Creativity: the Road to Success

Prologue

We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.  ~Jane Austen

The year has passed too quickly and now we have reached the finish line. But have we been racing at all? There could be two types of competition, one with others, and one with yourself. Those who look at studying through marks and grades are usually competing with others, because marks and grades are always relative. Instead, if we stop and look back at how we have paved the way to reach our goals, we realize that what we learned at the end cannot be simply presented by our marks. Hence, I have always looked at my life as a competition with myself, as Snow describes it:

It really is a beautiful world when we can discover that the race is not against others, but against our personal potential.

The MACE course for me has not been an exception. When I enrolled myself in the Advertising and the Creative Economy course, I had a major goal in my mind: to get ready for starting my own company. Design-thinking and entrepreneurship module therefore had a potential significance for me to achieve my goal. Now is the time to stop and look back at the path I have trod, reflecting on my own practice and experience.

I would be therefore looking at how this module affected my personal experience of MACE, both intentionally and unintentionally, and how I can make use of what I have learnt in the future. I would not be able to comment on every single subject of the module, but I categorize them according to their significance to me and reflect on those categories. Although the most significant highlight of this module was the business idea and group project, I would try to look at the course from a more general point of view as we previously have reflected on our WID business project in details.

The Iceberg of MACE: the conscious versus the unconscious

Sigmund Freud in his theory of personality uses the Iceberg Metaphor to describe the conscious mind versus the unconscious. Everything inside human awareness, that is, the conscious mind is represented by the tip of the iceberg, which is the part standing outside of the water, the visible part. However, while the iceberg is floating in the water, a huge mass of it remains invisible, which is referred to as the unconscious mind. Now what do all these have to do with our design-thinking module and the MACE program?

In fact, I am using the iceberg metaphor allegorically to reflect on my experience from this course. As any other learning activity and knowledge process, the MACE program and in particular, the design-thinking module was two fold. On the one hand, there was a visible aspect, the tip of the iceberg, which stood out in the form of lectures, workshops, and other direct teaching practices. For me the ones that were the highlights of the course were our lectures on “Contemporary issues in the Creative Economy” module and those of “Managing Creativity and Innovation”. I have to say; I consider the “Design-Thinking” module more engaged with “situated learning” rather than direct teaching, which I will discuss shortly. Yet, from the lectures we received during the module, I mostly took advantage of “the lean start up” by Rob Fitzpatrick which I have reflected on previously on my blog, and the finance, for the obvious reason that they covered the areas I had less knowledge about and therefore I gained more.

On the other hand, similar to the theory of iceberg, the huge mass has remained invisible underneath. The hidden aspect, that is, “the unconscious” consists of all that are hidden from our awareness, far from our rationality, and those we are unaware of, yet influencing our behavior and decisions. The unconscious of the course therefore, was created and shaped beyond our awareness and will remain underneath the surface. Every single lecture, exercise, or activity has helped building this huge mass. While one can argue that the same thing could more or less happen in any learning activity, I cannot ignore the fact that the design-thinking module had a bigger impact towards our unintentional learning.

Situated Learning Activities

One of key aspects of this course for me was the opportunity to experience situated learning. As a very simple definition, situated learning is learning through experiencing, that is, learning while doing. As Lave and Wenger (1991) describe in their book, learning that takes place within a community of practice have longer effects compared to transferring knowledge in the traditional way, from one individual to another. It also can be remembered for a much longer time, and can be put into practice straight after graduating. Most parts of this module and in particular, our WID business, are great examples of situated learning exercises.

Starting with the WID project, I should mention that for me it was a good practice to start a business from scratch, give it birth and watch it grow. Although I had worked with many teams and groups before, this was a unique opportunity to start a business idea outside of the real-world business context with all its complications. While the product was following a “new product development” format in terms of research, idea generation, screening, testing and prototyping, investment, production, marketing and sales – in accordance with standard NPD process mentioned in Jobber (2009), the simple fact that it was happening within an educational context and was supported by the university made the whole experience easier to go with. As a result, apart from financial reward at the end for our successful business project, my interpersonal skills such as team working and negotiation abilities were improved. In addition, group meetings and brainstorming sessions with all their ups and downs improved my flexibility and patience. I have always had the hesitation of commenting against others for the fear of either making them upset, or being against the crowd. With our business project, I tried my best to practice and improve my commenting issues, and I have to say although not completely resolved, I do feel more confident now.

