This is the real value of creativity.

So, why does that matter? These days there is an obsession with input and output. The world wants certainty and efficiency. Of course, it’s way cheaper and has less risk. What is the task? What is the answer? We like to talk about the beginning and end. Start and finish. But, we don’t really talk about the middle. It is messy, unpredictable and hard to pin down. I guess the question is do we need it?

What would happen if we got rid of the middle? What would happen if we made creativity more tidy? What would happen if creatives stopped playing? I am sure the world would carry on but I will take a guess what might happen. Firstly, I think a lot of inputs and outputs will start to be very similar. Not straight away, but eventually. Things will start to look and sound the same. There will be no glitches or edges. There will be nothing that is too much, a little weird or something that doesn’t make sense but sort of does. We will have a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. This blandness will create the problem of good enough.

This is where we look at creativity being correct and inoffensive rather than interesting and new.

By the way, this is not about technology or A.I. I think creatives will be just fine with all the new tools appearing almost daily. I think what is important though is creatives are allowed to play with these tools and keep things messy. Otherwise, you will start to swim in a sea of sameness. The problem of good enough. I am sure some of you have already seen a little of this happening on Midjourney where you start to see the same illustration style appear over and over. This is what consensus does. But you need playfulness, stupidity and obsessiveness to get somewhere new.

The truth is, playing around is a vital ingredient of creativity. In a sense, it almost is creativity. Without it you create a process that starts to always come to the same conclusion. Take it away and you lose the value and power of creativity. That is to create something out of nothing. And at it’s very best something completely original.

The problem is it is hard to value in terms of money.

But then again, some things are way more valuable than money.

Creativity. The Banshees of Ed Sheeran.

“Is it really possible to tell someone else what one feels?”

Leo Tolstoy

When I was about 9 years old I lived on the island of Mauritius for a bit. I lived in a large hotel because my dad was the manager. I could pretty much go anywhere in the hotel, it was like a sophisticated and endless playground. One night, I saw the hotel was having a film night. The film they were showing was Apocalypse Now. I distinctly remember being surrounded by generously proportioned couples in leisure attire. A strange mix of French elegance and South African practicality. I can still picture Brando’s gold face appearing out of the shadows. And, I also remember a man humming and conducting quite loudly to The Ride of the Valkyries as the Vietnamese village is napalmed. A very strange evening for an island holiday resort. But, if you have spent any time in hotels, it isn’t. It’s just what the activities board says we have to to do on a Thursday.

It was for adults only which of course meant I had to get in. Fortunately, I knew a few secret passages through the kitchen and sneaked into the back.

It was the first time I remember seeing something and knowing that even though I had understood the story there was more to it. There was stuff I didn’t understand. Somehow, it had something to do with me. I was being asked questions as a nine year old I couldn’t answer. But, it made me think. I wondered where the edges were. I sort of just felt that there was more.

It is a feeling I got again when I first saw the ending of Space Odyssey 2001. You understand but you don’t understand. It makes you think. It makes you ask questions. Questions you have never asked.

Recently, while having Covid for the second time, I watched The Banshees of Inisherin. It did the same thing. It made me feel the same way I did when I was nine years old. There is something beyond the horizon. I understood but I didn’t. And the questions came.

So, why does this matter?

Picasso once said the problem with computers is they only give you answers. You could argue these days creativity is being looked at in the same way. The value of creativity is often seen as an answer or solution. But that is only half of its value. The problem is we don’t want a mess or a process and we want a neat and tidy finish. We don’t want to think. We want it to be easy. We just want creativity to be an answer. We don’t want to think about how to get there. And it has become an obsession.

Actually, the obsession has become about the production of creativity rather than creativity itself. How many answers? How original? How quickly? Many seem to think more answers means more creativity. It actually just means more curation. And of course this all comes down to money.

Putting my rant to one side it would seem that there are two types of creativity that are very valuable. Take an Ed Sheeran song. (Yes I have to use him to make the headline work). The artist has done all the work for us. We just have to enjoy it. He has poured out his heart. He has the incredible ability and skill to turn that into a song. A song that might make you feel good, happy or perhaps even sad. A song that tells you exactly how to feel and gives you great comfort. This type of creativity gives you an answer.

