“Sloppy success is better than perfect mediocrity”
– A reflective essay on my experience in MACE.
I think human beings are the superior sentient beings on this planet. Humans have the potential not only to create happy lives for themselves, but also to help other beings. We have a natural creative ability and it is very important to realise this.
It has been a long journey, and like many journeys the story of the MA in Creative Economy began with shoes. “Take off a shoe, place it on the desk in front of you and sell me your shoe!” Corrine instructed. From this point onwards, it was more than apparent that this class so not going to be four hours of lectures and note taking; rather it was about participation, creativity and ideas. A furious amount of information divulged on a weekly basis; Friday afternoons were to be transformed.
Several years ago, I received some advice, which I hold dear. It stated that Tuesday is the best day of the week for meetings and interviews. Why? Simply, because: Monday is the day most of us would rather forget; Wednesday is acceptable, yet being the middle of the week it is 50:50; Thursday is the day we all wish was Friday, and Friday is the day we thank God for and look to the weekend. Consequently, Tuesday is perfect, the Monday blues are gone, and it is psychologically the most favourable day for accommodating ideas. So, in the face of all reason, our class was schedule for Friday afternoons, post the obligatory end of week carbohydrate heavy lunch and pre the more obligatory ‘the weekend is here!’ MACE drinks! However, on most occasions the energy levels and focus were sustained, and the content was always motivating.
When asked at the start on the first semester our reasons for enrolling on the Creative Economy Masters, my answer was perhaps predictably succinct and formulaic: I want to learn more about business, as a creative. In truth, my reasons were far more complex, whilst it is undoubtedly true that I felt the need to learn more about business, I was drawn not by the notion of micro and macro workings of the mechanics of business; but more by the idea of entrepreneurship – as contradictory as that may sound. To explain I must loosely divulge in some personal history. Prior to enrolling on MACE, I had endured two very testing years, which were straining both physically and mentally, the upshot of this period was the decision to ‘start again’. Moreover, I decided to take a ‘risk’. Entrepreneurialism is in part about taking risks, calculated risks. I wanted to marry this risk-taking with creativity. Or so it seemed. As the course evolved so too did my thoughts on my direction. I have worked in the creative environ for several years in several different guises (photographer, broadcast designer, graphic designer and film/television), and ‘familiar’ as I was with design thinking, there was (and indeed is) still plenty to learn. Although, I had long evolved from being smitten by merely the aesthetic (although I still indulge every so often!) to now consider other influential factors and points of view. I had only touched the surface.
Tim Brown of IDEO, explains the importance of design thinking as a concept in creativity, and moreover creating for others:
‘So why design thinking? Because it gives us a new way of tackling problems. Instead of defaulting to our normal convergent approach where we make the best choice out of available alternatives, it encourages us to take a divergent approach, to explore new alternatives, new solutions, new ideas that have not existed before.’
The Creative Economy programme opened my eyes to more than just an expanded notion of design thinking; the setting up of a business with colleagues that I barely had met has proved to be an enriching and enlightening experience.
Yet, as a filmmaker how would this course be of benefit? What were my goals in relation to my chosen field of study? In truth part of me had not fully worked that out yet, when I explained to my colleagues, who were studying solely film, that I was a Creative Economy student as well I was inevitably confronted with a quizzical expression. Hence, I questioned my position even more. However, I would always come back to the same point – Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick was responsible for many great films, such as 2001 – A Space Odyssey; and was notorious in his application of detail to every area of his films. It is often said that he was one of the last of the old school Hollywood directors, the last to have unadulterated control over of his production. There are many interpretations of this – some claim that he was an obsessive, a narcissist, a dictator or control freak. I ignore these negative assumptions, believing only that he was driven and deeply motivated. However, it is his proclivity towards detail that fascinates me, furthermore his comprehensive knowledge. Kubrick knew his game inside and out, from lighting and cameras (he famously helped develop the steadicam for the corridor shots in The Shining), to marketing and advertising. In his book, Blink – The Power of Thinking without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell (2005) asks: “what would happen if we took our instincts seriously? What if we stopped scanning the horizon with our binoculars and began instead examining our own decision making and behaviour through the most powerful of microscopes?” Filmmakers are bound by the same rules as any other creatives that make products or services for others – Creative Economy therefore is my extra detail.
CHAPTER 1 – Birth
Innovation is the specific function of entrepreneurship… It is the means by which the entrepreneur either creates new wealth-producing resources or endows existing resources with enhanced potential for creating wealth.
– What we need is a team!