Moreover, several other activities we had during the module, including observation and applying the USER model, story telling and personas (which we later used in making our AD, thanks to great expertise of Genia and Joelle), the shoe exercise and prototyping workshop (which again was useful when we were developing our WID bookmark calendar), human trafficking project and even our debates for the “contemporary issues” class were all good examples of situated learning. For me they were significant because what I learnt from them will stay with me for longer. And a very distinctive module for me was the “leadership in the creative economy” since not only the concept was attractive, but also it was an extremely engaging class. Although very short, it came with a pack of exercises and collaborative workshops (i.e Piers Ibbotson’s drama exercise and Miguel’s playing workshop) while the unique format of the assignment contributed more to the whole concept.

Creative Thinking

Creative thinking, as Martin (2008) describes, is “The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each”. This was again, what we experienced when we were working on the WID business idea, trying to keep the problems in mind as a whole whilst focusing on each separate aspect, to make a successful strategy. From that I learnt how the team could come up with a solution instead of compromising for the second the best, and I believe that the exercise will become more vibrant when I start my future career, as according to Amabile (1996) “creative thinking skills can be applied in any domain”.

Blogging and Social Media

Henry Farrell in his blog – Crooked Timber – explains about how blogs are used in education, putting them into five categories, of which one is asking students to write their own blogs as part of the course. Weblogs however, are sometimes criticized in education for just being a “set of personal comments and observations”. But a blog can be much more than an “online personal journal” as it can be the reflection of the writer and his/her personal style. What makes blogging even more interesting is the ease of use. If carried out correctly, it can develop not only writing skills, but also more importantly, the critical thinking. It can be considered as meta-cognition or the process of learning what you learn, or knowing what you know because bloggers have the chance of reflecting on what they write while writing it.

In my case, I had never blogged in english before, and on subjects other than those related to my country and my people. Yet, I discovered new horizons in writing blogs related to the course. Although struggling for the subjects and content most of the time, the obligation of writing blog posts made me stretch out more and meaningfully engage in some activities. I constantly had the question of “so what?” when I was thinking of a subject to write about, as I could not convince myself to write something for the sake of marks and grades. I had to be happy with the subject and the content before I could write one word about it; that is to say, I had to feel there could be a use in what I was writing.  Looking back at my posts during the course, I honestly had the “passion of writing” only for a few of them. The rest I really obliged myself to write, and therefore I tried to write on a subject that was either interesting or useful – in my opinion of course.

The reason that my posts are not all directly about the module is because in many cases, I found it difficult to reflect on module titles. Not that the subjects were not interesting, but I just had nothing to add to them or to talk about. For example, I honestly could not write anything about the exercise of being “blind” and “limp” while going to toilet. That just made no sense to me. On the other hand, on a subject like “personas” and “story telling” I found the module’s post comprehensive enough that I could not add anything new to it. Having said that, the more I obliged myself to write – even for those subjects not directly connected to design-thinking module, the more comfortable I felt to write. Hence, I clearly see how I improved in both writing and picking the content, while my fear of writing “useless” things has faded away. And here is one of handy sources I used, with some recommendations and suggestions as well as tools, which I found them practical.

On the other hand, during the course we were pushed to use social media beyond personal connections. At the end, we used them not only as a powerful mean for promoting our business, but also as a way to share and learn from each other. The ever-growing importance of social media and blogging for both organization (i.e. marketing and PR) and individual (i.e. job hunting) was highlighted repeatedly during the course and I have to admit although sometimes I found it difficult to be an active social media user, I cannot ignore its necessity. According to Scott (2011, p.11), “Blogs, online video, new releases, and other forms of web content let organizations communicate directly with buyers”. That means for anyone involved in Advertising and Marketing, it becomes absolutely vital to become a master of the field, and the mastery would not occur without active participation and involvement.

