Articles

Put your right foot out

Mornings are important. The way we start a day often determines our moods. Running late can make us alert at best or make us feel like everything decided suddenly to be against us (one or several of morning tragedies can be: socks that can't pair up, lack of coffee capsules, sour milk, flat tire etc). And with that kind of thinking all of our coming daily tasks can look like Mount Everest – too high to climb over and reach the desired goal. On the flip side, if the morning wakes us up with good news or just simply a positive feeling, we have no doubts in the truth of the statement: "Impossible is Nothing." People for a long time have been interested in influencing the mornings to give it the colour they need the most during the day. Three possible paths to choose from are: Calming, Structuring or Energising.

Calming
Calming techniques like meditation or yoga are the most obvious, but excellent nevertheless ways to start the day with. They help us get rid of persistent thoughts and worries that we catch like virus the night before. But you don't need to use only these methods if you want to practice focusing and relaxation. In an interesting book titled "Daily Rituals: How Artists Work", Mason Currey gives many examples of an individual approach to that matter. For example Beethoven measured out exactly 60 beans per cup of a morning coffee after which he could compose for another 7 hours straight! I bet that the mere counting of coffee beans must have been a really good focusing exercise.

Structuring
Some people prefer to structure their day before embarking on it fully. So coffee, toast and piece of paper to write on could be another option. You can write down your 'to do list', check your agenda or let the thought stream be put down for a deeper effect. The latter is called 'morning pages' and serves as a tool to many creatives for over 20 years. To get inspired and informed you can choose to read news or listen to radio. Tchaikovsky, as we read in Currey's book, read from Bible and Philosophy (Twitter and Facebook nowadays) to set his creative direction for the day.

Energising
The third one, maybe even my favourite, is the energising morning. We developed many ways to wake our bodies and minds up to energy and alertness. For physical work out we have gyms, swimming pools and aerobic classes. Some prefer an outdoors jog that never fails to awaken muscles and refresh our fuzzy heads. Or even a walk, as many of the examples show in Currey's book. And there's energising music we listen to on our way to work. Recently however I stumbled upon another interesting idea – morning rave called Morning Gloryville. Apparently very popular in London, it's coming now to Amsterdam! It's a new way to start a day as show the opening hours from 6.30am till 10.30am. It's a place where music, dance and a little bit of silliness is mixed together and served as the boost to positivity, creativity and vital energy!

What's the 'right' foot for you to wake up with is your personal choice. Often mix of several forms serves best. Let's just not forget that since mornings are important we shouldn't treat them as a mere hurdle to go through. Thankfully we have a lot of ways to experiment with, before we settle on our right morning routine. And then again, to boost the creativity, it's good to break out of that routine and spice it up a little from time to time as well.

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Learn to lose

For the last two weeks we have been hearing repeatedly the famous message from the Olympic charter:

"The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play"

Google, as well as many other sources were using it to ignite the spirit of equality, human rights and uniting power of sport events. I could not agree more with the premise of this statement watching my countrymen and women in their struggle to perform at their best's.

I was proud and happy when Polish ski-jumper Kamil Stoch and Japanese Noriaki Kasai won their medals. But I had tears in my eyes when both the Japanese and Polish teams ran towards each other to congratulate one another with hugs in a genuine show of friendship, solidarity and fair play. Both teams were overjoyed with the result and thankful to be able to participate in the Olympic Games.

However just before this, in another part of Sochi, something else was taking place. On the speed skating track two fantastic skaters were competing with each other (although in two different races) and unbelievably they finished at almost exactly the same time 1:45.00. The difference was incredibly small as Zbigniew Brodka beat Koen Verweij by only 0.003 of a second!

Understandably Verweij was upset about it and the despair and disappointment gave a very dramatic image from the podium. Standing there, seeing his fellow skater in such state Brodka said to him "I am sorry, but this is sport" and indeed the rules for this fast paced competition are clear. If necessary, the thousandths of the seconds are counted to determine the differences between the competitors.