All gathered in a room in the Business school, a few weeks into the first semester and it was finally that time – we had to pick teams. I was not really looking forward to this (I now realise that this – what I can only describe as: a severe and sudden attack of a lack of self-confidence – was mere folly. You are what you portray yourself to be, thus others will accept you for what you are. At times, I’ve hidden behind personas to avoid presenting myself as I am.). After some deliberation and group consultation it was decided that the best way to find team members, and therefore business teams, was via ‘Speed Dating’ (well, using the concept of speed dating!). I expand my thoughts on this methodology in my blog entry, (Whyte, 2009):
My first and last ever experience of speed dating. I have got to admit I failed on all counts. I’m sure that if it was the real thing to find the real one, I would have been the guy stuffing his face with wasabi peas whilst cramping someone’s style with talk of the life and times of Stanley Kubrick – the St Albans years.
Despite my initial apprehensions regarding the selection process, and following various text messages and phone calls, we formed a team by the end of the weekend – a team of various skills and strengths.
We set about the task of finding something, a common goal, a link, a need, a problem; that we would use to shape the basis of our business. Our journey had officially begun. So who were we and what was our mission? Our team consisted of: Pinar, Gin, Yvonne, Cristina and myself.
A business idea was fairly quickly reached. Gin explained that as a foreign student and newcomer to Kingston-upon-Thames, she was left disillusioned at how little practical and convenient information there was on amenities, restaurants, bars and activities. Our solution was to develop a guide – that was the simple part!
CHAPTER 2 – Scratching Heads
A few steps to towards our goal – not necessarily in this exact order, perhaps a little vague!
- Form a team
- Amalgamation of passions, ideas, excitement and the unknown
- Search for a problem
- Several ideas
- A fantastic idea
- Think outside the box – what is our solution?
10. Empathic research
15. Become – create an identity, branding, name, delegate tasks and assume roles
17. Adjust plans – consider constraints (e.g. time, resources and finances)
21. Re-launch, re-design, re-focus (Prototype on the go/Learn by doing)
22. Find a Mentor
24. Engage our Mentor (Elizabeth Winding, editor of Time Out Guides, contributed content to Passport2Guides in the form of an article, as well as plenty of advice)
25. Generate fresh content and ideas
27. Generate interest (via competitions, comments; excellent reviews and articles; music downloads and videos)
28. Work hard to achieve success
Our propensity to return to the drawing board is evident this has its advantages and disadvantages, dependent upon the application of the method. I discuss how we can improve our technique later. Now, I want to focus on the positives. IDEO’s Tom Kelley refers to ‘an abundance mentality’ as a significant tool in the process of innovation:
“…an abundance mentality – it goes a long way towards fuelling a culture of innovation. With this mentality you are more likely to say, “I’ve got this idea, but you may take it and build on it.” …You are not defending your turf all the time…you are more generous with your ideas because you know you’ve got more.”
Consciously or not, we endeavored to employ this approach. No idea was too sacred and we attempted to avoid pride and ownership over ideas. That said, credit was given where credit was due. For example, when we were struggling over a sentence to sum up our brand. The cakes and coffees were running as low as our energy and patience. Then, Yvonne said: “Basically we need to find something that says that we will make your life easier and fun!” “That’s it!” I exclaimed. “You’ve just nailed it! That’s our line there. Making your life easier and fun!” Yvonne’s suddenly and subconsciously found our solution.
Also, very evident is the frequency of pitches we gave throughout the year. Hindsight elucidates this repetition, as at the time I found it frustrating. Familiarity breeds content. It’s when you are totally familiar and comfortable with you’ll be able to give it most effectively. (Kawasaki, 2007. P62)
CHAPTER 3 – Ironing out the Creases
Passport2Guides is a great idea, with a genuine need, empathy and longevity in the product. The initial predicament was our confidence in the concept and the translation from the theoretical and abstract into a tangible reality. This impediment is not uncommon, in fact Theodore Levitt, a former editor of The Harvard Business Review, wrote on this subject as far back as 1963:
“The trouble with much of the advice business is getting today about the need to be more vigorously creative is, essentially, that its advocates have generally failed to distinguish between the relatively easy process of being creative in the abstract and the infinitely more difficult process of being innovationist in the concrete.”
I was hesitant at first – it was not that I did not believe in the concept, I was just weary of the chances of its success in our location. Our collective opinions constantly juxtaposed our doubts however, as we were convinced that there was a genuine customer need. And to be commercially successful, new product and service ideas must, of course, meet a real – or perceived – customer need.(Leonard and Rayport, 1997, p103). Unbeknown to us at the time, we were actually actively prototyping and learning by doing. Unfortunately, we tended to procrastinate or delicately tiptoe at the edge with ideas, rather than jump straight in. Eventually we got there!
‘…we’ve been far too focused on the individual—on describing the characteristics and habits and personality traits of those who get furthest ahead in the world. And that’s the problem, because in order to understand the outlier I think you have to look around them—at their culture and community and family and generation. We’ve been looking at tall trees, and I think we should have been looking at the forest.’