Events and Live Experiences

Finally, during the course, I had the chance to attend many of Young Enterprise events held at the university. Meeting people like myself who succeeded in establishing their own business during or after university gave me the confidence and motivation, which I believe would help me when starting my future career. They also provided a networking platform that I used to gain confidence for initiating a conversation with an absolute stranger and making business links.

Another good experience for me was the Dragons Den that I have commented on before on my blog, concluding, “being rejected by dragons would not essentially mean that your idea is not worth trying”. So I still think that a good idea is worth trying even if the dragons of your life do not believe in that.

Finally, trade fairs were a great opportunity to get feedbacks and comments. It was also good to see how our other classmates managed their businesses as well as another trial of collaboration between team members.

Epilogue

I now go back to my iceberg allegory to conclude this essay.  The iceberg is floating and I have benefited from its both “tip” and “mass”. As any other direct educational method, the lectures and seminars contributed to my knowledge. This module however, formed a great part of that “huge mass” underneath the iceberg by contributing to my confidence, motivation and interpersonal skills. I still have the goal that I started the course with, reshaped into: establishing my own company within the creative industries context, and believe that I have all the tools to make the chair now. I have become more aware of how creativity can be a “strategic business process” as Jeffcutt and Prat (2002) describe and I am looking forward to my MA project on “creativity and space” which I consider as the ground of my future career.  Even if I end up working in an organization for couple of years before making my dream come true, I have realized that “understanding the climate for creativity” and “commitment to a more creative self” are the roads to success (Mauzy, 2006). It is also an essential entrepreneurial characteristic that helps starting a business and sustaining it over time (Pratt and Jeffcutt, 2009).

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Cognitive Surplus – the World’s Collective Mind

I just had a chance to go more into the subject of “cognitive surplus” or world’s collective mind – the shared, online work we do with our spare brain cycles — that Mark talked about in “managing creativity and innovation”. I have to confess; I was amazed by the statistics and data that “Clay Shirky” provided on his talks.

The raw material of “cognitive surplus” is the world’s people, their connections, and the their free time. Just think about 200 billion hours of watching television, only by Americans – never mind the rest of the world – and then think of Wikipedia, can you imagine that a for huge project like Wikipedia just around 100 million hours of human thought has been spent? Someone has visualized these two figures, and look at the result!

Isn’t that amazing?

And then there is even more! People spend roughly a hundred million hours every weekend just watching commercials. Our free time can now be considered as a social asset, so it now can be used collectively for large community projects. And to harness the cognitive surplus, no fancy equipment are necessary, just a simple phone can be enough! Our media environment, which is the connective tissue, has shifted. Social media is now ruling the world, and will yet become more powerful. Voluntary public participation has become enormous, spread all around the globe. What matters most now is our imaginations.

The world’s population will keep on growing, as the technology will continue to advance. The opportunity is massive: any idea, project, or social media that would engage public creativity and participation, could benefit from the huge cognitive surplus. We all are part of that spare brainpower in the world’s collective mind. The question is, how would we be harnessed?

p.s. the book is available from Amazon, at a very affordable price 🙂

Happy or sad? The dilemma!

So today was officially the last MACE day… I’m too emotional right now so I’ll keep this post short, just to remember later how great it was to be part of this experience, and I call it “experience” because for me it truly was about the “involvement” rather than the “degree” or even the education by itself. I cannot believe it’s gone so quickly… I’ve learnt a lot, but the most significant part of the whole course was meeting amazing people.

Unlike other routine courses that you get to know only one group of people, in MACE we had the chance to be with students from different disciplines, and that truly enriched the experience. Not only it was meticulously international – and I mean to the highest possible extent, but also it was multi-disciplinary, meaning that it brought people from a diversity of backgrounds together.

I had the chance to work with different groups, and learnt from all of them. I’m glad that I didn’t stick to the convenience of always being in the same group but instead tried as many as I could. I enjoyed every minute of my MACE group works, from the “cultural worker debate” on the “contemporary issues” class, to the “WID business project” on the “design thinking” module. Even the ones that did not last for more than a few hours were great: “the human trafficking”, “the shoe exercise”, “performing team” on the Leadership module, and “the muppet group” on managing creativity class! All were great, and all made great memories, some for a lifetime!