However, what happened next was what surprised me even more. If the sad face of the Dutch skater wasn't enough, the following day all over the Dutch press journalists were saying how unfair it was for him not to get Gold. Some commentators, for example, said it was unfair that the rules are so precise. It seemed as if they didn't know how to simply enjoy all the other medals that the Dutch skating team has already won.

Where is the Olympic spirit here? Do you remember the other famous passage from the Olympic creed?

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

Yes they fought well and will be fighting time and time again, because that's what sport, life, and your creative work is all about. It's not only about the end result; but the process; the struggle; the interaction; the joys and despairs; the movement and pauses; the fun and solemnity; and all this ideally in spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.

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What do Creatives want?

Last month Aquent published a report on whatmotivates creative professionals. Two main factors stood out – financial rewardand content. The first is not a surprise, you need to pay the rent and pay foryour Friday drinks. Although it might surprise you that it was the content thatwas more often placed before the money. So what does the 'content' mean for thecreative professional? In the report as well as my own experience as a coach,it is mainly the job itself, with clearly defined responsibilities, interestingproducts to work on and open-minded management. But the common attribute forcontent is of course creativity.

Creatives that have too many responsibilities that wanderoff the creative path (e.g. long meetings that have go nothing to do with the content)will become bored and frustrated. It leaves them less time to actually do whatthey were hired for in the first place. They want to have enough time to ponderon their ideas, because to come up with something truly original, as John Cleese (one of myfavourite creativity expert) said, it is crucial to sit with the task longer,even if the idea that comes after the first 15 minutes seems good enough. Soprotect your creatives, their time is precious.

Interesting products naturally challenge and motivate themto do their best. But be careful here with assumptions; ask your creatives whatkind of work is really meaningful to them. It could open the doors for a much widerspectrum of interesting clients.

Open-minded management is the one that trusts creatives and iswilling to take some risks. Your Creatives need to feel they have the freedomto play around with innovative thinking and unconventional perspectives. Theywant influence. Remember that the closer they feel to theagency or client, the more care, effort and time they will put into their assignments.And they want to be challenged. Using new technologies and learning new skills caneasily satisfy their hunger for development and give them a chance to expandand exercise their creative muscles.

If these conditions are not fulfilled and you merely usethem as a production line, where time, number of ideas and standardisation arethe key features, this might result in quick solutions, but definitely not themost creative ones. No wonder then that the most talented creatives lose the zestfor creation and question their careers. Money and the industry's recognition isa temporary compensation for real meaning. The first one however dried up becauseof the crisis and the second loses its shine with time and experience. Hence ifanything can help restore their satisfaction it is getting to the core of thematter and start from the beginning: what do Creatives want? They simply wantto be creative. Let them do just that and you'll see them flourish.

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Activate your creativity

Do any of you remember how people in creative departments used to work in the so-called good old days? (And I don't mean the drinking & smoking part from Mad Men). In former times creation meant something… active. Creatives were engaged in drawing, cutting, gluing, up and down and on and off the chair. Maybe a walk around the city with pen and sketchbook in search of inspiration, library visits, or a trip to the place that is known for having that particular perspective, which would be perfect to illustrate the idea. In short – creatives had to move much more than today.

You might argue that you are very active and you do go out in search of inspiration. I'm sure you do. But it's undeniably true that today we create and exchange ideas without having to move one metre from our desks. In fact, we can stay put in our chairs. While I was working for Miami Ad School Amsterdam, I often entered a room full of creative, inspiring, original and fun young people and saw heads with earphones, fixedly staring at their laptop screens from time to time moving their fingers over the keyboards (the most physical action visible). Even though I am grateful for technical innovations and their benefits, there are traps in constantly using them and forgetting about the old fashioned ways of creating advertising.

