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Charities are in the business of interruption and creativity is often the key

18 September 2012

I like to mind my own business and lead the sort of atomised life that is increasingly the norm in our culture, where the people and issues outside my immediate circle are very effectively zoned out and kept on the margins.

I have become, like many of us have, incredibly good at blocking messages and messengers, whether trying to sell me insurance or asking me to sign up to a campaign. This is an essential tool of survival when we are bombarded from all sides by siren calls from brands, businesses, charities and others. Since Google effectively commodified and monetised our preferences, those of us who mostly consume online are increasingly only accessing a world populated with people like us, consuming news and views and even advertisers filtered to us which fit with our own narrow world view and set of values.

At the same time that many people are disappearing behind their own personal online paywall, the trusted conduits to different audiences, namely specific media outlets, are seeing their own influence dissipated by the proliferation of sources for news, views and content. The old certainties of a piece in the Guardian getting you through to the ethical consumer are becoming more and more tenuous.

All of this makes it very, very hard for anyone with a message, to get it across to the specific audiences they are trying to reach and engage, unless that audience is already engaging with them. As a result, creativity is at even more of a premium than it has been in the past. People will take notice of things that surprise, upset, provoke, create empathy or sympathy and, most importantly, they will pass on those things to other people in their networks who share their own world view. The quickest route to having such a positive impact is by being creative, but for it truly to succeed, the creativity needs to be allied and aligned with purpose.

Creativity for many people is a romantic notion, one associated with “creative types” flouncing around in big, frilly, white blouses allowing their minds to go free and charging the earth for their “thoughts”. Actually, creativity is a discipline, a thought process that really is “within us all”, if you apply some simple rules:

  1. Purpose before creativity – creativity is often associated with an anything goes approach, but effective creativity requires much consideration of the framework within which it should sit. You really need to consider the why, who, what and how, the purpose of your communication before you even think about getting the frilly blouses out.
  2. It comes in many forms – good creativity might be visual or verbal, it may be problem solving, being able to think strategically, standing away from an issue and looking at it dispassionately, the ability to get into the shoes of the audience you are trying to reach ; you need to encourage all these forms.
  3. Give everyone permission – we constantly edit our thoughts for public consumption, which is probably extremely wise. However good ideas often form when we disconnect our internal parental controls and actually say what we think. Challenging sacred cows, saying what might be unthinkable in other contexts, being politically incorrect, these approaches can often help to increase the flow of ideas.
  4. Use structures – sitting in a room on your own and engaging in rigorous thinking is likely to lead to nothing more than an increased risk of stroke. Much better to have people to bounce ideas around with and to use techniques to get yourself out of your normal pattern of thinking, such as found objects (using items from around the office and beyond to trigger thoughts), creating stories and, perhaps most useful of all, Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats. All of these will cause acute embarrassment to any British person – see previous point for the reasons why you need to overcome this.
  5. Whittle away – once you have some ideas that you like, interrogate and question them, relate them back to your overall aim and objectives, get other people to critique them, refine and refine until they really are fit for purpose, and discard them if they do not stand up to scrutiny. This is a hugely important as what can seem inspired in a brainstorm can look dunder-headed in the harsh light of the real world. The thought you don’t want to provoke with your communication is “what were they thinking of?”.

By this stage, you will hopefully have your nice, shiny pebble of an idea and be ready to cast it into the sea, in the hope of watching it bounce along the surf rather than sink straight beneath the cold waves. If it’s the latter, don’t be put off, have another go. If you’ve done the due diligence, you’ll get it right in the end.