So if there is anything I can say to other people doing the MACE in the future, it would be this:

“Make the most of it while you have your MACE DAYS! Don’t stick to a small group but instead try to interact with as many people as you can. Enjoy the cultural differences and learn new things from around the world. At the end of the day, it will all be about Words, Images, and Dates! WORDS and stories you will remember for the rest of your lives, IMAGES and visual memories you shared through events and experiences, and DATES you made those words and images happen!”

How did we manage to make profit?

Today we had a testing session for the final business presentation coming up next week. For the first time ever since the beginning of this module, we received positive feedbacks about our product, and that’s because we were able to show we actually sold a quite significant quantity of it. Not only we reached the break-even point, but also we generated profit!

At the end of the day, what matters about any business, is if it can make any money, and the good thing with our product – the WID bookmark/calendar – was that we identified a niche market, for those book readers who were interested in artistic and original products, specifically photography lovers.

We initially focused on those who used to read on the go. The reason for targeting “on the go” segment of the market was the compact nature of our product as a convenient and handy calendar for all book readers. Despite targeting the mentioned segment at the initial stage, most of our products were sold as “gift or promotional” items, proving that the final product was more attractive for both personal and corporate buyers who were willing to offer a unique and original yet affordable gift. Although we put the product in 2 local bookstore/stationary shops in Kingston and 1 in Sheffield, end users did not find it attractive enough to purchase for themselves. While when we approached corporates and organizations or individuals looking for Christmas gifts, the WID product seemed to be very attractive.

Another segment that came to our notion during the fairs was individual professionals willing to have customised gifts for their clients. We received positive feedbacks and even one request in the Kingston Market Fair for developing a customised version of our product to be used by professionals who wanted to promote their services, instead of their business cards.

So at the end, I’m happy to see a product that in the beginning did not appeal to any of our judges, could actually do well when it came to sales figures!

And finally, there are still few products available, at sales price of course! You can purchase from Etsy or BigCartel. Even if not interested in purchasing, just have a look at our facebook page or our Ad 🙂

Damien Hirst at Tate Modern!

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Despite arguing he would never show his work at Tate, Damien Hirst’s work is exhibited in Tate Modern Gallery in 14 rooms for five-month run, started in April. Whether he is “the presiding genius of contemporary British art, justifiably making a fortune by thrilling audiences with his memorable reflections on life and death” or just “an empty con artist, making a fool of us and raking in millions from buyers with more money than sense”, can be decided by the paying public [1].

Damien Hirst by his shock-art is revealing art’s situation in the beginning of the new century. While huge companies are trying to introduce their production as “works of art”, obviously unintentionally, Damien Hirst’s works express how artwork has converted to a mere commodity in this era.

For the Love of God” as the only free sample of his huge exhibition that shines on the forehead of Hirst’s festival in Tate Modern, is a real human skull from 18th Century that is entirely encased by more than 8000 diamonds. Only the diamonds that are used to fabricate the skull worth £14 million. The initial asking price of the work was £50 million. It would be on show until 24 June 2012, in Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, in a purpose-built room which is more like camera obscura or a secret temple with no windows. And it is a sacred temple too. A glass case is protecting the idol and no photo is permitted. You have got couple of minutes to enjoy the magic of its presence and then guards will ask you to leave.

What occupies my though the most after this “spiritual” tour is that if one day the art work’s value in the art market was estimated based on its artistic achievements that experts and critics of galleries and auctions proposed, today the situation is fundamentally changed. The change here should be considered as a consequence of emergence of some artworks that cost a lot in terms of production. The medium, the material that is used for the works like “For the Love of God” itself is not an ordinary one. And this is exactly what Hirst means by “intrinsic value” of his work [2]. This intrinsic value_ the way Hirst likes to put it, is not caused by its artistic value, or achievement or progress within the field of art or anything like it. It is totally connected to its condition of production. The work was not the same if it was fabricated with simple crystals that could shine like the diamond. So it would be hard to believe that the point in using diamonds is a sort of artistic necessity, especially when it has been proudly announced that the asking price is four times more than production costs.