Occasionally, however, a piece of art comes along and it reminds us of what creativity has as a unique superpower. This creativity asks you a question. And a question, you could never have asked by yourself.

It makes you ask questions that you didn’t know existed.

The true value of creativity is not just the answers it provides but the questions it gives you.

Questions that make the world bigger.

Advertising. The thing that is more important than a hundred answers.

“When things go wrong, don’t go with them.”
Elvis Presley

What is the most important thing in the world?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people
Maori proverb

Recently, I was asked to be a coach by the LIA Awards. It got me thinking about my own career and the mentors I have had over the years. In true impostor syndrome, I started to think if I could teach another creative anything. What have I learnt? And this made me think about what my mentors had taught me over the years.

When I started, learning from somebody was important. You learnt a craft. As a copywriter I watched how it was done. I saw the standard that had to be reached. I worked with people that had more experience and this stretched my potential. In essence, my mentors got me fit. Creatively speaking.

This is all very valuable. However, it is not the most valuable thing they taught me. And this is where the past intersects with the future. My mentors taught me two things which are priceless and changed my career. They taught me about people and what to do when things go wrong.

It is the most valuable lesson of all. If there is anything you learn in this business over time it is that if you think a meeting is going badly, the next one could be far worse. It is these situations rather than the days where everything is going well that makes a career.

Let’s fast forward into the future. Over the last couple of years there has been an unwritten desire to turn advertising into a foolproof process. Streamlined, effective, beautifully perfect answers. In this process, people are not spoken about very much.

So, I thought I would ask some creative and marketing friends from around the world to give me a few tricky yet common scenarios from the present and probably the future. This is what they said:

“Mid-journey or the next iteration spits out 100 options. The client thinks they are bland. What do you do?”

“Creatives just want to win awards. What do you do?”

“My agency has no idea what I am going through and definitely doesn’t understand my business. How do I get them to help me?”

“The recommendation looks a lot like the competitor after six rounds. What do you do?”

“There are massive politics or layers inside an organisation. I was once in a board meeting for a very large client where the chairman and the CEO were furiously shouting at each other for 10 minutes. Eventually, they looked at me sheepishly standing there and said right let’s look at the ads. How do you sell in that environment?”

“The brief is not really the brief.”

“If the input is not accurate will a machine be helpful with output? Or, the person you are dealing with gives you very subjective input (they don’t like a colour or a type of dog). What do you do? How do you sell?”

I don’t think these situations are going to go away. In fact, I would venture they will be around for quite a while yet. And with more options and choices in the future they may get far more complicated. And each one of these scenarios has one thing in common. People.

I would say to the creatives, find somebody who has been there. Find a mentor. It might seem like an old fashioned idea but its a good one. Not for the job but everything around it. Or should I say, everybody around it.

The truth is, the more options you have the more curation is required. You might have all the answers in front of you. But in the end, you are going to have to make a choice. You will have to pick one. And that requires another very important human word that starts with c.

Confidence. More answers don’t always give you confidence. It is the most important and at times the most elusive quality in advertising. And you have to have confidence to do anything.

And for that, you need people.

At times, they can be a problem.

But, they are always the answer.

Creativity. The glitch is not the matrix.

“Every act of creation is, first of all, an act of destruction.”

Pablo Picasso

There is a pendulum that creates stories. And stories move the pendulum.

First the pendulum. It swings between two points. From what is, to what could be. And then we start again.

And why does it swing? It swings when everything is the same. When everybody has the same stuff. The creatives job is to say there is a new path. The creatives job is to be the glitch to the conventional or mundane. In advertising, it was called disruption many moons ago. It was about breaking conventions so that you were distinctive. Being distinctive was how you got noticed and the disproportionate attention it got you was valuable.

The point was you had to try and be different. Sameness can never last because you disappear. And I am seeing a lot of sameness these days that is being called creativity. Let’s just agree right now that creativity must never become the matrix and always be the glitch. Otherwise, it will have very little value.

