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