“For the Love of God” is not an artwork that has turned to commodity. Commodification is not the point anymore. Hirst is an artisan who intentionally produces a commodity to be exchanged for money. Any artwork that is produced by extra ordinary costs is in this game. It has not been produced for anything but to be sold. Pity that no one was really interested in this magnum opus, and a consortium that Hirst himself is included in, bought the piece.

At last, the critical question that remains is, what has happened to Tate modern to exhibit and accelerate this fate of art?!

Advertising Ethics

A few days ago I came across the ASA website and found it an interesting subject to write about, at least for other advertising students.

As advertising is argued to profoundly impact the world in terms of people’s values and behaviours as well as their practice of lives and business, the debate and discussion related to advertising ethics keep growing.

History of ethics in advertising goes back to 1949, when F. P. Bishop published one of the first books on advertising ethics.  He recorded “moral indictments” of advertising as creating unworthy desires which misleads the consumer and encourages them to “consumptionism”. Later in 1961, Thomas Garrett, a philosophy professor and priest, examined some of ethical problems such as economic growth, persuasion, consumption, and potential monopoly power, noting that the Bishops’s book cannot grasp what known as the ultimate.

In 1986 Richard Pollay recounted the positions of humanities and social science scholars on advertising’s unintended social and cultural consequences. Through the mid 80’s the focus was on observing the ethics in advertising and how it affects the society.

From 1980s onwards the largest set of research on advertising ethics belongs to understanding consumers’ perceptions of objectionable advertising. Recent publication on advertising ethics examines several concerns of advertising such as truth, stereotyping and targeted advertising, concluding that the biggest ethical problem in advertising is “the pervasiveness and unrestricted proliferation of advertising” as this threatens to overwhelm all aspects of our private and public domains. The areas that are accounted for highest notion and research in advertising ethics include: deceptive, advertising to children, stereotyping, including racial and sexual, ads for alcohol, tobacco and cigarette, and negative political ads.

Evaluating the subject from policy and regulations standpoint demonstrates that although there are some ethical codes of conducts for advertising practitioners to follow (i.e. the American Association of Advertising Agencies codes of conduct), such regulations and codes by themselves cannot contribute enough to the public morality and social progress of the society. Hence, the role of practitioners and stakeholders in creating ethical and moral principles in their daily practices becomes more significant. Self-regulatory initiatives such as Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) might be helpful in regulating the industry and therefore improve the current status of ethics in advertising.

With 50 years of background, the ASA is the UK’s independent regulator of advertising across all media, which recently includes marketing on websites. They believe that “ads on the Internet are subject to the same rules as ads in other media” and work to ensure ads are legal, decent, honest and truthful by applying the Advertising Codes. The organization dealt with 31,458 complaints in 2011, and many ads were removed or changed as a result of their actions. Many information, guidance, and advice can be found on their website for all advertisers or those interested in advertising industry. It is a useful source of information indeed.

Trade Fairs

Despite being a hectic month for Advertising students with so many assignments, we had the chance to attend two trade fairs. The first one, held at Penrhyn Road campus on March 1st, gave us a good opportunity to enjoy the collaborative environment with all other groups. Not only we had the chance to exhibit and introduce our product to other students, but also we made some real sales. Another great aspect was the opportunity to receive feedbacks from other groups and also judges. Even though due to the seasonality of our product (bookmark/calendar) we already had made most of our sales before January, the fair gave us the chance to examine our potential market and evaluate it against the channels of distribution we had used before.

The second fair on March 22 was held at Kingston marketplace,  giving us a better opportunity to see how people react or show interest (if at all) towards our product. We prepared a special promotion inline with our original concept of “Words, Images and Dates” for the day in order to attract more people. The idea was to shoot their photo holding their emotions on pre-designed cardboards.

We did assume that the concept could potentially attract people. However, in the real trade fair, not many people showed interest in taking part in our promotional event. I personally think if we had tried it in the first fair at the university which many young people and students were available, it could have been a very exciting and engaging event, while in the second fair, the concept did not seem to be appropriate for the kind of people visiting the place. Yet we received some interesting feedbacks and suggestions for our product. At the end, it seems that the WID calendar more attracts middle aged and less tech-savvy customers compared to younger ones who are not much into papers and books anymore.