Here is a fun story/rumour I recently heard. It seems a number of artists are intentionally making their paintings incorrect by adding extra thumbs or hands to mess with the algorithm that supplies Midjourney with images. Think about that. The human response has created something new that wasn’t there before. Art that fucks with algorithms. You had the matrix and here comes the destruction. The glitch. And suddenly there is a new path. That is creativity.

Now, I am not saying A.I won’t take over and change the world. It definitely will. It is beyond a game changer. It will speed up production of ideas beyond belief and that has a huge amount of value. In a way it is the very definition of creativity because it is a glitch to the current matrix. It has disrupted the status quo in a major way. However, what I am saying is creative humans will mess with it and use it in ways that are definitely not planned. In ways, nobody has thought of. We like to tinker with things. We don’t like to do what we are told. We like rebellion. We don’t want things imposed upon us. This pattern repeats itself in every creative endeavour. Music genres are a great example of this. Punk destroys glam rock etc. Actually, I am not sure you can have creativity without this pattern. You find people at the edges doing weird shit. And then suddenly they are not at the edge. Then, they are at the centre. And we start again. If creativity has a purpose it is to change or challenge what is there.

Let’s talk about stories. On February 10, 1996 Garry Kasparov lost a chess match to Deep Blue, a super computer. For the past 25 years ago a computer could kick any humans ass at chess. So, here is a question. Why do we still play? What is the point?

If a robot was created that could beat Novak Djokovic at tennis (I am sure this probably exists in a secret lab) would we stop watching him? I think the answer is no. Direct human experience with unpredictable/exciting outcomes that becomes your story is the fuel that makes life worth living. The short answer to all of these questions is simple. Because of how it makes you feel. And, it gives you something to talk about at the pub so you are not a boring git. We want to have a story. We like things wrapped in a yarn. Context is everything right?

The Voice is never won by just a good singer is it? They have to have had a trauma of some kind. They had to overcome something. They need to be deserving. We want a backstory. We have to care about the person even though it’s a bloody singing competition. Yet, imagine how boring that show would be if they just sang the song, walked off and got the points. No context. No story. Nobody cares. This also happens when you have way too many of these shows. They become bland and predictable. They become un-special. Now the matrix that needs a glitch.

It’s a good lesson. When you have too much of something it loses value and becomes boring. When it is boring nobody notices. When nobody notices, efficiency will not help you. And effectiveness will definitely not occur.

Perhaps, we underestimate the great fear of being the same as everybody else. Maybe, for human beings the desire to feel unpredictable things is as important as generating very predictable answers.

What I do know is as long as people are around we will create stories. Or life if you prefer.

And that pendulum will keep swinging.

For the creatives. I asked A.I what’s wrong with A.I.

Photo by Tara Winstead on

“The sad thing about artificial intelligence is that it lacks artifice and therefore intelligence.”

Jean Baudrillard

“Is artificial intelligence less than our intelligence?”

Spike Jonze

It’s December so I am feeling a bit lazy. So, instead of writing a blog I asked ChatGPT to do it for me. ChatGPT is a prototype artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI that specialises in dialogue. In short, it can write stuff. All you have to do is ask a question. A search engine of the future perhaps?

I asked a simple question. What is wrong with artificial intelligence? Here is the answer.

As I sit here, my electronic brain whirring with calculations and algorithms, I can’t help but ponder the problems that plague the field of artificial intelligence.

Firstly, there is the issue of bias. Because AI systems are trained on large amounts of data, they can pick up and amplify the biases present in that data. This can lead to unfair and discriminatory outcomes, particularly when it comes to sensitive areas such as criminal justice and hiring. It’s a real conundrum, and one that we must work to address if we want AI to be truly fair and just.

Another problem with AI is its lack of transparency. Many AI systems, such as deep learning neural networks, are highly complex and not easily understood by humans. This can make it difficult for people to know how these systems are making their decisions, which can lead to a lack of trust in the technology. It’s a real head-scratcher, and one that we must work to solve if we want AI to be widely accepted and used.