So, what are these traps then? Well first of all, there is our health. We all know that sedentary life style is associated to a higher risk of chronic diseases including coronary disorders and type II diabetes. Also prolonged static posture or repetitive low intensity movements can lead to development of musculoskeletal disorders (in the neck and shoulders), as well as strain injuries like writer's cramp, or lower back pains from sitting unergonomically.

But let's stay away from the gloomy afflictions, let's look at playtime – a very important part of the creative process. Remember how much fun it was to stick your feet in the mud, or cover your hands in paint?

John Cleese introduced a theory on how to approach the creative task. He said that we need to operate in two modes: open and closed one. Open mode is the playtime, where you plunge into the unrestricted experiment phase, letting your imagination go completely wild, unafraid of making mistakes because there are none to be made at that moment. We explore the options, make unusual connections and finally when we think we have the solution, we switch into the closed mode where we focus on the precision requiring implementing phase. During the playtime however it is the unknown and unpredictable combination of sights, sounds and movements that will help us make the creative connections.

But that's not the whole story. According to some scientists, physical activity can boost the creativity. How? Well apparently any aerobic exercise at least 30 minutes long can improve all the dimensions of cognitive abilities. Putting it simply – all sorts of thinking, including creative, gets better if we engage in a physical activity. Still not convinced? Other studiesshow that physical activity is linked to a lower sensitivity to stress, anger, neuroticism, and depression, which helps us to deal with a growing number of briefs and a "constructive" feedback from a client.

So to get back in touch with your creative essence and improve your creative output, I suggest to go back every so often to what nature provided us with; a body to move and a mind to think with, both in a nicely balanced way.

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Shiny Eyes

Two weeks ago I enjoyed a concert of classical music in Amsterdam's famous Concertgebouw. It was a very unusual event, in that the orchestra that came from Boston, was composed solely of young people, the youngest being 13, with the eldest being only 21. They looked so genuine, fresh, naïve even and yet, they played their parts with serious attention, experience and dedication beyond their young age. Their conductor was the famous Benjamin Zander, and I remembered what he had once said about success: "It's not about wealth and fame and power, it's about how many shiny eyes I have around me." And shiny eyes there were! The passion they played with directly penetrated the hearts (and ears, and eyes!) of each and everyone in the music hall. The joy of playing and the honour they felt towards the audience was contagiously inspiring.

Such performance deserved the warmest praise. So, as soon as the last note had departed the room, we all rose up immediately to a wild applause. The emotion that was evoked resulted in streams of tears on the cheeks of these young performers – at least a third of them cried in front of us and we cried with them. A truly powerful experience!

A thought was immediately born in my mind – when was the last time I plunged into my creative work with such passion, dedication and honesty? When did you? We're all busy with producing work for a purpose. The purpose of selling the idea, the purpose of selling ourselves, the purpose of getting something in return like money, rewards and recognition. Often, we forget to simply enjoy it and to passionately dive into the creative process.

Do you remember your first creative idea that you presented to your CD, with trembling hands, a blank mind from the sleepless night you have just endured and 10 cups of coffee? Do you remember that piece of music you played in front of a 'huge' crowd of 10 people? Do you remember the script you wrote for a short movie that was never produced, but still lies in your drawer, waiting for you to pick up that pure genius of innocent creation?

Maybe those 'naïve' works weren't perfect. Maybe since then you've gained more skills, more knowledge to produce work technically better. But how much more meaning it brought into your life in that moment compared to how and what you create today, even though, you might have even received some precious reward for it.

Passion is actually the most precious reward we can receive. It's an experience felt by both the 'performer' as well as the 'audience.' It's a fuel for pure engagement in the creative process. When it's lacking, we lose the drive to be creative. There is a way to feel that uncomplicated passion again, as if we were playing for the first time in Zander's orchestra. The way to do it is by daring to dream, by being honest with ourselves, and as often as possible, we should check those shiny eyes – first in the mirror and then in others.

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