(Gladwell, M, 2009)
When a group of people come together, without any prior knowledge or experience of each other, the odd disagreement is somewhat inevitable. Ours came in the shape of publically vented somewhat misguided frustrations from within the team. It would be amiss of me not to refer to this, as it presented an opportunity for the team to show maturity and togetherness to resolve what could have escalated into PR nightmare affecting team spirit and ultimately destroying our goals. Firstly, as with any grievances, it is important to remain objective, fair and diplomatic. We decided that the best way to address any issues was to: firstly, be honest in our scrutiny of the ‘complaint’ and deal directly with any of these issues with solutions. Secondly, we brought the subject ‘back in house’, regardless of the scope or reach of the publication; the majority decision was that it is more professional to conduct matters pertaining to the team internally. Finally we had a team meeting to address these matters head on. I took it upon myself to take the unenviable task to chair the meeting. The approach: raise the issue; give a holistic and unprejudiced analysis, and offer solutions. The general consensus was that destructive and negative criticism of fellow teammates was neither: appropriate, fair or conducive to good team spirit. The meeting was successful; we acknowledged that improvements could be made throughout the team. The notion of blame culture is hugely counterproductive, the advertising guru Paul Arden in his book, Whatever you think, Think the Opposite, was adamant on this:
What lessons did we learn from this episode? It is important to consider everyone’s feelings equally, and to make positives out of negatives. The fact that we successfully bypassed any injudicious negativity ultimately led to greater success and speaks volumes of my colleagues’ abilities to move on and focus on our collective goal. Passport2Guides’ success is the enthusiasm, humour and positivity in the face of adversity. Communication is key.
Fear is a restrictive emotion. In our case apprehension towards our concept held us back. Evolution of our idea was a necessity and with the advantage of hindsight we can see that we were moving forward with every transformation. Moreover, we would have prospered from taking our product live sooner and improving on the fly.
CHAPTER 4 – Flight aka The Rebirth of Cool
Passport2Guides came to life following a meeting in east London, between Gin, Pinar and myself. This is not to say that we had not made progress, quite the contrary, we had made great strides. Passport2Guides was taking shape metamorphosing from print to an online service. However, on return for the second semester, I felt our project was lacking. Our original website used the unsophisticated and clumsy Weebly platform. Prior to our meeting, I commenced an intense period of research, brainstorming and prototyping. I was not satisfied as a user or contributor, and my intention was to present to the group some suggestions. Design is human-centred. It may integrate technology and economics, but it starts with what humans need, or might need. What makes life easier, more enjoyable? What makes technology useful and usable? But that is more than simply good ergonomics, putting the buttons in the right place. It’s often about understanding culture and context before we even know where to start to have ideas. (Brown, 2009).
This extract from my blog, details my thought process:
My first impression was that our website looked and felt pedestrian. This was more down to the inflexible nature of the tool that had been used to create the website than anything else, but nevertheless it was not working for us in my opinion. Gin’s renowned branding design had given us a voice: simple, clean and a little cheeky. It crammed in everything Passport2Guide is about and in a fun manner…I started prototyping. My target areas, that is the areas, which I felt we most needed to address:
- Homepage content – we need to present exciting content in an exciting way.
- Colour/style guide
- Tone, voice + language
- Image/text layout
- Branding (I felt that we had lost all of Gin’s original work)
- Simplicity yet style
Gin and Pinar were very receptive to the ideas and questions raised. It was a starting point (again! But there is no point walking on in the wrong direction if you are lost hoping that eventually you’ll find your destination).
We moved forward – redesigned and revitalised. Suddenly everything fell into place, our product was a reality, no longer existing merely in the abstract. Each member of Passport2Guides fulfilled a duty towards the upkeep of the site. Teamwork and collaboration was in full flow.
Chapter 5 – Epilogue
Where to from here? Passport2Guides lives on, we hope to take it forward and transform efforts into profit. In general, the business experience was both fun and enlightening – I have made good friends and enjoyed being part of it. On a personal level, I continue onto my film making studies next year, armed with greater knowledge of: design thinking; innovation; communication and my own potential.
Brown, T. (2009) Tim Brown urges designers to think big. [Online] Available at: http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_brown_urges_designers_to_think_big.html (Accessed: 26 April 2010)
Vern Burkhardt (2009) Tom Kelley on IDEO Available at: http://www.designthinkingblog.com/tag/ideo/ (Accessed: 26 April 2010)
Gladwell.com (2010) ‘What is Blink about?’ Available at: http://www.gladwell.com/blink/index.html (Accessed 26 April 2010)
“If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it”
I missed the last Friday session before the Easter break, but I did manage to get a little feedback as to what the general themes were. On the subject of ads, I hope that our effort succeeded in above all creating intrigue. I put plenty of effort in to make sure that our advert would align with our image and therefore be as polished as possible.