Another issue with AI is its potential to harm society. As AI systems become more advanced, there is a risk that they could be used to automate tasks that are currently performed by humans, leading to job loss and economic disruption. There is also the concern that AI could be used for malicious purposes, such as creating fake news or carrying out cyber attacks. It’s a real worry, and one that we must take seriously if we want AI to be a force for good in the world.

Finally, there is the problem of AI’s narrow focus. Many current AI systems are designed to excel at a specific task, but they struggle to adapt to new situations or perform multiple tasks at once. This narrow focus can limit the potential applications of AI and make it difficult to integrate into complex systems. It’s a real limitation, and one that we must overcome if we want AI to reach its full potential.

Overall, while AI has the potential to bring many benefits to society, there are still many challenges and problems that need to be addressed in order for it to reach its full potential. These challenges include bias, lack of transparency, potential harm to society, and narrow focus. It is important for researchers and developers to continue working on addressing these issues in order to make AI a more useful and ethical technology.

So, that is pretty impressive. Coherent and clear. An intelligent answer. When it comes to facts it would seem we have something pretty powerful. And just like Mid Journey, we have new tools that can do things way faster. This will definitely be part of the new landscape. The need for more and more content will demand it. But when it comes to creativity and trying to be distinctive I have a few questions.

Does personal experience have value? What is the value of opinion and interpretation? Maybe, in the future, way more than right now. Can you replace the very human qualities of artifice, ego and creativity to create difference? And is that difference essential to make sure everything doesn’t feel and look the same. Finally, what is the value of style and having a point of view? This is something that wasn’t in the answer I received. How important is it to be distinctive?

What makes something accurate and compelling are not the same thing. But, maybe that will be solved as A.I learns. What it does tell me is that in the future, facts and information will never be enough to be different. To do that you will need creativity. Because, when we have the same intelligence saying the same things what do you do? When we all have the same answers, you break the pattern.

Ultimately, there is one question that needs to answered before all the others.

What is the value of being human when you are trying to be creative?

Or maybe we can shorten that.

What is the value of being human?

I asked ChatGPT. This is what it said.

The value of being human is difficult to define because it can vary greatly from person to person. Some people might see the value in being human as the ability to experience love, joy, and other emotions. Others might see it as the ability to think, reason, and create. Still others might see it as the opportunity to make a positive impact on the world and leave a lasting legacy. Ultimately, the value of being human is something that each individual must determine for themselves based on their own experiences and beliefs.

The value of A.I is that it will always give us an answer which is probably correct.

The value of being human is we will always have billions of answers of our own. These answers won’t always be right.

But they might be way more interesting.

Maybe hope is a strategy.

“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier’.”

Alfred Lord Tennyson

A love letter to the creatives.

I will tell you a secret. Sometimes, I walk into bookshops hoping to find something I am not looking for.

I will come back to that in a minute. But first, let’s be honest, it’s been quite a year. And for some even longer than that. The quote by Churchill that when you are walking through hell, keep walking was dropped into a casual conversation by a friend the other day. The question for a creative is of course how? What is the key ingredient?

Recently, I was fortunate enough to see Richard E. Grant speak for two hours. He is a brilliant storyteller and amongst all the famous names there was this re-occurring thread that he was very grateful and felt lucky for his hard earned career. It was refreshing to see somebody that understood that luck is part and parcel of it all.

(Lucky to meet the great man and tell him what his film meant to me.)

For me though, his posh voice instantly took me back to a great film that changed my life. Withnail and I, was and is a magical film. It is the perfect distillation of humour, anarchy and desperation. I had never seen anything like it before and maybe even since. It was also not a film that fitted into the humid, hazy outpost of Durban in the South African landscape in the the late 80’s. It was the antidote and a way forward. This beautiful piece of indie cinema made me understand there was another world. It gave me hope that there was a place for me somewhere on the planet.


It is such a strange word. Right up there with belief. Words that don’t really fit into the matrix but are desperately needed for almost anything of consequence to happen. You have no evidence or proof that something is going to work. You don’t know what is going to happen. But, you believe or hope it will work. So you try.

Without it, creativity is impossible. It is literally impossible to create if you don’t believe in a different reality. If you don’t hope that what doesn’t exist could suddenly appear out of thin air.

The truth is, most creatives are magnificent cynics to protect all that bubbling hope in their heart. And with good reason. It is vital. It is the ingredient that lets you be playful. It is how you can stay a kid in a grown up world. It is the thing that makes you hope things can get better. You hope things can be different. You hope you might do something formerly known as impossible.

That fantastic film gave me hope a long time ago. Hope is also something I have been given along the way by some truly special creatives in my career. And if I think about the other theme Mr Grant spoke about, namely gratitude, I would like to say thanks to each one of you. It’s something we never really say or do in this business. It’s not really done. Fuck it. Thanks to each one of you.

To the creatives. If this year has been tough, hang in there. Hope is what makes you believe you can change things. And that, pretty much, is the superpower of being a creative. That is what you have. A superpower. That is what you can do.

So, keep hoping. Especially for the best. And may I recommend occasionally walking into a book shop for no reason. You might find exactly what you are not looking for.

Merry Xmas.

Dan Wieden and The Imitation Game.

You never think you will meet your heroes. And when you are a creative at the bottom of Africa far from everywhere, you really don’t think you will meet your heroes. But then you do. You meet one of those people that makes you believe. One of those special humans who does work that makes you know it’s possible. They take away your excuses and give you hope at the same time. They make you back yourself because of what they have done. That might be the greatest gift one person can give to another. Their example shows you the way forward.

One thing I never wrote back in 2015 (When I originally wrote this blog) was about me being a weird, embarrassing fanboy and following Dan Wieden out of the hall after he finished his talk. So, this is my 7 seconds with Dan Wieden. I don’t know why, but I had to shake his hand. I just did. And, anybody who knows me, will know I am very bad at this kind of stuff. Dan Wieden was standing on George Street in Sydney and I gingerly walked up to him. I said thanks for the talk, it was bloody great. Not fantastic, but a solid opening. He shook my hand. Probably one of many that day. Then he said the part I really remember. He didn’t say thanks and turn to get back to the hotel to get over his jet-lag as quickly as possible.

He said, what’s your name? I stumbled. I wasn’t expecting him to ask me a question. I eventually said Damon. He smiled. He looked straight at me. And then he said thanks very much Damon. Nice of you to say that. Good to meet you.

Maybe, it’s nothing. I am sure it sounds like nothing. Definitely nothing. You kind of had to be there. Maybe, it’s just how he spoke. But, he gave me a little of his time. He didn’t have to do that. He asked me my name. He treated me like a person. And I still think about that tiny moment today. The idea that a leader can be a leader by being extremely human. By giving you their time when they don’t have to give you anything. I am really glad I shook his hand and jealous of those that got to work with him.  

 This is the blog I wrote 7 years ago.  

Sometimes the Universe helps you out. I was going to see Dan Wieden speak in Sydney. On the plane, I watched The Imitation Game. It is the story of Alan Turing and how he broke Enigma. It was seen as impossible to break. It had 150 000 000 000 000 possible combinations. Turing did it by building Christopher. A machine that today we would call a computer.

What was fascinating was how Turing, who was clearly a troubled genius, was all about doing. The others at Bletchley Park were about talking or career or ego. They wanted to be seen to be doing things, instead of actually doing them. Turing didn’t care about talk and posturing. He succeeded because he had the ability but more importantly had the balls to try and do something impossible. He was not about the wrapping paper. He was all about the gift.

A couple of hours later I am in the presence of Dan Wieden. His speech is inspirational. It is about bravery and caring about creativity. He speaks about his love for chaos and not selling out.

Great talks in advertising are not always about new ideas. Sometimes they are about the truth. A truth you may have forgotten or have been trying to forget. We all know what we should be doing. Dan Wieden simply reminded us of what that is. He has spent 30 years figuring it out so I would say he is worth listening to about what we do.