Fifteen years ago posters circulated London proclaiming that 12 monkeys were coming. No one had a clue what the hell these monkeys wanted and why they had decided to announce their immenent arrival so publicly. In the end, we didn’t have to worry, the monkeys weren’t here on a revenge mission for libelous slurs and propaganda against them from the 1980s – it was all in aid of Terry Gilliam’s movie (based on La Jetee). About the same time posters and billboards filled up with the proclamation that: “The Future is Bright, The Future is Orange”. Strange days indeed as a certain Mr Lennon once sang! Now everyone would know this to be a slogan of Orange Mobile, back then for a while at least no one knew if it was semi confused communist and liberal monkeys or a bizarre weather forecast! The point is that these campaigns were both very successful in generating initial interest ( the same technique has been repeated several times from: Spike Jonze’s recent film I’m Here to Donnie Darko).
So where does our ad fit in? Well hopefully it creates intrigue and perhaps confusion and it directs focus/traffic to the website. And, as is the case with both 12 Monkeys and Orange campaigns (and Corrine suggested) a more enlightening sequel will reveal more.
Initially I wanted to add a voice over to our original ad to guide the viewer through, time didn’t allow for this however (I was seeking a specific tone/voice/softness – my idea was not to bombard the viewer this obvious noise/chaos in the soundtrack e.g. I had started with The Beatles Helter Skelter but decided against this – too obvious. Sometimes the greater the juxtapostion the greater the effect – for example: the ear scene in Reservoir Dogs) It’s unfortunate as this would have helped clarify more about the product. Chris Cunningham’s Muck About Orange ad is a good example of the voice over tying up what would otherwise be a confusing and nonsensical ad.
New forms of property ownership – for example, communities
owning their assets, such as the Goodwin Trust in Hull, and Community
Land Trusts, both enabling new uses of land and buildings.
I really had the complex that my father had at some point- to not be good enough. And then I decided I would go over it, I decided I would be as good as Picasso, or whatever… Obviously there is a difference, but at some point if you want to consider yourself as somebody who creates things you have to just ignore that (the feeling of not being good enough) …you have to say what you are doing, what you are putting out is different, because you put yourself into it…You have your own way to solve problems and that’s creation and that’s inspiration…
– Michel Gondry
At the beginning of the year I lost out to Joe and Alice in a tightly fought (ok, not really but for dramatic effect!) competition over shoes. Joe and his orange Nikes won. Now I firmly am of the belief that the only reason the Nikes won were because of the brand as far as functionality and desirability go well they were boxing or basketball boots and orange. Ahem…I’m not bitter..but I demand a recount! Anyway, something Corrine said during the competition has stuck, and I just couldn’t agree with the argument. It was that because of Wranglers US reputation as the shoes of choice for er…cowboys, they were not very desirable on a global scale. My point then as it is now is that other forces and factors can and do swing that.
In the late 1970s, something happened in USA that would completely and virtually overnight change the fortunes of a small UK company. The Bermuda Bucket invaded Brooklyn – how did this happen and what the hell is the Bermuda bucket? I hear you ask. Firstly, Hip hop happened a scene that in my opinion is only seconded by Jazz as being the most influential and transcendental music form the world has produced – today there is not a corner of the world that has not been touched by its influence in fashion, film, writing, art and life. So, with the birth of hip hop came the birth of the B-boys and B-girls, breakdance, graffiti, scratching, and the B-boy style. The Bermuda bucket was the hat of choice, produced by a small unfashionable UK company called Kangol. And voila, overnight Kangol was world famous. Run DMC put Adidas on the world map (they had been around for years and already a world name but hip hop put them up there – so much so that their recent originals ad campaign not only featured sports stars such as Beckham, but more heavily Hip Hop artists such as Run DMC, Def Jam’s Russell Simmons, Missy Elliot, etc).
There it is. Not that my boots deserved to win, but they could definitely be considered as ‘desirable’ (if not more) as the orange Nikes or Alice’s 2nd generation shoes! How? Well they like Kangol, Burberry, Carhartt, Timberland and even Levi Jeans, the position of Wrangler boots can change considerably based on whether it appeals to US inner city hip hop influenced audiences. Add to that their affordability and I think you have more than just a worthy competitor. The fact that something has an establish brand new may well give it an advantage but the markets always throw in unexpected surprises – Sony had full control of the mobile music devices market and Nokia and Blackberry the smartphone market – then Apple entered new markets for them and the rest is history. Then you have the example of Courvoisier, Hennessy or even the ‘Wassup’ Budweiser campaign to indicate the importance of the Hip Hop scene to even established brands. Of course it is not really about the competition at the start of the year and more about the influence of other factors – in this case black culture and hip hop. That said I still reckon it was a fix!