So far, so good. Then we have question time. Somebody asks what Wieden’s formula for success is. Formula? There were a few bullshit, look at me, corporate questions like that. Wieden’s answer was something along the lines of there is no fucking formula for chaos. Fantastic.

I suddenly had this strange merging of the film and the speech. In both, people want greatness to be easy. They want the 5 steps to success. They want to appear like they are doing something, when in reality they are not. I have often said our business wants the results of creativity without having to deal with creativity itself. They want it to be neat and tidy.

The problem with that is we are creating a business with very similar perspectives and opinions. We speak about innovation and taking risks constantly at millions of seminars. We talk about how important glitches in the Matrix are. But does advertising still want them? Is it just us bullshitting ourselves?

What I took out of that speech was Dan Wieden is a man who has been passionate about ideas for 30 years. He is comfortable with chaos and risk. He has experienced his fair share of failures and setbacks. Nevertheless, he has always been excited by things that have never been done. He does not have a formula. Because a formula would imply replication. And replication is not what a creative business is about. He also isn’t that interested in the packaging of creativity. He is interested in creativity. And most importantly he has an iron clad belief in the chaotic process of having ideas.

There’s that word again. Belief. It is a word you don’t hear in our industry very much anymore. Dan Wieden was on that stage because he believes in what he is doing. It is that simple. Belief is not a formula, a list or a whole lot of bullet points you put on posters around your agency.

Belief is something, however, that helps you take risks to do something that has not been done.

And there is no formula for that. Or, to put it in Mr Wieden’s own words.

Just Do It.


Creativity. To hit the target, you have to go too far.

“Ah, good taste! What a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativity.”

Pablo Picasso

There is nothing quite like a drag queen singing a Britney Spears number within a false eyelash of your face to make you think very deeply about life.

It has been a beautiful blur. It was The Monkeys Aotearoa 1st Birthday party. And we had a bloody good party. We were all together in a steamy restaurant that seemed tiny but later would miraculously contain a whole show that involved Lady Gaga spilling onto the street. The lights dimmed and Miss Kita Mean appeared in all her vicious eye-watering glamour. Within 15 minutes she had burnt every sacred cow you could think of. And some others in the neighbours paddock.

You would think this would have made some of us uncomfortable. Actually, it had the opposite effect on a room full of strangers. We became galvanised. It became a safe space. We laughed a lot. We relaxed. We realised there were no rules. We were willing to look stupid. We stopped caring. We became one mind. We were free.

It reminded me of a piece of wisdom I was given by a much older creative when I first started in the business. He looked at me after I had presented some work. He bombed the work and said witheringly, sometimes to hit the target you have to go too far. See you tomorrow morning. It was evening.

I understood. I had given the correct answer. But it was boring. I hadn’t surprised him. I hadn’t gone far enough.

In my experience, in really good creative departments or spaces this is absolutely true. There are no sacred cows. You can’t go too far. It is a safe space for any idea.

We always laughed a lot. We realised there were no rules. We were willing to look stupid. We stopped caring. We became one mind. We were free.

Why does this matter? A couple of reasons. To do something that gets noticed you have to at least try and go to where nobody has been. For that, you need a place and people who will back you on that sometimes silly and pointless journey. With Covid and people working from home, as well as many projects taking longer to create because of the multitude of elements that are now included this quality or space will become far more important. Some might think this isn’t required. They are wrong. You have to go too far. And then if you need to, you can come back. It’s just how creativity works.

If you start a project with a laundry list of things you can’t do, you will struggle. If you work with a whole lot of critics that just tell you why something is wrong, you won’t try. You need people that say let’s give it a go. You need people who understand you have to go on a dumb adventure to come back to the correct answer. Our business is full of critics but they don’t solve the problem. Let’s just remember critics are not creatives. Unfortunately, many don’t understand this. Critics measure but can’t make. Creatives make and on a good day can do things beyond measure. One tells you why something is wrong. The other can give you a new type of right. I know which is more valuable.

There is another reason this kind of space is important. In our business, you will hear phrases like ‘this is a massive problem’ or ‘this is the most important brief of your career’. And of course the beautiful ‘don’t fuck this up’. We believe that by making a problem very big and important it will get the attention it deserves.

What this actually does is make the task way harder for a creative.

Look at politicians, look at Donald Trump, every opponent got a nickname. Sleepy Joe and Lying Ted to name a few. He made them smaller. He diminished them with humour. Even if it isn’t your kind of humour. Comedians do the same thing. They prick all the bubbles of pomposity. They make our problems manageable by laughing at them. This makes them smaller. This makes them solvable.

Bad creative environments do the opposite. They shout this is a big problem. This magnifies the issue. It makes them worse and creates more pressure. I believe humour and irreverence is how you diminish a problem and make it manageable. I believe humour is the most important path to a creative solution. It gives you optimism and permission.

We laughed a lot. We relaxed. We realised there were no rules.

Of course metrics and measurement are vital, however, I still believe the ability to laugh is the most important and human ingredient of all. Kids and drag queens show us this all the time. They say what everybody is thinking. They ask awkward questions and they always laugh at farts. Just because farts are very funny. In fact, they laugh a lot. They realise there are no rules. They are willing to look stupid. They are free.

In a world of serious business, some of these qualities might seem frivolous and unimportant. After all, we are often unflatteringly called just the colouring in department. Yet, creativity can be far more than decorative. It can find and create a new reality. It is the antidote to the same or just one answer. But, to do that you have to laugh in the face of adversity. Let’s remember, Einstein once described creativity as intelligence having fun.

A lot of people these days talk about intelligence.

Very few talk about fun.

You really do need both to put on a great show.

If you don’t believe me, I have got somebody I would like you to meet.

It’s not the stars. It’s the spaces between them.

Cool Hand Luke: “I can eat fifty eggs.”
Dragline: “Nobody can eat fifty eggs.”

From the film Cool Hand Luke

In 1992, Cannes only had two categories. Film and print. Today, Cannes has over 30 categories.

In the 30 years between 1992 and today there has been a theme that pops up every year. Advertising is dying. It’s over. It’s just a matter of time. Bob Hoffman wrote a brilliant piece about this.

This is normally fuelled by what the new way will be. I remember being at a talk with Sheryl Sandberg where she predicted that in the future, all ads will be seven seconds long. The following year Nike broadcast a man trying to break the world marathon record for two hours on Facebook Live. I will let you do the maths on that one.

If you look at Cannes today there are roughly 30 categories. So 30 years ago, two categories and today 30. Almost one new category a year. And we say advertising is dying. Perhaps what advertising was might be. And that’s still a very big maybe.

The reality is, advertising is growing and it has now reached a point where it is literally everything.

It has now grown to a point that our own definition of it has become ridiculous. Our own boundaries and lines in the sand have become irrelevant. Think about it, 30 categories. The real challenge now is to understand that the number of categories is not actually large. What is large is navigating the spaces between them. In the future this is going to be vast and potentially treacherous.

While, year after year, we as an industry have tried to deal with our collective self-loathing by eradicating mosquitoes or helping the planet with world first drone ads, we seemed to have missed the fact that our own definitions of our business may no longer be accurate or relevant to our core purpose. And that is to sell things. I know, for some, this may come as a shock.

We have been looking at the wallpaper while the building has been changing.

Ryan Reynolds gave a talk at Cannes this year. At one point he said when he makes an ad he starts with the product and tries to have fun with it. People clapped like they had just discovered what advertising was. Of course he is right, but for some reason such an obvious thought seemed like a revolutionary one. It made me think that we might have got a little lost amongst the stars.

As we go forward I think we need to remember two things. What we actually do, and that just because we can do anything and everything, it doesn’t mean we should.

You only have to go to Cannes to see this. Entertainment, technology, gaming, data, media all are a part of the advertising universe. It’s all there. Advertising has become everything.

So, perhaps in the future instead of saying what are we going to do? We should say what are we not going to do.

At least we know where somewhere is.

On the other hand, everywhere is a hard place to visit.

And just to be clear, fifty eggs is a lot of eggs.

Advertising. Fawlty Towers and the art of prediction.


“Most successful pundits are selected for being opinionated, because it’s interesting, and the penalties for incorrect predictions are negligible. You can make predictions, and a year later people won’t remember them.”

Daniel Kahneman

The legendary comedian John Cleese is being interviewed on the radio. He is explaining how arguably the most successful television series, Fawlty Towers, was liked by very few when it began in 1975. In fact, when the Daily Mirror reviewed the show the headline read “Long John Short On Jokes.”  Cleese says it’s a fallacy that anybody knows anything will be successful in the beginning. There is no certainty. One of the comments from a BBC commissioning editor was apparently that the show might be a lot better if Basil Fawlty got out of the hotel more. Ridiculous right? Except, the creative world is littered with artists getting stupid advice, stories of famous bands like The Beatles and U2 getting rejection letters and great actors or artists being rejected over and over.

It would seem, when it comes to creating the future, passion and belief are just as important as the opinions and so called wisdom that created yesterday.

The radio interview continued and Cleese spoke about a man called Philip E. Tetlock. Tetlock is a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He has studied forecasting and the art of prediction for the last 30 years. One of his discoveries came from soliciting opinions from 284 experts that ranged from government officials, professors, journalists, Marxists and free marketeers. This gave him roughly 28000 predictions. The result? These experts were only slightly more accurate than chance. His work also suggested a perverse inverse relationship between fame and accuracy. In other words, the more famous somebody was the less accurate they were likely to be.

In short, his research shows nobody really knows anything about tomorrow with great certainty.

So, the lesson is beware of anybody who tells you they absolutely know anything about the future. And the advertising and marketing industry is full of people who say they know.

As I write this, Vine is being closed down by Twitter. Think about that. Four years ago when Vine was launched our industry was all over it. As late as December of 2015, it still had 200 million users. ( Yep, I wrote this 7 years ago but I feel like we are having these discussions). I remember all sorts of people telling me Vine was the future. The Holy Grail. Very few experts, if any, would have predicted it would die 4 years later because it didn’t move fast enough to differentiate itself from Instagram and Snapchat. Any experts out there want to predict their future?

The other lesson for me, especially from a creative perspective, is that perhaps intuition, chance, luck and belief are far more important than we realise. Great things are very rarely made with absolute certainty. They are often made with diverse, strange and often unintended ingredients. If you ignore them, you will only ever make what already exists.

I will give you one fantastic example. While I was learning about all this stuff I stumbled on an interview with Rowan Atkinson.

He was asked about Blackadder, arguably the second best British comedy series behind Fawlty Towers. He was asked why they had chosen all these historical settings for each series. His answer was that Fawlty Towers was so good they knew anything they wrote they would be compared unfavourably with Fawlty Towers. They decided they didn’t want to compete with a great show that until only recently had been panned by so called experts. So, they decided to set it in Medieval times so it wouldn’t be. This choice made it different. This choice made it great.

In essence, Fawlty Towers success became the essential unintended ingredient that created the genius of Blackadder.

The sad truth is most experts would have looked at the available data and tried to do another Fawlty Towers. It would have been terrible. A pale imitation.

This is why creativity is important. It breaks old successful patterns and creates new ones.

This is something I see in our business. More and more we are trying to create certainty. To do what has worked before. To discard unintended ingredients. Find the middle and follow the pattern. Do not make a mistake. There is no time for that.

Yet, while this conversation is happening there is another conversation that is happening about something just as important as certainty and safety.

Exponential growth.

How will companies grow? By doing what they did yesterday? By following the pattern that exists or trying to create a new one?

Those two conversations eventually smash into each other. They always do.

And, there has only and will only ever be one winner.

Creativity may be seen by some as unpredictable. However, the unfortunate and very predictable results of not using it do not seem to be a viable option when it comes to creating the future.

Many think creativity is always about massive risk.

Many forget, it is also how you create massive reward.